Physical Chemistry


This track thrives on the interplay of theory and experiment. Examples of broad areas of research: (1) Spectroscopy and microscopy are employed to reveal reactions and interactions crucial in biology, materials science, solar energy conversion, and gas phase dynamics; (2) Theoretical and computational methods are developed to discover mechanisms of protein folding and function or to develop new drugs; (3) Quantum and statistical mechanics are applied to model electron and energy transfer, biochemical reactions, aerosol chemistry, and gas adsorption in porous nanomaterials.

Many research programs have significant overlap with Structural Biology and Biophysics, Chemical Biology, and Analytical and Atmospheric Chemistry tracks. Close connections also exist with the Materials Science and other engineering programs.

Course Offerings:

  • CHEM 213 - Physical Chemistry and Biological Macromolecules (S)
  • CHEM 230A Quantum Mechanics I (W)
  • CHEM 230B Quantum Mechanics II (S)
  • CHEM 231 Chemical Kinetics and Molecular Reaction Dynamics (F)
  • CHEM 232A Statistical Mechanics I (F)
  • CHEM 232B Statistical Mechanics II (W)
  • CHEM 235 Molecular Spectroscopy (S)
  • CHEM 239 Special Topics in Physical Chemistry (S)
  • CHEM 285 Introduction to Computational Chemistry (S)

Course Descriptions

CHEM 213 Physical Chemistry and Biological Macromolecules (S)

(Conjoined with Chem 113.) A discussion of the physical principles governing biological macromolecular structure and function, and the physicochemical experiments used to probe their structure and function. Chem 213 students will be required to complete an additional paper and/or exam beyond that expected of students in Chem 113. Prerequisites: Chem 140C or 140CH; and Chem 127 or 131 (113); or graduate standing (213).

CHEM 230A Quantum Mechanics I (W)

Theoretical basis of quantum mechanics; postulates; wave packets; matrix representations; ladder operators; exact solutions for bound states in 1, 2, or 3 dimensions; angular momentum; spin; variational approximations; description of real one and two electron systems. Recommended background: Chem 133 and Math 20D or their equivalents.

CHEM 230B Quantum Mechanics II (S)

Continuation of theoretical quantum mechanics: evolution operators and time dependent representations, second quantization, Born-Oppenheimer approximation, electronic structure methods, selected topics from among density operators, quantized radiation fields, path integral methods, scattering theory. Prerequisites: Chem 230A or consent of instructor.

CHEM 231 Chemical Kinetics and Molecular Reaction Dynamics (F)

Classical kinetics, transition state theory, unimolecular decomposition, potential energy surfaces; scattering processes and photodissociation processes. (May not be offered ever year.)

CHEM 232A Statistical Mechanics I (F)

Derivation of thermodynamics from atomic descriptions. Ensembles, fluctuations, classical (Boltzmann) and quantum (Fermi-Dirac and Bose-Einstein) statistics, partition functions, phase space, Liouville equation, chemical equilibrium, applications to weakly interacting systems, such as ideal gases, ideal crystals, radiation fields. Recommended background: Chem 132 or its equivalent. Classical and quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and mathematical methods will be reviewed as needed, but some background will be necessary.

CHEM 232B Statistical Mechanics II (W)

Interacting systems at equilibrium, both classical (liquids) and quantum (spins). Phase transitions. Non-equilibrium systems: glasses, transport, time correlation functions, Onsager relations, fluctuation-dissipation theorem, random walks, Brownian motion. Applications in biophysics. Prerequisites: Chem 232A or consent of instructor.

CHEM 235 Molecular Spectroscopy (S)

Time-dependent behavior of systems; interaction of matter with light; selection rules. Radiative and nonradiative processes, coherent phenomena and the density matrices. Instrumentation, measurement, and interpretation. Prerequisites: graduate standing or consent of instructor. (May not be offered every year.)

CHEM 239 Special Topics in Physical Chemistry (S)

Topics of special interest will be presented. Examples include NMR, solid-state chemistry, phase transitions, stochastic processes, scattering theory, nonequilibrium processes, tensor transformations, and advanced topics in statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, and chemical kinetics. (May not be offered every year.)

CHEM 285 Introduction to Computational Chemistry (S)

(Conjoined with Chem 185.) Course in computational methods building on a background in mathematics and physical chemistry. Brief introduction and background in computational theory, molecular mechanics, semi-empirical methods, and ab initio-based methods of increasing elaboration. Emphasis on applications and reliability. Chem 285 students will be required to complete an additional paper and/or exam beyond that expected of students in Chem 185. Prerequisites: Chem 126 or 133 and Math 20C. (May not be offered every year.)