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Why Be a Chemistry Major Student?

Students major in chemistry for a variety of reasons:

Chemistry Major Requirements

Students planning to major in chemistry should become thoroughly familiar with the degree requirements for both the University and the Department. The information given here is intended to supplement that given in the Undergraduate Catalog and to aid the student and their advisor in planning a suitable program of study. Majoring in chemistry will require the student to complete a sequence of related courses outside of chemistry, a set of core courses in chemistry, and a series of courses in an area of concentration. Each of these aspects of the program is described below as well as in the Undergraduate Catalog. Students wishing to declare a major in chemistry should contact Dr. Fred Northrup, Director of Undergraduate Studies.

General Chemistry Major Requirements

Course requirements in the chemistry major include related courses in other sciences that are required to understand the chemistry course material, core courses in several areas of chemistry, and concentration courses allowing students to narrow their area of focus later in the program.

Core Chemistry Courses

Students majoring in chemistry must complete a specified set of core courses which is intended to provide a solid and well-rounded base from which to continue in the field of chemistry. The core program consists of the following courses:

Related Courses

The required courses in math and physics listed here are intended to provide the chemistry major student with a solid base in these areas integral to the study of chemistry. Various other options are possible for completion of the math requirements; student admission to these other advanced course programs in math is made through the Department of Mathematics. It is strongly suggested that students complete the necessary math and physics courses as early as possible in their undergraduate program.

Students entering Northwestern with advanced placement in Physics may use this to fulfill the physics requirement. In the event that a student has advanced placement in non-calculus-based physics (Physics 130) the student should consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Chemistry to determine if the physics requirement can be fulfilled simply by taking the remaining physics courses in the Physics 135 sequence.

Areas of Concentration

Areas of concentration draw upon courses within the department as well as in other departments. Each student must complete two (2) courses in a selected area of concentration, typically during their final year of study. There are six (6) areas of concentration as well as a self-designed concentration area. The six areas along with their associated courses are as follows:

Self-Designed Concentration

Students interested in an area of concentration other than those listed here may design a series of two courses with a consistent theme in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Chemistry. 

Chemistry Second Major for ISP Students

The Integrated Science Program (ISP) is a highly selective BA program in Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences requiring students to take courses in a wide variety of sciences, including chemistry. Students majoring in ISP who wish to complete a second major in chemistry take a slightly different set of courses for the chemistry major:

Chemistry Major Program for Secondary Teaching

Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences students pursuing a major in chemistry who also wish to be certified for secondary school teaching must be admitted to the Secondary Teaching Program in the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) and complete all requirements as outlined in the SESP chapter of the course catalog. Students are urged to contact the Office of Student Affairs in SESP as early as possible in their academic careers and to discuss this program with Dr. Fred Northrup, Director of Undergraduate Studies to plan their schedule appropriately.

Graduation with Honors

Graduating seniors who have demonstrated a solid academic record as well as a strong research effort during their time at Northwestern may want to put themselves forward for consideration by the Department and WCAS for Graduation with Honors in Chemistry.

The Chemistry Department’s Honors Committee would need to make a recommendation to the College Honors Committee on behalf of any student to be considered by the College for Graduation with Honors. To be recommended by the Department for honors the student must meet the following requirements:

The Chemistry Department Honors Committee will meet to review the letters of recommendation and discuss the candidates. After considering all the pertinent information, the committee will vote on the nature of the work. A positive vote of the committee is required for honors designation. The decision of the committee is final.

For more information on Graduation with Honors for chemistry majors, it is strongly suggested that students contact Dr. Fred Northrup, Director of Undergraduate Studies.

The Senior Thesis

During the fall term of their senior year graduating seniors will be contacted by the Department about Graduation with Honors in Chemistry. Students wishing to put themselves forward for consideration should send an e-mail message (including the name of the research advisor) to the Director of Undergraduate Studies during fall of senior year, and would then prepare a Senior Thesis during the winter term of their senior year. The thesis should reflect all or some portion of the student’s independent research at Northwestern, but the topics selected are up to the student and the student's advisor. To qualify for honors, the research must have an “original” component, where “original” is defined as not being a straightforward repetition of previous work with no changes. Inputting data into a canned program for analysis does not qualify as original work. When the work is part of a team effort, that aspect of the work carried out by the honors student must have the same “original” component. Independent research is defined as carrying out some aspect of the work individually. Independence does not require an independent proposal of new research ideas or new procedures.

The document itself should be in the standard format of any article being submitted for publication to a refereed journal. Students are encouraged to consult the ACS Style Guide in preparing their Senior Thesis. Students are also encouraged to discuss the thesis with their advisor before the preliminary submission is made to receive assistance on the format and content of the thesis.

The deadline for submitting the thesis is the end of the first week of the spring term of the student’s final year at Northwestern. Two copies are to be submitted to the department for review by this date.

Once submitted the Departmental Honors Committee will have the thesis reviewed by a member of the faculty. This anonymous reviewer will make suggestions to the student on how the thesis itself might be made stronger. This review typically will take two weeks. The reviewer will return the thesis, along with any comments or suggestions to the committee which will in turn return it to the student. The student would then have one week to address any suggestions and correct the originally submitted thesis. Once this is done one copy of the thesis and an electronic version shall be submitted to the department for final review.

Students wishing to see examples of previous senior theses are directed to the chemistry major Canvas site.