What will you learn in Chemistry?

There are five fundamental subdisciplines within chemistry:

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physical Chemistry

Many students have no idea what is in these courses, even after reading the course descriptions, so on this page, we attempt to give some more information about the content and methods of different chemistry classes. 

The department also offers courses in Medicinal Chemistry and Environmental Chemistry.

Analytical Chemistry

In analytical chemistry courses you learn to answer the questions

  • What is it?
  • How much of it is there?

Modern analytical chemists use instrumentation such as a

  • UV/Vis spectrometer
  • AA spectrometer
  • HPLC
  • GC/MS
  • Fluorimeter
  • Potentiostat

to find out information about samples.  In your analytical chemistry lecture, you will learn about the theory behind each instrument, how it works, and the data that you can get from it.  In the lab, you will have an opportunity to analyze samples on each instrument, and carry out an independent project where you analyze a sample of your own choosing using the most appropriate instrument.


In biochemistry courses, you will study the structure, properties, and reactivity of molecules in living organisms.  The four important classes of biomolecules are:

  • Proteins
  • Nucleic Acids
  • Carbohydrates
  • Lipids

Topics covered in the lecture include:

  • Protein structure
  • Mechanisms of enzyme catalyzed reactions
  • Metabolism (how food is broken down into basic building blocks, and how the body assembles the molecules it needs from those building blocks)
  • DNA replication, transcription, and translation
  • Protein-DNA interactions

Techniques that you will learn in the lab include:

  • Protein purification
  • Determination of protein concentration
  • Determination of enzyme activity
  • Use of a fluorimeter and HPLC to analyze nucleic acids

Inorganic Chemistry

The inorganic chemistry class at Goucher College focuses on the structure, bonding and reactivity of transition metal complexes including both coordination complexes and organonmetallic complexes).  A full appreciation of structure and bonding requires an extensive study of molecular orbital theory, including the use of group theory to derive molecular orbitals.  The latter part of the course examines the applications of organometallic complexes as catalysts for organic reactions.

In the lab course, you will prepare and characterize three important transition metal complexes: Ferrocene, the Jacobsen asymmetric epoxidation catalyst, and the Grubbs olefin metathesis catalyst.  Carrying out these syntheses will expose you to a variety of advanced techniques including the use of Schlenk lines for handling air-sensitive compounds.  You will also investigate the kinetics of a ligand substitution reaction. 

Organic Chemistry

Organic chemistry is the study of compounds containing carbon.  The applications of organic chemistry are numerous:

  • The important classes of biomolecules (see above)
  • Drugs
  • Plastics
  • Petroleum products

In the first semester of organic chemistry, you will learn all of the fundamentals including:

  • Organic Functional Groups
  • How to name organic compounds
  • 3-dimensional structure of organic molecules including chirality and stereoisomerism
  • The concept of a mechanism of an organic reaction
  • Important organic reactions including acid-base, substitution, elimination, and carbonyl addition
  • Organic structure determination using NMR, IR, and Mass spectrometry
  • Multistep organic synthesis

The second semester continues to explore carbonyl addition reactions and multistep synthesis.  Additional topics include the reactions of alkenes, aromatics, and amines, free radical reactions, and the chemistry of carbohydrates. 

Physical Chemistry

In physical chemistry, you will use calculus as a tool to derive many of the important equations that you learned in general chemistry from first principles.  Physical chemistry courses may be taken in either order.  The fall semester is focused on the fascinating world of quantum mechanics and how it can be used to describe the structure of molecules.  You will also be introduced to how various types of spectroscopy (IR, Raman, UV/VIS, fluorescence, NMR) can be used to deduce detailed information about the structure of molecules.  In the spring semester you will derive the laws of thermodynamics and kinetics, which connect the behavior of macroscopic quantities of matter with the properties of individual molecules.