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Chemistry

In satisfying the Chemistry General Institute Requirement, students can choose to study basic chemical principles via Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry (3.091) or Principles of Chemical Science (5.11).

Although both courses begin very similarly and discuss the same general principles, the examples and applications are different. 3.091 emphasizes “more extended structures” and “macromolecular systems,” and 5.11 focuses on “a more molecular viewpoint,” according to Professor of Chemistry Sylvia T. Ceyer, who is co-lecturing 5.11 this fall with Assistant Professor Catherine L. Drennan and Professor Daniel G. Nocera, both also of the chemistry department.

Choosing between 3.091 and 5.11 is like deciding whether you “like raspberry or strawberry,” Ceyer said.

3.091

“3.091 tries to be integrative by bringing in subject matter from outside the strict sciences,” said Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Donald R. Sadoway, who is lecturing the course for the fifth time this fall.

“We try to use music, for example, to link music thematically with the subject matter, so in the five minutes before and after the lecture, I play music, and I choose the selection so they’re thematically linked,” he said. For instance, Sadoway would tie a lecture on hydrogen bonding to Handel’s Water Music, or play the theme from Superman to X-ray characterization.

The course “teaches the principles of chemistry but also follows through with examples from the real world,” he said.

Sadoway has been at MIT for 22 years. He holds an undergraduate degree in engineering sciences with a speciality in materials at the University of Toronto, where he stayed to pursue graduate work in metallurgy. His area of research specialization is in electrochemistry and metals production, although over time, he has become “more interested in the environmental impact of metal production.”

To freshmen, Sadoway says: “pursue your interests and manage your time.”

5.11

Positive experiences during freshman chemistry at their respective undergraduate colleges is why Nocera and Drennan are both in the field.

Nocera, who has been at MIT for two years, was inspired to learn more about spectroscopy after he first learned about ligand field theory in a first-year chemistry course at Rutgers University, where he obtained his undergraduate degree in chemistry. He started doing research right away, and once he started, “I was hooked,” he said. After Rutgers, he engaged in graduate work in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

Nocera considers himself a “color chemist.” The colors he researches in compounds “occur from the millionth to a billionth or even a trillionth of a second.”

Nocera first entered teaching because of research. “The whole reason” to be researching, he said, “is to be teaching people new things.” “Research and teaching go hand in hand.”

This is Nocera’s second time teaching 5.11.

“Taking freshman chemistry changed my life, and now I’ll have the opportunity to maybe get other people excited about chemistry,” said Drennan, who received her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Vassar College and a doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of Michigan. She was originally going to major in biology.

Drennan has been at MIT since July 1, and this will be her first experience with lecturing 5.11. Prior to graduate school, she taught high school for three years, “and that’s where I discovered that I really loved teaching, and then realized that I loved research, too,” she said.

Although Drennan has only been here for a few months, “I really like it a lot so far... so far my exposure to undergraduate students is amazingly positive.”

In the future, 5.11 might become more biochemically oriented, with “more examples from biology why chemical processes are important,” said Drennan, who researches x-ray crystallography.

Despite having been at MIT for 18 years, 5.11 will be Ceyer’s first freshman course. She has taught Physical Chemistry (5.61), Physical Chemistry (5.62), and Introduction to Chemical Experimentation (5.311).

Ceyer earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Hope College in Michigan, and pursued graduate work in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.

She has loved chemistry ever since she was 10 years old. “I read a book called ‘What is Chemistry?’... and at the time, I’d never heard the word ‘chemistry,’ and I pronounced it as ‘ch-emistry’... I fell in love,” she said.

Ceyer’s current area of research is physical chemistry.