Chemistry Department Philosophy

Chemistry is a dynamic and evolving science that touches our lives, our cultures, our careers, and our environment. It is a multifaceted science that is simultaneously theoretical and experimental. Chemists explore the changes and transformations in the molecular world as a means to understand the composition, predict the properties, and modify the structure of materials around us. As the "central science," all other natural sciences depend on chemistry to provide concepts and processes important to their advancement.

Knowledge of chemistry provides a more complete and robust appreciation of everyday phenomena, and a strong foundation in chemistry is an asset to any future career. Chemistry is essential for literate citizens, and an accurate perception of chemistry is invaluable for making sound personal, political, and economic decisions. On an aesthetic level, the atomic architecture of the world around us is inherently beautiful and inspirational. The student of chemistry will experience the rich personal satisfaction, excitement, and fascination that abound in its study.

Chemistry is a way of understanding our world that can only be developed through rigorous problem-solving, thoughtful discussion, hands-on experiments, and independent research. The faculty in chemistry are committed to providing these educational opportunities and to fostering success for all our students.

Department Goals

  1. Enhancing Science Literacy
  2. Improving Chemical Literacy of Workers in Non-chemistry Fields
  3. Preparing Students for Additional Courses and Careers as Chemists

1. Enhancing Science Literacy

The primary goal of the Department of Chemistry is to enhance the science literacy and improve the critical thinking and problem-solving ability of all students enrolled in chemistry courses.Science literacy is the knowledge needed to understand personal and public issues. Students fill many different roles throughout their lives. As living beings, consumers, and parents, students must make decisions about food and lifestyle, the merits of new products, and the health and safety of their children and themselves. Science literacy provides a knowledge base with which to make informed decisions. Literacy in science allows each student to place important public issues such as the environment, energy, and medical advances into a scientific context.

Education in chemistry is more than learning a collection of facts; it is a continuing process of inquiry. Therefore, the laboratory experience is an essential segment of each chemistry course. In laboratories, students move beyond received knowledge toward active understanding of the natural world. By defining questions and developing strategies to answer them, students experience the process of scientific inquiry. They also become aware of the strengths and limitations of scientific inquiry. Through data collection, data analysis and critical thinking, students reach reasoned judgments. By writing papers, such as lab reports and research papers, students organize their ideas and present them clearly, a skill as essential in science as it is in other areas.

An educated person realizes that our ability to make everyday decisions is diminished when we do not understand the scientific principles and the technologies built upon them. The future of individual human beings, the nation, and the world depends largely on the wisdom with which we use science and technology.

Three levels of introductory chemistry (CHM 100, CHM 110, and CHM 121/122) provide an appropriate course for each student based on the student's background and intended major. Each course provides students with a firm foundation of basic principles of chemistry that students will use to make decisions throughout their lives.

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2. Improving the Chemical Literacy of Workers in Non-Chemistry Fields

A second goal of the Department of Chemistry is to provide the necessary chemistry background for students to be productive workers in fields other than chemistry. Most jobs depend on advances in science and technology. New technologies are essential in fields as varied as economics, business, manufacturing, commerce, medicine, even law. Advances in plastics and composite materials continue to alter the types of goods being made and sold. All manufacturers must deal with hazardous waste. Even professional athletes must constantly evaluate and use new and improved gear and rely on improved medical treatments and therapies.

In recognition of this, a chemical foundation is required by many programs or majors - among them are the health-related fields, other science fields, agriculture and forestry.

In addition to the introductory courses, the basic organic chemistry (CHM 201) course provides an appropriate challenge for students with interests in many programs and majors.

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3. Preparing Students for Additional Courses and Careers as Chemists

The final goal of the Department is to help train chemists, biochemists, and chemical engineers. These professions require students to continue with upper division courses. Students who choose a career in chemistry require challenging courses with a strong laboratory emphasis. To fulfill this need, Harper offers rigorous courses in organic chemistry (CHM 204/205) and biochemistry (CHM 211). Students in these courses learn sophisticated laboratory techniques such as instrumental chromatography (GC-FID, GC-MS and HPLC), infrared spectroscopy, UV-visible spectroscopy, and NMR spectroscopy. Computers are used to calculate properties of substances, to simulate reactions, and to collect and analyze data. Students who complete these courses are prepared to continue their upper division chemistry or chemical engineering education at transfer institutions.

The Department recognizes the diversity of the student population enrolled in chemistry classes. We are committed to fulfilling our goals as articulated in this document and to providing the highest quality education to all chemistry students.

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