San Diego State University

Chemistry and Biochemistry

Chemistry 410
Physical Chemistry

last update: Spring 2023 for Chem 410A

Course calendar

Supplemental materials

Class meetings:



The materials will be available through Aztec Bookstore. Any format (e-book, hardbound, looseleaf) for the textbook is fine.

Equitable Access Course

Some or all of the required course materials for this class are provided in a digital format by the first day of classes and are free through the add/drop date of January 31 2023. Your SDSU student account will then be charged a special reduced price for use of the materials for the remainder of the semester unless you opt-out of the content by 11:59 PM on the add/drop date. Please visit the bookstore's Equitable Access site for additional information about Equitable Access pricing, digital subscription duration, print add-ons, opting out and other frequently asked questions.

Syllabus Contents

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Opening Notes

Land Acknowledgment

For millennia, the Kumeyaay people have been a part of this land. This land has nourished, healed, protected and embraced them for many generations in a relationship of balance and harmony. As members of the San Diego State University community, we acknowledge this legacy. We promote this balance and harmony. We find inspiration from this land, the land of the Kumeyaay.

Essential Student Information

Inclusion in this Course

The science that we will be discussing is blissfully independent of geography or era, remaining as valid (we believe) on planets halfway across the universe as much as here and for billions of years behind us and yet to come. However, the concepts that we will be spending most of our time on in physical chemistry were formulated and recorded primarily in rather specific places and times, in the US and Western Europe over the last 200 years. But it matters that the science itself exceeds these narrow boundaries, and people of all backgrounds and cultures have contributed to the early development of the science we use today, and continue to contribiute to its growth now.

As scientists, we must all pay attention to the biases that may cause us to misinterpret data, to dismiss potentially valid alternatives, to see from only one perspective. It is our obligation to overcome these biases as much as possible to examine nature with an unfiltered eye. Part of that obligation is appreciating that everyone in the classroom, even the instructor, has a history that has shaped our perspective such that our experience is necessarily limited, and we broaden our ability to understand the world by each of us bringing our perspective to the classroom. Please feel free to ask questions and challenge assertions, but always with respect for others and the understanding that we are all there to learn from one another.

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Conduct of Class

  • Lectures will be conducted in-person and streamed via Zoom at the scheduled meeting times (MWF 12-12:50pm).
  • I plan to record the lectures and store them for later viewing. Please understand that errors or technical issues may interfere. I will try to re-record any missing videos, but the best way to be sure you catch the lecture material is to join us synchronously, either in person or by Zoom.
  • You will be able to ask questions using Zoom's chat feature (during lecture I will try to keep everyone but me muted).
  • You do not need to have your camera or microphone for this class.
  • If you do have your camera on, please dress appropriately.
  • As I understand it, the recorded lecture includes the chat, including "private" chat messages, so please keep your messages relatively professional and polite.
  • All students must take exams and drills in-person, and in compliance with SDSU's COVID policy. But otherwise, if you do not wish to remain in the classroom for the lecture, I will not be offended if you come to class only for the assignment. Exams begin at the start of class, about noon, and drills start at about 12:40pm.

Please ask questions. During lecture, I will try to monitor the Zoom chat, but I will more easily respond to questions from students present in the lecture room. If we really are in too much of a hurry, or if I just can't come up with a better explanation than I've already given, we may need to postpone the discussion until office hours. However, if the class is quiet, it only encourages me to keep talking and talking and talking. Don't think I won't.

Please always disable any noisy electronic devices you have, such as cell phones and watch alarms, while we are in class so that they will not disturb us during lecture or lab. If you must use your phone during lab, please leave the room and return when you're done. If you must use your phone during lecture, please stay away.

The goal of the lab portion of the course is for you to understand how to use specific software (mostly Excel) to accomplish a specific task, and the assignment is there to keep your efforts focused. Please get assistance if you need it. In addition to asking the instructor questions, you are welcome to confer with each other during the regular labs, but only you and your instructor are permitted to edit your assignment. For example, other students should not type an expression into your Excel spreadsheet, or use your mouse to demonstrate how to change the appearance of your chart. This also means that you are never permitted to share a template spreadsheet with anyone else. This would be plagiarism, and the penalties can be harsh (see Academic Honesty below). Please also remember that the lab quizzes test the skills introduced by the regular labs, and for the quizzes no assistance from classmates is permitted, so you will want to know how to do your own work for these assignments.

I prefer not to invest class time in discussing course administrative matters. Of course you may ask me to justify any aspect of the syllabus, but please reserve those questions for office hours or email, outside of our limited lecture time.

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Add/Drop Procedures

If you are unable to enroll in the course because you are blocked, or the sections are full, or the schedule number is hidden, email me. To drop the course, use your WebPortal account.

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Academic Honesty

Students are expected never to represent someone else's work as their own nor to assist others in doing so. Violations of this rule will be documented and may result in grade reduction (including failure) and disciplinary review by the University. Please see the SDSU academic honesty page for further information.

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Course Content

Condensed to one sentence, the course covers principles of atomic and molecular structure, molecular interactions, statistical mechanics, chemical thermodynamics, and chemical kinetics.

Catalog Description

CHEM 410A. Physical Chemistry (4)
Three lectures and three hours of laboratory. Prerequisites: Chemistry 232, 232L, 251; Mathematics 252 (Mathematics 150, 151; 252 or Physics 195, 195L, 196, 196L for chemistry teaching major); Physics 195, 195L and 196, 196L. Recommended: Physics 197 and 197L. Theoretical principles of chemistry with emphasis on mathematical relations. Theory and practice in acquisition and statistical analysis of physical measurements on chemical systems.

CHEM 410B. Physical Chemistry (3)
Three lectures. Prerequisites: Chemistry 232, 232L, 251, 410A. Theoretical principles of chemistry with emphasis on mathematical relations. Theory and practice in acquisition and statistical analysis of physical measurements on chemical systems.

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Student Learning Objectives:

In this two-semester course, encompassing Chem 410A and Chem 410B, we will examine in detail the theoretical framework that justifies all chemical laws. The overall goal of the course is to help you develop your own intuition for how chemistry works, in the subsequent courses you take and later in your career, by showing how all of the major concepts in chemistry are linked by a common set of laws from physics and math. If we are successful, this course will help all the other courses you take in this department make more sense. For example, we will not only be able to calculate the ΔH of a reaction, we will understand why one reaction is exothermic and another is endothermic.

The student successfully completing the course will be able to accomplish the following outcomes.

Outcome Justification Activity Assessment
Analyze diverse chemical systems and reduce them to their principal chemical and physical components and interactions for the purposes of mathematical description. Chemists use this approach to break down complex questions about new materials and/or new environments into simpler questions that can often be answered in sequence to better undrestand the system. With this skill, you will be able to help guide your own research projects in Chem 498, and in whatever career you choose after you graduate. Students will be presented with derivations of fundamental principles through lecture and reading, with example applications discussed with the class as time permits. New applications of these principles will be presented as word problems for the students to solve on examinations.
Predict the outcome of molecular processes (including diffusion, interaction with radiation, and chemical reaction) from a set of initial conditions. Being able to predict the outcome of a process will let us make crucial decisions, like whether or not an experiment is likely to succeed. New experiments are often expensive, time-intensive, and sometimes hazardous. It's important to know how likely it is to succeed in order to use our resources wisely. Lecture will demonstrate how principles of chemistry and physics aid in predicting the dynamics of molecular systems. Students will practice applying these concepts in online homework problems with unlimited attempts. New systems and initial conditions will be presented as problems for the students to solve on examinations.
Calculate or estimate structural properties of individual molecules and small groups of molecules using principles of quantum mechanics. (Chem 410A) Knowing these properties of molecules allows us to make informed decisions on potential solutions when faced with challenges such as climate change, which is largely caused by how much energy is absorbed by vairous molecules in the atmosphere. Lecture will demonstrate how quantum mechanics describes systems at the molecular scale. Students will practice applying these concepts in online homework problems with unlimited attempts. New applications of these principles will be presented as word problems for the students to solve on examinations.
Use Excel and Maple to carry out several basic operations for the analysis and visualization of scientific data (Chem 410A lab). Alumni of our program in a panel discussion in 2019 mentioned that learning how to use Excel in Chem 410A was among the most important skills they learned in our program. This introduction shows you how to use spreadsheets to carry out calculations on very large sets of data, which is a crucial skill in most chemistry-related jobs. Excel is a standard tool in analyzing the contents of a water sample, determining the efficacy of a drug, and presenting your results to others. Students will work through several guided problems of growing complexity in data analysis, data presentation, and numerical simulations. Most activities will include a final component where data is given to the student to analyze as part of their score for the day's project. In addition, quizzes on selected topics will be presented throughout the semester following the guided portion of the relevant lab.
Calculate or estimate dynamic properties of large sets of molecules using principles of statistical mechanics, chemical thermodynamics, and reaction kinetics. (Chem 410B) One of the central parts of the intuition that we want to develop is to grasp how the properties of a single molecule affect its behavior in very very lagre groups of molecules. Knowing what information is important to retain and what information we can sacrifice to simplify the system will allow us to make the connection between the two limits. Lecture will demonstrate how classical physical chemistry describes systems at the laboratory scale. Students will practice applying these concepts in online homework problems with unlimited attempts. New applications of these principles will be presented as word problems for the students to solve on examinations.
Describe the contribution and cultural context of a scientist or group of scientists relevant to the course material, outside the context of modern era Europe and the US. We want to be aware of (a) how science is important to everyone and how everyone can make important contrbutions to our scientific understanding, and (b) how culture or other aspects of our own backgrounds may influence our interests in, approaches to, and even understanding of science. Research outside the lecture class, biosketches in the book, and office hour discussions with the instructor will provide ideas for biosketch subjects. The student will research and write a short biosketch of an individual or group from outside modern era Europe and the US who has contributed to modern physical chemistry.

Meeting these objectives should allow the student to eventually build a meaningful intuition regarding chemical behavior based on a unified foundation of chemical theory.

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Physical chemistry is a fairly demanding course, and we spend little time reviewing material from the foundation courses that come earlier. Enforcing the prerequisites allows us to better match the course to those students who have at least partly established that foundation through their prior coursework. We do not enforce all the prerequisites at registration because this would make it impossible for many qualified transfer students to register. However, students who do not fulfill the course requirements listed as detailed below may be dropped from the course by the instructor:

If you satisfy any of these requirements by coursework at a different institution, it may be necessary to show the transcripts for that work to the instructor.

CHEM 410 is not a math class, and so I try to avoid unnecessarily lengthy mathematics in the problems. Usually. However, mathematics is our principal tool, and you need to be very comfortable with elementary algebra, geometry, and calculus (up to derivatives, simple integrals, and power series). The math is all manageable one step at a time, but there will sometimes be many steps.

This is pretty much a physics class, however. In Chem 410A in particular we will call on results from mechanics and electromagnetism to justify some of our conclusions about atomic and molecular structure. You are probably familiar with the concepts if you've taken first-year physics, and we will introduce (but rarely prove) any equations from physics that we'll need before we use them.

There is an introductory chapter ("Chapter A") to the text that summarizes the prerequisites we will rely on most often. Your texts for previous math and physics courses should help you if you're rusty in those areas.

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The Chem 410A/B sequence covers the fundamental physics of chemical systems, including structure, energetics, and interactions of molecules. The material can be applied to inorganic, organic, and biochemical molecules and reactions. In fact, most of the important results in physical chemistry will already be familiar to you from general chemistry. If you find the details of our work in this class obscure the results, you may want to go back and look at the relevant section of a general chemistry text.

The primary reference for the course is still the lectures themselves. No material is covered on the tests that has not been discussed in class, and occasional lecture topics may appear on the tests even if they are not included in the reading. But if you read ahead, you may find the lectures more useful, and your note-taking may be reduced to adding comments to the text rather than transcribing the entire lecture.


Physical chemistry examines chemical phenomena both on the scale of individual atoms and molecules (the microscopic limit) and on the scale of thousand-gallon chemical reactors (the bulk or macroscopic limit) and bigger, as well as everywhere in between. In this class, we build from the microscopic limit to the macroscopic:

  1. quantum mechanics of atoms
  2. quantum mechanics of molecules
  3. molecular interactions at microscopic scale
  4. statistical mechanics and extrapolation to the macroscopic limit
  5. thermodynamics and bulk properties of non-reactive systems
  6. bulk reaction thermodynamics and kinetics.

This differs from the organization of most textbooks in the field, which start with classical thermodynamics and kinetics, and then introduce quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics in the second half. I hate that, so instead we're using my own textbook as your reference. But no single teaching style or book works for everyone, so you might wish to look through other textbooks titled Physical Chemistry available at Love Library.

A more detailed breakdown of the course follows the chapters of the 2-volume textbook in sequence:

Chemistry 410A: Microscopic Systems

Physical Chemistry: Quantum Mechanics and Molecular Interactions
chap topic
Part I: Atomic Structure
1-2 Introduction to quantum mechanics
3 One-electron atoms
4 Many-electron atoms
Part II: Molecular Structure
5 Chemical bonds
6 Molecular symmetry
7 Electronic states
8 Vibrational states
9 Rotational states
Part III: Intermolecular Interactions
10 Intermolecular forces in gases
11 Clusters and macromolecules
12 Structure of liquids
13 Structure of solids

Chemistry 410B: Macroscopic Systems

Physical Chemistry: Thermodynamics, Stat Mech, and Kinetics
Part I: Extrapolation to Macroscopic Systems
2 Introduction to statistical mechanics
3 Partitioning the energy
4 Stat mech and molecular interactions
5 Mass transport
6 Energy transport
Part II: Non-reactive Macroscopic Systems
7 Introduction to thermodynamics
8 Energy and enthalpy
9 Entropy
10 Phase transitions
11 Solutions
Part III: Reactive Macroscopic Systems
12 Chemical thermodynamics
13 Chemical kinetics: elementary reactions
14 Chemical kinetics: multistep reactions

For a tentative lecture schedule, please see the course calendar for CHEM 410A in Canvas.

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Grading Scheme

Overall Grading Scheme

Final grades will be assigned on the following scale:

A ≥85%
B 70%—85%
C 55%—70%
For CHEM 410A, the totals from the lecture and the lab parts of the course are combined in a 75:25 ratio before determining the final grade.

Lecture Grading Scheme

Note that for CHEM 410A the following table applies only to the lecture part of the course:

# assignment points each points total % lecture grade
1 office hour visit 5 pts 5 extra credit
6 homework sets 20 pts (drop lowest score) 100 10%
≈50 CourseKey questions 1–4 pts 50 5%
4 drills 20 pts 80 8%
6 20-minute exams 100 pts (drop lowest score) 500 50%
1 cumulative final 250 pts 250 25%
1 biosketch 20 pts 20 2%

Lab Grading Scheme (410A only)

The lab grade is based on several 10-point labs, and a few quizzes. The lab instructors (not always the same person as the lecture instructor) will determine the grading scale for the labs, and at the end of the semester the total lab scores will be normalized to the lecture grading scale below (so that for example a high B in lab is converted to a high B on the lecture grading scale). The final score will then be computed as
0.25 × (normalized lab score) + 0.75 × (lecture score).

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These are 10-minute quizzes on the most basic material, mostly review material from prerequisite classes such as General Chemistry. These are sometimes directly relevant to the lecture material, and the dates on which they are given may be changed during the semester to accommodate the variable lecture schedule. Because it should not be necessary to spend a lot of time preparing for these, I may give a drill on only three day's notice. Drill material will usually not be reviewed in lecture, but you can always ask about this material during office hours.

There will be an opportunity on each drill (since the time limit is fairly loose on those) to provide feedback about the course. An anonymous suggestion box at the course web page (not Canvas) will also be available.

Problem Sets (Online Homework)

One problem set of online Mastering Chemistry homework problems will be assigned before each exam. I will make available a number of problems, worth 1 or 2 points each, with a maximum score of 20 points per problem set. You are encouraged to try as many problems as you can manage, but you only need to complete 20 points' worth of problems to get full credit. These will normally be due the Monday before each exam, and the initial problems will be posted about two weeks before that. I may continue to add problems to the set up until it is due, but you will have at least one full week to work to complete your 20 points. No credit will be given for late problem sets, so please get your 20 points done before the due date.

Most of these will be based on the more straightforward lecture material. The primary goal of the homework is to encourage students to prepare for the exam more than two days in advance. The homework problems are not intended to exactly represent problems that will appear on the exams. Studying solutions to these assignments alone will be of only partial benefit in preparing for the exams.

The homework also provides an opportunity to illustrate some applications drawn from material covered in lecture, and these may contain tougher mathematics than will be necessary on the exams. If you're spending more than 15 minutes on one problem and not making progress, please come to the office hours or email me or use the Blackboard discussion forum.


CourseKey is an interactive clicker-style classroom engagement system that uses an app on your mobile device.

I hope to have one or two of these questions per class, except on days when an exam or drill is scheduled. Each quiz will generally be worth 1/2 point for participation and 1-2 points for the right answer. Like the homework, there is a maximum number of possible points (50 for the Quick Questions over the entire semester) but multiple chances to get those points. If you miss a class, or have an isolated case of technical trouble, we won't worry about it because you will make up the points another time. Although I will not be taking attendance, you should still attend class fairly often to be sure of getting all 50 points. To use CourseKey:


This assignment is an experiment, and I hope the guidelines below are clear and appropriate. if you have any concerns, please let me know no later than April 1. It is not for many points, so you should not budget more than 1-2 hours over the entire semester to work on this.

Modern Western science draws from thousands of years of humanity all over the world studying nature. Science continues to benefit from the research of scientists with a rich variety of backgrounds, bringing new perspectives and new applications of scientific discovery to their fields of study.

Write a very brief (up to one page) biographical sketch of a researcher working in physical chemistry or a closely related area, whether present day or from history, who has contributed or is currently working in an area that you find especially interesting. Choose someone working outside the European/US/Canadian world of the last 500 years. Find a scientist working in Asia, Africa, Mexico, or South/Central America, OR a figure or culture from history anywhere in the world, roughly 1500 CE or earlier. For our purposes, Eastern Europe (including Russia and the former Soviet Union) is still Europe. You should include

  1. Their name (if known) and basic biographical information including where and when they live or lived;
  2. What it is about their area of study you find interesting (for example, potential real-world applications of the work);
  3. How you think their culture may have influenced their interests or their approach.

You do not need to provide references, but you must use your own words. Wikipedia will be an acceptable source, but -- again -- you must use your own words. Using a few different sources can help you arrive at your own way of saying things.

Deadline: The paper will be due any time during the semester before the last day of class. Details for the final submission will be give later. I will be happy to provide feedback if you get it to me early in the semester, and you may continue to revise until we both agree that it looks good.

Format: This will be a very short exercise in formal writing. I plan to correct grammar and spelling (please see below) the way I do when I read a student's thesis or a paper I am reviewing for a scientific journal. If you have any questions or concerns about that at all, please submit a draft early enough for my review so that I can give you examples of what I would look for. Please let me know if a few minutes during a Monday office hour on some general guidelines would be appropriate. The final document should conform to the following guidelines:

The final grade will be based on these criteria:

Office Hour Visit

For 5 extra credit points, come by any of my office hours and introduce yourself. Just let me know who you are, and maybe give me an idea what career choices you're considering, or what research topics interest you. I know the department faculty projects pretty well, and can discuss options for the Chem 498 research requirement with you. You don't need to stay for long, but I'd like you just to come by and say hello and get 5 points.

Exams and Final

There will be six 20-minute exams and one 2-hour final. CHEM 410B has an additional, optional ACS final exam. The following instructions accompany all exams and the final:

Although the exams are all open-book, you must come to them prepared. You will have time only for very brief consultation of your notes. Attached to each 20-minute exam are what I deem all necessary tables, constants, and complicated equations. The final exam will offer you almost twice as much time per question, so will feel less rushed. But in my experience, the added time does not tend to greatly raise students' scores.

The 20-minute exam on which you get your lowest score will be dropped from calculation of the final grade. If you are unable to take an exam for any reason, that exam will become your dropped score. There are no make-up exams. Please beware of purposely dropping any exam to make room in your schedule for something else. Throughout the two-semester sequence, what we cover on one exam is always based on material that the previous exams covered, so it doesn't pay to purposely neglect any section of the course.

The final exam will review all of the course material for the semester, and provides an opportunity to improve recorded scores on some problems from the short exams. Your exam scores are recorded question-by-question. After writing the final, I will match some of those questions to questions on the 20-minute exams which covered the same topic. If you score higher on one such question on the final than you did on the corresponding question on the 20-minute test, I will raise your grade on the 20-minute test. But don't count on a lot of help from this: because there are not nearly as many questions on the final as on the set of 20-minute tests, the final will not be able to correct substantially for routinely poor performance on the 20-minute tests. Also, the final is not capable of changing grades as much as one might think. The wide grade ranges of the grading scheme (compared to the typical 10-point scheme) make it unlikely that any one assignment (even the final exam) will shift the final total by a whole letter grade.

ACS final exam in CHEM 410B

Two final exams will be offered in CHEM 410B only:

Your best score of the two finals will be your score on the final for CHEM 410B. Therefore, it cannot hurt your grade to take the ACS exam. A review of CHEM 410A material will be offered. Scores from the earlier, official final exam will be made available only after the ACS exam. (It's unlikely that the regular exam will be graded before the ACS exam anyway.)

Labs (410A only)

The lab handouts, posted to Canvas, will allow you to prepare for each lab. While you may consult with each other before the lab, full credit will not be given for lab assignments that appear to be largely copies of the same file. Any part of the assignment may be modified by the instructor once the lab starts in order to encourage everyone to be ready to do their own work. The labs must be completed during the class period, in the assigned classroom (or Zoom session); exceptions require prior consent of the instructor. If more than one lab section is being offered, then changing sections for a particular lab to accommodate a personal schedule conflict is allowable, provided that consent is obtained from the instructor(s) for both sections and that there are enough computers available.

Missed Assignments

This course cannot always be your top priority, and in consideration of this, the lowest score from each of (a) the problem sets and (b) the 20-minute exams are dropped. If you do not turn in one of these assignments for any reason, that becomes the dropped assignment. This is intended to accommodate emergencies such as illness, as well as professional obligations such as out-of-town conferences. Make-up drills are available; email me to schedule a time convenient to both of us outside of class (such as during office hours). Make-up labs will normally be possible during other scheduled lab meetings but again you must confirm this with the lab instructor. In the event that other obligations or emergencies compel you to miss multiple assignments and you are concerned about your grade, then you may meet with me during office hours to discuss the possibility of taking an incomplete. Policy on missed labs is to be determined.

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SASC Accommodation

Students who may qualify for special accommodations for these assignments should first seek authorization by contacting the Student Ability Success Center at 619-594-6473 (Calpulli Center, Suite 3101). Students with that authorization should then contact me as early as possible so that we can agree on a suitable protocol for drills, quizzes, labs, and exams. We cannot retroactively apply special consideration for assignment scores. You are welcome to email me if you would like to set up an appointment outside regular office hours for that discussion.

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Additional Hours: Examples Session and 410A Calculus Boot Camp

We have a lot of material to cover, and we will cover almost all of it. Lectures are therefore rather fast-paced, and it is often not possible to work through example problems during class time. To make up for this, please take advantage of my office hours to go over lecture material, sample problems, and to review quizzes and exams.

Examples Session. In addition to the regular office hours, a totally optional examples session is held each Monday evening (starting the second or third week of class) from 5-6pm. This allows us to go over additional problems, and at a more leisurely pace. New material for tests is never introduced at these sessions, and attendance is not expected or required. If you choose to come, you may arrive and leave anytime during the session, but please bring questions about the material or suggestions for problems to work through.

Calculus Boot Camp (Chem 410A only). A 3-day, 7am-8am review of basic calculus, focusing on the rote methods for dealing with the calculus we encounter in this class rather than focusing on the mathematical theory. This is completely optional. Nothing is graded, and no sign-up or regular attendance is required. The idea is to provide a chance for students who are concerned about their calculus skills to exercise them before it really matters. I do not try to make this interesting; it's just math drills, available for those who feel they might benefit from it and who don't mind getting up early to see if it helps.

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Studying Physical Chemistry

You've reached a level of coursework where there's no reliable formula for success. I will be trying to grade each student based on their understanding of fundamental concepts that underlie all of chemistry, and their ability to apply those concepts to different situations. This is a lot to ask. I appreciate that your time is limited, and you want your study time to be wisely used, but it will be up to you to find what works best. It is possible to study many hours and still be disappointed by performance on the exam, so you need be honest with yourself about how to make your studying most effective. For example, reading the homework problems and then reading the solutions can feel very rewarding, but often does not prepare a student for the demands of putting together the solution on their own. Detailed solutions to many problems in the book are provided in the solutions manual, but I always try to write new problems and new kinds of problems for the exams.

To pass the course it is usually enough to make sure that you can do the basic calculations. Study the major equations we have used and that are listed at the end of each chapter, and know what each variable represents. Make sure you can convert between the different unit systems we use, and be familiar with the order of magnitude of common quantities.

To get an A, you will need to demonstrate that you can apply the principles we cover to new situations of my choosing. That requires testing yourself not just on how to use particular equations, but on why those equations work for particular situations, and what would happen if the situations were different. My hope is that an A will reflect a deep grasp of the most fundamental ideas in chemistry. I hope you'll agree that this is a goal worth considerable effort.

My recommendations (for what they're worth):

  1. Work lots of problems, but don't spend a lot of time on any particular one. The most difficult part of a good exam problem is right at the beginning: seeing what concepts we've covered that relate to the question. For that purpose, I think it's more valuable to see lots of different examples than to go into depth on a few.
  2. Don't assume that understanding a solution is the same as being able to solve a problem. It is much easier to make sense out of a solution that is presented to you than to come up with another similar solution on your own. Concentrate on how how you would start solving the problem that particular way. What in the problem makes it clear which equations are useful?
  3. Don't spend a lot of time memorizing a particular approach. Learning recipes for solving particular kinds of problems (a strategy that works well in General Chemistry) is only a small part of succeeding in Physical Chemistry. Some of these problems can be solved by rote, but not the really interesting ones, and I try to make the exam questions interesting.
  4. Try to ask yourself qualitative questions about the material. This is difficult, but once you get to the point that you can solve the purely numerical problems, you should be able to ask yourself what that answer means. Would the final value be larger or smaller if you changed the system somehow (more massive particle, bigger container, ...)? What if we asked the same question, but about a different system? These are the kinds of questions I ask myself when coming up with the problems.
  5. Make the lectures worthwhile by reading ahead if you can, and asking questions in lecture when you need to.
  6. Study with others and ask each other questions about the material. Test each other. The end-of-chapter problems begin with a set of "discussion questions." These would be terrible exam questions because they look mostly for qualitative, essay-like solutions (difficult to grade), but they are suggestions for the sort of questions you should be asking each other.
  7. Come to office hours and/or the Monday afternoon examples session, at least once, early in the semester. Find out if either of these is helpful before you look for alternatives. This will also be helpful if you might want a letter of recommendation from me later on.
  8. Keep thinking about the material. The material should make sense, if you can give yourself the time to think it through. That's the most rewarding thing about the class -- it shows how chemistry all fits together into one cohesive picture.

Ultimately, the only way to guarantee success in the course should be to understand the material really, really well. Try to honestly assess your own understanding of the material, for example by seeing how reliably you can productively start to solve problems at the end of each chapter, and use that as your guide to what study techniques work best for you.

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