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Why Major in Chemistry or Biochemistry?

ArjunBagai, Contributor

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It is that time of year again. Many high school seniors picked their school of interest and are exuberant for a new educational chapter. However, a difficult decision to make is what major(s) to choose. There are over 100 majors choose from and doing so can be overwhelming. For those interested in the sciences should pursue a major in Biochemistry or Chemistry. While many are intimidated with hearing “chemistry,” it truly isn’t as bad as it sounds. The chemical sciences have unique features related to many aspects of life.

Pursuing a major in the chemical sciences requires students to understand what to take during their undergraduate career as well as how the sequenced course load can lead to success in future careers or interests. The chemical sciences are broken down into five main categories: organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, physical chemistry, biochemistry and inorganic chemistry. During the freshman year of college, students take General Chemistry. This course teaches the basics of chemistry as well as introducing the five main categories.

The first course taken after General Chemistry is Organic Chemistry. This course is taken during one’s sophomore year. Organic Chemistry is the study of carbon compounds and how they apply to the world. Pupils look at acid/base reactions, electron movements and reactivity, just to name a few. Organic Chemistry is essential for many things. The caffeine in coffee is made up of an organic compound, the human bodies contain biological molecules such as carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids. These are all made up of organic molecules and are essential for biological activities. Prior students have said that Organic Chemistry is challenging, but once the behavior of molecules is understood, many will appreciate this sub-discipline of the chemical sciences.

Sophomore majors also take a course called Analytical Chemistry. Analytical Chemistry deals with quantitative analysis of wet-chemical and instrumental techniques. Wet-chemical techniques are the old-fashioned ways of answering quantitative questions. For instance, titrations — a heavy topic in the course—are a wet-chemical technique. It requires proper understanding of acids and bases as well as how to add solutions carefully and precisely. Instrumental techniques look at using analytical instruments to find the answers to quantitative questions. These include chromatography and spectrometry machinery and techniques. It allows separation and identification of compounds and mixtures. Students wanting to pursue a career in pharmaceuticals would want to possess analytical skills. Making dosage amounts of medications is crucial.

During junior year, students take two courses. One of them is Physical Chemistry. This course looks at the nitty gritty information regarding theories of chemistry. The breakdown of the course is thermodynamics, equilibrium, kinetics and quantum chemistry. These may sound scary and intimidating, but they are essential in understanding why atoms and molecules behave and react in certain ways. The abstract and subtle topics of physical chemistry are supported with mathematical models. Like physics, these models explain and simplify the theories discussed in class. This class is important when doing certain research projects or going into the physical and chemical sciences.

The other course taken during the third year is Biochemistry (not required for chemistry majors but recommended). This is an intriguing course because it connects the biological sciences with the chemical sciences. It looks at how organic (and inorganic molecules) shape biological activities. Such activities include cell division, cellular respiration, enzyme kinetics and nucleic acid information. For those who aspire to be a physician, it is important to understand these biochemical principles, especially when biochemistry is covered on the MCAT and is a first-year medical school course.

The last main course taken during senior year is Inorganic Chemistry. This course focuses on everything other than carbon molecules. Representative and transitional metals are studied in this course. Metal complexes, crystal field principles and the understanding of different metal elements are carefully examined in the course.

With a solid foundation of these branches, many can study and apply these skills in various industries and communities. Pharmaceuticals require a grasp in organic and analytical chemistry. Geneticists look at the DNA and RNA structures and functions. Physicians are trying to connect the body with the proper medications (knowing what medications treat what ailments). Researchers are discovering new details about atoms, molecules, elements, compounds, reactivity, etc. The list goes on and on.

The chemical sciences can lead to new knowledge and applications that can transform this world. While the learning journey is a long one, the process is rewarding and incredible. For those who are undecided or are interested in majoring in something, take a look at chemistry or biochemistry.

 

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Why Major in Chemistry or Biochemistry?