Chem 260, which is one the department's required introductory core courses for the chemistry and the biochemistry majors, provides an introduction to physical chemistry and to analytical chemistry. As its name implies, this course considers three topics central to our understanding of reactivity in chemical and biochemical systems: thermodynamics, equilibrium chemistry, and chemical kinetics.
Thermodynamics is the study of the energetics of chemical reactions. Experience shows us that many reactions are not reversible; for example, in a gas furnace the combustion of methane, CH4, in the presence of oxygen, O2, produces carbon dioxide, CO2, water, H2O, and heat:
CH4 + O2 \(\rightarrow\) CO2 + H2O + heat
The reverse reaction, under identical conditions, does not occur; that is, the carbon dioxide we exhale does not react with the moisture in air to produce methane and oxygen. Of particular interest to us is our ability to predict whether a chemical reaction can occur under a given set of conditions. Note that saying a reaction "can occur" is not the same as saying that it does occur.
Once it begins a chemical reaction continues until there is no further change in the concentrations of the reactants and the products. We call a reaction's end point a state of equilibrium. Of particular interest to us is our ability to predict the composition of a system when it reaches equilibrium and to predict how a system at equilibrium might respond to a change in its conditions. Note that a reaction's end point need not correspond to the complete reaction of its limiting reagent and that a reaction may reach equilibrium before any single reactant is used up.
Although thermodynamics allows us to predict that a reaction should occur and to predict its final composition at equilibrium, it cannot predict the time it takes to reach equilibrium. For example, thermodynamics tells us that a mixture of methane and oxygen will react to make carbon dioxide and water; a mixture of the two gases, however, is stable unless we first add energy, perhaps in the form of a spark. The study of kinetics helps us understand the factors that influence how quickly a reaction occurs; it also allows us to consider how a chemical reaction might proceed on a microscopic level.
The links in the navigation bar provide access to course materials and other useful information, including the course syllabus, which serves as our contract, a detailed class schedule, a detailed lab schedule, and an archive of course materials.