Selected Topics

In addition to traditional courses in chemistry and biochemistry, the department also offers opportunities to explore advanced topics of student and faculty interest that are not formally addressed else ware in the program. These courses are typically taken as advanced electives during a student’s junior and senior year. Below you will find a list of Selected Topics courses offered in recent years. If you are interested in any of these courses please contact a faculty member to discuss the potential of future offerings, as well as opportunities for independent study and research.

Chemistry of Materials

Materials chemistry has emerged as a distinct branch of chemistry covering both non-molecular, solid-state materials and many molecular materials. In the 1990’s and now into the 21st century, research into solid-state materials chemistry has expanded very rapidly. This was fueled in part by the dramatic discovery of “high temperature” ceramic oxide superconductors in 1986, and by the search for new and better materials. We have seen immense strides in the development and understanding of nanotechnology, graphene materials, micro- and meso-porous solids, fuel cells, and the giant magnetoresistance effect, to mention but a few areas.This course will attempt to give you a flavor of the excitement that some of this research has produced, and perhaps, more importantly the background with which to understand these developments and those which are yet to come.

All substances, if cooled sufficiently, form a solid phase; the vast majority form one or more crystalline phases, where the atoms, molecules, or ions pack together to form a regular repeating array. We are concerned mostly with the structures of metals, ionic solids, and extended covalent structures; structures which do not contain discrete molecules, but which comprise extended arrays of atoms or ions. We will look at the structure and bonding in these solids, how the properties of a solid depend on its structure, and how the properties can be modified by changes to the structure.

Natural Products Synthesis and Medicinal Applications

Natural products are relatively small molecules, produced mainly by plants and microorganisms that have a long history of uses by people, e. g. poisons, antibiotics, perfumes, malodorants, cosmetics, dietary supplements, etc. This course will focus on the synthesis and medical applications of natural products and be organized on the basis of the biosynthetic pathways that lead to these natural organic compounds. The following areas shall emphasized in this course: classification of natural products, isolation techniques, terpenes and terpenoids, steroids, alkaloids, flavonoids, coumarins, polyketides, anthraquinones, and their medicinal application.

Text: Introduction to Natural Products Chemistry by Rensheng Xu, Yang Ye, Weimin Zhao, 2012

Chemical and Molecular Dynamics

Modern physical chemistry is concerned with the time-evolution of chemical systems. What are the complete descriptions of the system before and after reaction? How is energy distributed during the course of the reaction? As chemists, can we hope to control the evolution of chemical systems to improve reaction yields, selectivity, or to better harness energy from renewable sources? In this block course, we will discuss theoretical and experimental approaches for understanding observed reaction mechanisms and rates.

Molecular Dynamics of Biomolecules

  • Previous Instructor: Greg Smith
  • Last Offered: FA 2015

Covers the basics of atomistic simulations using Molecular Mechanics (MM) to study large biomolecules like proteins, DNA/RNA, and lipid bilayers. Utilizes the concepts of a potential energy surface, energy minimization, and running simulations at temperature to sample molecular conformations. Practical aspects of setting up, running, and analyzing/visualizing the results are covered.

Chemistry and Biochemistry in the Information Age

Modern scientific experimentation is capable of generating data at breathtaking rates. How has this changed the process of scientific inquiry? How do we translate all of this data into useful insight about the behavior of chemical and biological systems? What can we predict about the properties of molecules by understanding the relationships between them?

Students in this course will learn to navigate the data-dense world of modern chemistry and biochemistry. As a student in this course you will understand the techniques used to represent chemical and biochemical information in a computer, and to store and retrieve this information from sources such as online databases. You will compute the relationships between sets of small molecules and biological macromolecules. You will build chemical and biochemical networks that enable large data sets to be investigated. You will use these networks to build structural models and make functional inferences about chemical and biochemical behavior.

Text: Introducing Cheminformatics, by David J. Wild, Edition 2.0.

Bioinorganic Chemistry

  • Previous Instructor: Jesse Kleingardner (Former Post-Doc)
  • Last Offered: FA 2013

This course will provide an overview of metals in biology, introducing some of the most prominent categories and examples of metal active sites and cofactors. Besides an overview of metals in biology, students will learn the background necessary to understanding bioinorganic research, which includes (1) understanding structural characterizations and (2) the fundamentals of common inorganic techniques and theories used to study metalloprotein properties. This will prepare students for a major portion of the class work: presenting a metalloprotein of their choice. Students will explain what we know about its function and properties and how researchers have learned that information. We will cover in-depth a few metalloproteins that are important targets for chemists to mimic their function, and discuss how research in bioinorganic chemistry has led to recent advances in inorganic catalysis.

Inorganic Spectroscopy

  • Previous Instructor: Jesse Kleingardner (Former Post-Doc)
  • Last Offered: FA 2013

This elective course will cover spectroscopy and other physical methods used in inorganic chemistry. Broadly, the goal is to understand the techniques that are used to draw conclusions about the geometric structure, electronic structure, and dynamics of transition metal-containing molecules. The focus will be both on learning the fundamental physical chemistry of the relevant techniques and also on learning practical interpretive guidelines. Primary literature will be used throughout the course.


The objective of this course is to become familiar with electrochemical concepts and apply them to a real system through experiments. Topics covered include: fundamentals of electrochemistry, electrodes and potentiometry, redox titrations, and electroanalytical techniques.

Text: Quantitative Chemical Analysis, Daniel C. Harris, 8th ed., Freeman, 2011