Chem 260 is one of the required introductory core courses for the chemistry major and the biochemistry major, and a core course for many professional programs in the health sciences. As its name implies, this course considers three topics central to our understanding of reactivity in chemical and biochemical systems: thermodynamics, equilibria, and kinetics.

Thermodynamics is the study of energy in chemical and biochemical reactions. We know from experience that many reactions are favorable; 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(g) + 2O2(g) \(\rightarrow\) CO2(g) + 2H2O(g) + heat

The reverse reaction, thankfully, 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 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 will occur.

Once it begins a chemical reaction continues until there is no further change in the concentrations of its reactants and products, a condition we call a state of equilibrium. Of particular interest is our ability to predict the composition of a system when it reaches equilibrium, and our ability to predict how a system at equilibrium might respond to a change in experimental conditions.

Although we can predict that a reaction should occur and we can predict its final composition at equilibrium, this is not the same as prediciting how long it will take 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 relatively stable unless we first add energy, perhaps by lighting a match. The study of kinetics helps us understand the factors that influence how quickly a reaction occurs; it also allows us to consider how a reaction might proceed at a microscopic level.

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