The chemistry curriculum at Bennington is anchored by the Chemistry 1 – 4 sequence. This two-year course of study differs from the traditional approach, i.e., one year of general chemistry followed by a second year of organic chemistry, in favor of an integrated four-term sequence that allows for a more pedagogically compelling presentation of the key aspects of both subjects. For example, organic structures are introduced early in the first term, as are the spectroscopic techniques necessary for characterizing them in the lab. Thermodynamics and equilibrium is taught within the context of many organic and biochemical reactions. Reaction kinetics is taught in close connection with specific reaction types to emphasize how the data is useful in establishing mechanistic pathways. In addition, the looser structure of the sequence allows for the inclusion of special topics that fall outside of the realms of either general or organic chemistry, but which can give students insights into fascinating current advances in other branches of the discipline. All courses include readings from the primary literature, writing components (especially in response to articles and concerning lab work), and discussion-based class sessions.
The curricula are designed to be useful for science students pursuing a variety of goals: advanced chemistry, biology, other physical sciences, and pre-medical plans. As such, we implemented the following learning goals. At the end of the four-term sequence, students will:
- have a working understanding of basic chemical principles, especially with respect to quantitative relationships, that will allow them to perform independent lab work in a variety of contexts;
- understand the theoretical foundations of the field (bonding theory, thermodynamic principles, kinetics, etc.) at a level that allows meaningful application of those principles to other work (biology, geology, etc.);
- be familiar with the chemical literature and be competent at reading and explaining research articles;
- have designed and executed a 7-week independent lab project in Chemistry 4 and publicly presented their results.
After completing Chemistry 4, many students continue their study in the discipline by taking Biochemistry. This course is usually taken by a combination of post-baccalaureates and upper-level undergraduates. We emphasize the integrated nature of the field and make extensive use of student research projects in the structure of the course. Because it applies all the chemistry and biology they have learned to that point to the focused study of the molecular processes of life, this course frequently serves as an enriching capstone experience. The faculty routinely supervise independent research tutorials and thesis work for students concentrating in the discipline as well as offer advanced tutorials. In the past few years these have included following topics:
- medicinal chemistry
- physical chemistry
- group theory
In addition to the above, we also routinely offer chemistry courses without prerequisites that are intended for students not concentrating in the sciences. These include:
- Environmental Chemistry
- The Chemistry of Drugs
- The Chemistry of Color
- Our Energy Future: The Chemistry of Alternative Fuels
- The Nanotechnology Revolution.