Think project-based learning is a new concept in undergraduate education? Think again. For over a century, budding chemists and biochemists have experienced the ultimate in project-based education: undergraduate research. Here at WPI, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry's curriculum starts with the building blocks of classroom and laboratory coursework and culminates in students tackling research in a faculty-lead group at the forefront of knowledge in the molecular sciences.
Whether you are a high school student thinking about a college or an undergraduate student thinking about a career, read below to learn more about the undergraduate experience in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
- Why major in Chemistry or Biochemistry?
- So what can I do with a Chemistry or Biochemistry degree?
- Job prospects and career outlook
- Majors, Minors, and Options, Oh My!
- Undergraduate Research and the Major Qualifying Project (MQP)
- Chemistry, Biochemistry, & the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP)
- Information for Current Students
- Detailed Major Requirements
- Undergraduate FAQ
It is not uncommon for students to avoid chemistry either from a concern about limiting career options, a bad experience in high-school chemistry, or the perception of being endlessly stuck in school. On the contrary, majoring in chemistry or biochemistry hones analytical and problem-solving skills, communication skills, and teaches experimental techniques that are broadly applicable throughout science and engineering. Employers in all fields seek out students majoring in the molecular sciences for their creativity in problem solving.
Why Chemistry or Biochemistry at WPI?
- Interaction with world-class faculty.
- State-of-the-art learning facilities.
The website "What Can I Do With This Major" details what undergraduates from across the United States have gone on to do with their degrees in Chemistry and in Biochemistry. A few representative selections are included below:
- Continue with academic research as a graduate student at the Ph.D. level. Undergrad majors are well positioned for graduate school in many fields including the molecular sciences, biology, physics, materials engineering, and polymer engineering.
- Attend medical, dental, veterinary, pharmacy school. Unlike your classmates, you will actually know organic chemistry!
- Attend business or law school. Chemists with MBAs are positioned for leadership roles at scientific corporations, and law degrees open the way to being a patent attorney.
- Working in a laboratory doing research in drug design and synthesis, product development, manufacturing, quality control, alternative fuel sources, environmental analysis, forensic chemistry, food science, dyes and flavors chemistry, cosmetics and perfumes, polymer chemistry, and art restoration.
- Entering the pharmaceutical, medical, or chemical sales force; and unlike your colleagues, you'll actually understand what you're talking about!
- Becoming a grade school, middle school, or high school teacher. America needs more teachers that are passionate about education and their subject material.
- Working for the government. The EPA, FDA, FBI, CIA, and the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Energy, and Homeland Security all recruit chemistry majors for both research and non-research positions.
- Work as a legal analyst for a patent or environmental law firm.
- Work as a sector analyst for a Wall Street investment firm as a lobbyist.
- Become a technical writer or science editor for a media firm.
What do Chemists and Biochemists do, and what do they earn?
The federal government's Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles information regarding public- and private-sector occupations including salary, location, and a "location quotient" that indicates how concentrated a particular job is in a particular area of the country.
Students majoring in chemistry and biochemistry have many options for jobs spanning many job titles. In 2015 - the most recent year for which data is available - the BLS determined national mean starting salaries for of $77,860 for jobs with "chemistry" in the description; $93,390 for "biochemists and biophysicists"; and $94,940 for positions described as "materials scientist". The links below detail the wage and location breakdown for many jobs in to which chemists and biochemists are employed:
- Chemists: occupational outlook handbook and employment statistics
- Biochemists and biophysicists: occupational outlook handbook and employment statistics
- Materials scientists: occupational outlook handbook and employment statistics
- Physical scientists (generic): employment statistics
- Agricultural and food scientists: occupational outlook handbook and employment statistics
- Atmospheric scientists including meteorologists: occupational outlook handbook and employment statistics
Who has hired WPI students?
Companies including Athena Diagnostics, Boston Children’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Foremost Groups, Inc., Foundation Medicine, Mass Biologics, and Pfizer have recently hired WPI biochemists. Alpha Analytical, Cabot Corp., CHEMTEK, DSG Solutions, Huntington Learning Center, PKC Pharmaceuticals, and the U.S. Army have recently hired WPI chemists.
In addition to industrial jobs, many undergraduates continue their research careers at the Ph.D. level. WPI undergraduates from the department have recently attended graduate school at the University of Michigan.
Great, now how do I find a job?
Students interested in careers in chemistry can check out the career site run by the American Chemical Society. Other locations have similar career sites including Science, New Scientist, and BioSpace.
Closer to home, the Career Development Center here on campus provides numerous resources and opportunities to help you determine where your degree will take you.
Finally, the faculty members in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry have industrial, academic, and national lab colleagues that can assist in job placement.
Molecular sciences are important. The department provides career preparation and placement, but further engages students with research opportunities to challenge and engage throughout their undergraduate experience.
The department offers a number of majors and minors in the study of Chemistry and Biochemistry. For more information related to the specific degree requirements for these majors, follow the links below to the specific degrees.
- Biochemistry B.S. major. Biochemistry is dedicated to understanding the chemical processes of living organisms. Discoveries of new drugs, the recognition and control of pathogens, development of new catalysts for energy transformations and the production of new materials, and solutions to problems such as food production and environmental remediation depend upon a thorough grounding in this area. The BS degree program in biochemistry with a concentration in medicinal chemistry features an emphasis on the application of chemistry to design and action of medicines. This program is appropriate for further study of biochemistry or related sciences in graduate school as well as medical, dental or pharmacy school.
- Chemistry B.S. major. Chemistry is concerned with the composition, properties and reactions of matter. The BS program in chemistry provides students the knowledge and skills necessary to address contemporary scientific challenges in transdisciplinary areas such as energy and sustainability, medicine and health, materials and nanoscience, geologic and biospheric science, frontiers of chemical measurement and fundamental molecular science. Students complete course work in the foundational chemistry disciplines of biochemistry and analytical, inorganic, organic and physical chemistry as part of a curriculum approved by the American Chemical Society. This degree is appropriate for further study of chemistry or other physical sciences in graduate school or scientific careers.
Degree options within the Majors
The department offers special options for students desiring to focus on a particular sub-discipline within the chemical sciences or strengthen connections with another subject. These options involve lots of additional work.
- Chemistry B.S. major with a specialization in medicinal chemistry, which extends the Chemistry major with a further emphasis. See the Undergraduate Catalog or talk to Professor Dittami for more details.
- Chemistry B.S. major with certification by the American Chemical Society.
Do we have any other degree options
- Actinide chemistry (Professor Bursten)
- Biomaterials design and testing (Professor Perez-Olsen)
- Computational chemistry and molecular modeling (Professor Kaminski)
- Energy conversion and storage (Professor Burdette, Professor Grimm)
- Ion transport (Professor Burdette, Professor Dempski, Professor Perez-Olsen, Professor Scarlata)
- Materials science (Professor Grimm)
- Medicinal chemistry (Professor Dittami, Professor Mattson)
- Membrane proteins (Professor Argüello, Professor Gericke, Professor Perez-Olsen, Professor Scarlata)
- Molecular spectroscopy (Professor Gericke, Professor Lambert)
- Nanoscale design
- Medicinal chemistry (Professor Dittami, Professor Mattson)
- Animal-virus biochemistry (Professor Argüello)
- Photochemistry and photophysics (Professor Lambert)
- Chemical sensors (Professor Lambert)
- Supramolecular chemistry (Professor Grimm, Professor MacDonald)
Declaration and Completion of a Minor in Chemistry or Biochemistry
Declaration of a Minor: To declare a Chemistry or Biochemistry Minor, please fill out this form from the Registrar's Office. You are responsible for finding a Chemistry or Biochemistry Minor Advisor from the Faculty listing from the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department to sign the form. Once the Minor Declaration form is signed and completed, the completed form is to go to Registrar's Office.
Completion of a Minor: After you have completed (or are taking your final courses for) your Chemistry or Biochemistry Minor, please follow the directions on the form to finalize your Completion of a Minor (please note there are different forms for Chemistry and Biochemistry - choose the one below that is for your completed Minor).
Research plays a critical role in undergraduate education. Beyond lectures and structured lab courses that continue to teach students how to answer questions, independent research at the undergraduate level initiates students in how to ask questions at the forefront of chemical knowledge. Interacting with graduate student researchers, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty in a professional research setting while utilizing state-of-the-art instrumentation and techniques best prepares students for their ongoing chemical careers. At WPI, undergraduate research and project-based learning are so deeply engrained in our educational philosophy that we provide multiple avenues for students to pursue research projects.
Senior capstone: the Major Qualifying Project
All majors in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry are required to complete a senior capstone, which WPI calls the Major Qualifying Project (MQP). Students majoring in Chemistry or Biochemistry must take the MQP for at least 3/3 of a unit of credit. Students typically distribute this unit as one-third of a unit over the A-, B-, and C-terms in the fourth year, followed by a project write-up (the MQP report) in the last term of their last year of matriculation. Although formal MQP work may only begin in the A-term of the fourth year, students are advised to investigate research avenues well in advance of this term (see below).
Great. Research. How do I know what research field is right for me?
Are the chemical underpinnings of living cells interesting? How about solar energy conversion and storage? By the end of the first year and with a year of laboratory and classroom experience at hand, many undergraduate students recognize how their passions align with the various sub-disciplines of the molecular sciences. These disciplines are traditionally divided up according to:
- Analytical chemistry, which involves cutting-edge instrumentation to accomplish separations and accurate quantification of chemical species. Analytical chemistry research focuses on optimizing experiments, the design and fabrication of new instruments based on interactions with light, magnetic fields, electric fields, or thermal gradients.
- Biochemistry and molecular biology, which studies chemical processes within living organisms. Biochemistry research addresses the mechanisms by which biological molecules interact to yield living cells. In some cases this research extends to artificially controlling these mechanisms to understand and counter diseases.
- Inorganic chemistry and organometallic chemistry, which is the science of materials that do not contain centrally active hydrocarbons. Research in inorganic chemistry focuses on understanding the metal centers and surrounding environment in enzymes and other organometallic compounds, synthesizing new and efficient molecular and solid catalysts for industrial syntheses and the production of fuels, and developing new semiconductors and metal alloys.
- Organic chemistry and synthetic chemistry, which primarily focuses on synthesizing molecules whose principal component is carbon. Modern organic chemistry attacks the creation of new pharmaceuticals, catalysts for other chemical reactions, and polymers with a range of behaviors and applications.
- Physical chemistry and chemical physics, which quantifies the kinetics, dynamics, and energies of chemical transformations. Physical chemists can visualize snapshots of chemical reactions at the rate at which those reactions occur, and they strive to quantify and control the energy and matter flow in molecular reactions in a single phase or at the interface between phases.
- Theoretical and computational chemistry includes the development of new techniques to both simulate and predict chemical structure, function, and reactivity using large computer clusters
In the twenty-first century, rarely is a research project limited to a single sub-discipline. Many emerging applications in chemistry exist at the interface between these traditional fields. Some examples include:
- Biomaterials design and testing (Professor A, Professor B)
- Chemical sensors at the interface of analytical and physical chemistry can either involve sensing chemicals (think airport security) or sensors based on molecular recognition that mimic biological behavior (think noses).
- Green chemistry includes the discovery of Earth-friendly solvents and procedures for organic synthesis and chemical separations of precious minerals from waste products. Students in Professor Emmert's group.
- Ion transport (Professor A, Professor B)
- Polymer chemistry can involve organic synthesis of polymer precursors, organometallic polymerization catalysts, and physical-chemical characterization of the resulting polymer. Professor Peterson's group recently did something...
- Medicinal chemistry, which exists at the interface between organic synthesis and biochemical applications of the medicinal targets. Students working with Professor Dittami...
- Materials chemistry may involve the characterization and application of synthetically derived or natural biomaterials, synthesizing or protecting unstable materials, and understanding the properties of materials at the atom and bond level. Students working with Professor Grimm synthesize semiconductors using solid-state inorganic chemistry methods and characterize their properties with physical-chemical techniques.
- Membrane biophysics or whatever utilizes physical chemistry techniques such as infrared spectroscopy to monitor changes in cell membranes in order to do stuff. Gerickegroup...
- Nanoscale design (Professor A, Professor B)
- Photochemistry and photophysics (Professor A, Professor B)
- Supramolecular chemistry combines organic and inorganic synthetic strategies to construct nanomaterials used in molecular recognition, mechanically-interlocked molecules, and molecular self-assembly. Research targets fields as diverse as biomimetic materials to molecular machines (think nanotechnology). Students in Professor MacDonald's lab have synthesized MOFs that...
Dozens more examples exist, and this doesn't even include chemistry at the interface of fields including engineering, physics, astronomy, and even art! New examples are always being created by researchers, and undergraduates at WPI play a critical role in creating new fields and new opportunities every day.
Okay, I think I know the general field of interest. Now, how do I find a project?
Formal project listing and contact is made through the Nexus portal at nexus.wpi.edu. However, projects often turn over more frequently than professors update their Nexus profile pages, so the department encourages students to directly contact professors in their second or third year of matriculation. This early contact gives students the best possible chance of finding a project of interest, and gives faculty the opportunity to tailor projects for the best possible overlap between a student's interests, career goals, and the overarching goals of that faculty's research programme. Students who wait until their fourth year to inquire about MQP (thesis) projects frequently find themselves working on projects for which they are ill-equipped, or not in line with their scientific interests.
Research opportunities for undergraduate chemists and biochemists occur under the mentorship of our faculty as well as collaborators in the Department of Biology and Biotechnology, the Department of Chemical Engineering, the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and even the nearby University of Massachusetts Medical School. Departmental faculty each maintain websites for their research groups that describe active research projects and opportunities for undergraduate participation, and students are encouraged to read these pages thoroughly. From the departmental faculty page, students can follow links to the webpages of each faculty member's research group as well as that faculty member's Nexus portal page at nexus.wpi.edu. Students should take the initiative and reach out to faculty to enquire about undergraduate research opportunities sooner rather than later.
Do I have to wait until my fourth year to start research?
Definitely NO! By the end their first year, many students begin to recognize a proclivity for a particular sub-discipline or field within the molecular sciences (see above). By the end of the second year, students majoring in chemistry have sufficient experimental laboratory and classroom experience to be productive in a WPI research group. These are both excellent times to approach faculty members regarding open research positions and projects in a particular laboratory.
Students that start research early in their undergraduate matriculation ultimately have a more successful research experience, a stronger thesis / MQP, and are better equipped for their ongoing careers as compared to students who wait until the last minute to chose a research project and MQP advisor.
What about summers?
In addition to research during the school year, many avenues exist for summer undergraduate research. The summer can be an exciting time to work full time in a laboratory, and to be completely immersed in the research experience. Summer undergraduate research is an excellent stepping stone towards a strong MQP and a career in the molecular sciences. Many research groups have grants for stipends, and fellowships exist at WPI as well.
WPI SURF Program
Did you know that WPI's Office of Undergraduate Studies could finance your summer research? The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program provides a stipend to undergraduate students to perform research right here at WPI! Summer research provides an excellent opportunity to tackle a problem at the forefront of investigations in the molecular sciences, and students with summer research experience gain a leg up both in their senior projects (MQPs) and in their ongoing careers.
Undergraduates interested the SURF program should initiate a conversation with a potential research advisor to discuss opportunities available within that group. Application to the SURF program involves a student-written proposal detailing the scientific goals and the reasons for pursuing a particular project, and a recommendation letter from the potential advisor. Applications are generally due at the beginning of March, so students should seek out research groups in the A-term or B-term, and should craft their application proposals in the C-term preceding the summer of interest.
All students are required to complete an Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), a distinctive interdisciplinary project experience that challenges students to examine the impact of science and technology on society to address social issues and human needs. What does this mean as a student within the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry? All students participate in an IQP for one whole term during their four years as an undergraduate, typically during their third year.
Declaring or Changing Majors
If you would like to declare either a Biochemistry or Chemistry major, or are currently in the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department and wish to become a double major, you should complete this form.
To switch out of the Chemistry & Biochemistry major into another major, you will need to contact the department into which you seek acceptance.
Declaring a Minor
If you would like to declare either a Biochemistry or Chemistry minor you should fill out this form.
The Undergraduate Student Handbook is now available online. Click here to download.
Important Links and Other Resources
The department offers a Bachelors of Science major degree in both Chemistry and Biochemistry. The Chemistry B.S. degree is an American Chemical Society (ACS)-approved program. Thus graduates who complete programs satisfying the ACS recommendations have their degrees certified to the society by the department. Accordingly, students can earn an “ACS-Certified Degree in Chemistry” or an “ACS-Certified Degree in Chemistry with a Biochemistry Option.” ACS-Certified graduates are eligible for immediate membership in the ACS and thus are able to secure the benefits of membership, which include helpful services such as finding employment.
Below information from the 2016-2017 WPI Undergraduate Catalog pertaining to Chemistry B.S. and Biochemistry B.S. degrees and is not an official listing of requirements. Official requirements may be found in the official WPI Undergraduate Catalog for the Chemistry B.S. and the Biochemistry B.S. degrees.
The Biochemistry B.S. major:
|1. Mathematics and Physics (Note 1)||2|
|2. Chemistry and Biochemistry (Note 2)||4 1/3|
|3. Biology (Note 3)||1 1/3|
|4. Chemistry and Biochemistry / Biology Laboratory (Note 4)||1|
|5. Other Natural or Computer Science (Note 5).||1/3|
- The mathematics in MA 1021-MA 1024 or the equivalent is recommended. The physics in PH 1110-PH 1120 or equivalent is recommended.
- These 4 1/3 units must include one unit of organic, 1 1/3 units of biochemistry, and 1/3 unit each of physical (3000 level or higher) and inorganic chemistry (3000 level or higher).
- These 1 1/3 units must include 1/3 unit of cell biology, 1/3 unit of genetics, and 1/3 unit of advanced work (3000 level or higher).
- This unit must include a minimum of 2/3 units of Chemistry and Biochemistry labs, of which 1/3 unit must be either CH 4150 or CH 4170. The remaining 1/3 unit may come from BB or CBC labs. However, counting both CH 4150 and any of BB 3518, BB 3519, or BB 3516 is not allowed. Likewise, counting both CH 4170 and any of BB 3512 or BB 3518 is not allowed.
- Any course in the natural sciences (not used to satisfy another requirement) or in computer science may be used to satisfy this requirement.
Biochemistry B.S. recommendations for students:
A typical Biochemistry curriculum is given below.
Premedical students should take three terms of Physics, as well as one of the Organic Chemistry Laboratories
(CH 2360 or CH 2660), by the end of their third year. BB 1035 is recommended as the initial course for students who need to strengthen their background in biology. Note that a total of one unit designated Elective in the table must be in Biology.
Students should take 1/3 unit of advanced Biology laboratory (BB 3512, 3518, 3519, 3520 are recommended) at their discretion as to the term; however, this should preferably be done before the MQP is commenced.
|Year||Term A||Term B||Term C||Term D|
The Chemistry B.S. major:
|1. Mathematics and Physics (Note 1)||2 1/3|
|2. Chemistry (Notes 2, 3)||4|
|3. Additional Science/Engineering (Note 3, 4)||3 2/3|
- Must include differential and integral calculus and at least 2/3 units of physics.
- Must be above the level of general chemistry (2000 level or higher). These 4 units must include courses in experimental chemistry (either 4/3 unit or 3/3 unit), inorganic chemistry (1/3 unit), organic chemistry (3/3 unit), physical chemistry (3/3 unit), and biochemistry (either 1/3 unit or 2/3 unit, depending on the number of experimental chemistry courses taken). At least 2/3 units must be at or higher than the 4000 level.
- Students cannot receive credit for both CH 2360 and CH 2660.
- Distributed among the MQP, the natural and physical sciences, computer science, mathematics, and engineering (and including general chemistry, CH 1010-1040).
Chemistry B.S. recommendations for an ACS-certified degree:
The following sequence of courses, recommended to provide fundamental background in chemistry, will result in an ACS- certified degree in chemistry. Specialization in particular areas of interest is best accomplished via additional courses and projects, generally taken in the third and fourth year.
|Year||Term A||Term B||Term C||Term D|
|Second||CH 3510 (phys)
CH 2640 (lab)
|CH 2310 (org)
CH 2650 (lab)
|CH 2320 (org)
CH 2660 (lab)
|CH 2330 (org)
CH 2670 (lab)
|Third||CH 3550 (phys)||CH 3410 (inorg)
CH 3530 (phys)
|Fourth||Ch 4110 (bioch)||CH 4420 (inorg)|
Chemistry B.S. recommendations for an ACS-certified degree with a Biochemistry Option:
Students seeking the ACS-Certified Degree with Biochemistry Option must complete the following work in addition to those requirements noted above for an ACS-Certified Degree in Chemistry.
- 1/3 unit of biology which contains cell biology, microbiology or genetics.
- 2/3 unit of biochemistry that has organic chemistry as a prerequisite.
- 1/3 unit of a laboratory in biochemical methods.
- Research in biochemistry culminating in a comprehensive written report is highly recommended.
Chemistry B.S. with a concentration in Medicinal Chemistry
Medicinal Chemistry is the application of principles of biology and chemistry to the rational design and synthesis of new drugs for treatment of disease. A medicinal chemist applies knowledge of chemistry, biochemistry and physiology to generate solutions to health-related problems. A concentration in medicinal chemistry is excellent prepara- tion for students interested in entering health related professions, such as the pharmaceutical industry, upon graduation. Possible employment positions are numerous and expected to increase in the future.
In order to be eligible to receive the Medicinal Chemistry designation on their transcripts, chemistry majors need to satisfy the following course requirements:
Three biomedically oriented courses selected from the following list must be included in the distribution requirements:
- CH 4110 Biochemistry I
- CH 4120 Biochemistry II
- CH 4130 Biochemistry III
- CH 4150 Experimental Biochemistry
- CH 4170 Experimental Biochemistry II
- BB 3055 Microbial Physiology
Three courses oriented toward structure, synthesis, or mechanisms selected from the following list must be included in the distribution requirements. (All graduate courses in chemistry are open to undergraduates.)
- CH 4330 Organic Synthesis
- CH 516 Chemical Spectroscopy
- CH 536 Theory and Applications of NMR Spectroscopy
- CH 538 Medicinal Chemistry
- CH 554 Molecular Modeling
In addition to the above course requirements, chemistry majors must complete an MQP in the medicinal chemistry area, approved by the Program Coordinator.
- How do I apply to be a WPI student? Follow the instructions at the undergraduate admissions page.
- How do I declare a major in Chemistry or Biochemistry? Declare with the academic advising office.
- How do I decide what classes to take to support my sub-discipline? Talk to your advisor.
- How do I find out who my advisor is? Log into Workday.