Information for Majors
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The Chemistry major offers a flexible route to earning the A.B. degree in Chemistry. The curriculum is organized around the sub-disciplines of Analytical Chemistry, Chemical Biology, Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Physical Chemistry. Earning the Chemistry degree involves completing 60 credits of required courses:
- Core courses covering
- Introductory Chemistry (combined lecture & laboratory),
- Organic Chemistry (lecture & one core laboratory course),
- Inorganic Chemistry (lecture course),
- Physical Chemistry (lecture & one core laboratory course),
- Calculus (lecture), and
- Physics (combined lecture & laboratory);
- Upper-level laboratory courses; and
- Upper-level electives in Chemistry, Chemical Biology, and related areas.
There are a number of ways to complete the required courses.
For a student entering Cornell with at least one year of high-school chemistry preparation, we offer an honors track. The distinguishing feature of the honors track is a rigorous set of laboratory and Physical Chemistry courses. These courses are recommended preparation for those planning to pursue research in Chemistry, particularly those planning on further graduate work. Following the Honors Curriculum can provide one route to graduating with Latin Honors.
We offer the option of a Individualized Curriculum that gives the student even more flexibility to explore related disciplines. The student in this track will still complete a rigorous set of laboratory courses, but now the core laboratories may be combined with laboratory work in related disciplines such as Biochemistry, Molecular Biomedical Engineering, Neuroscience, Geology, and Physics. A student in the Individualized Curriculum track has the option of taking Physical Chemistry courses specifically designed for students interested in the Biological Sciences.
Accelerated Honors Curriculum
We offer an Accelerated Honors track for students having two years of high-school chemistry and a high Advanced Placement Chemistry exam score. This track enables the student to complete the major’s core requirements by the junior year, leaving them at liberty to freely explore electives and carry out research in their senior year.
The wide selection of approved elective courses permits chemistry majors to add both depth and breadth to their chosen curriculum. The list of approved electives includes courses in Biology, Biochemistry, Chemical Biology, Computer Science, Education, Environmental Science, Materials Science and Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, Polymer Chemistry, Science and Technology studies, and Statistics.
For a more in depth look at the Chemistry Curriculum please visit the Chemistry Curriculum description.
Graduating with Latin Honors
The department awards Latin Honors to students who have distinguished themselves in research, coursework, or a combination of the two. There are three levels of Latin honors: cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude.
A Chemistry major will be granted cum laude honors for coursework alone if they complete the Honors Curriculum while maintaining a GPA of at least 3.3.
Students who have completed a rigorous complement of courses, maintained a GPA of at least 3.1, and completed four or more credits of research in a chemistry-related area (or the equivalent, if doing research for pay instead of credit) may be nominated by their research advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) to join the Honors Seminar in the Spring of their senior year. Students admitted to the Honors Seminar write up their research findings in a senior thesis for evaluation by the faculty. The CCB faculty assign Latin honors of cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude to research-active Chemistry majors based on coursework, leadership, and service and the level of persistence, creativity, and independent research scholarship evident in their Honors Seminar participation and written thesis.
Approximately one-third of our chemistry majors are double majors. Recent examples of the second major include Astrophysics, Biology, Economics, Government, Neurobiology and Behavior, Philosophy, Physics, Psychology, and Sociology. Completing a major in Chemistry and a minor in an unrelated field is relatively straightforward. Chemistry requirements, including Math and Physics, add up to 60 credits. A student must complete 120 credits to graduate. There are College of Arts & Sciences distribution requirements and language requirements to fit in the remaining 60 credits; nevertheless, we observe that there is enough leeway in the non-chemistry coursework for students to complete a minor, or even a second major.
Approved Chemistry major electives include courses required by the Education minor. CCB may be able to help facilitate significant scholarship support for high-performing students interested in teaching high school. The department can nominate up to two chemistry major students each year to receive the American Chemical Society’s ACS-Hach Land Grant Scholarship. Interested students should contact the DUS.
The Chemistry major is excellent preparation for medical school. Medical schools generally require two semesters (eight credits) of Introductory Chemistry with laboratory to demonstrate proficiency in General & Inorganic Chemistry. There are three routes to demonstrating proficiency in General & Inorganic Chemistry as required for admission to medical school:
- Complete CHEM 2070 & CHEM 2080.
- Earn a 5 on the Advanced Placement Chemistry or a 6 or 7 on the International Baccalaureate Chemistry. With these exam scores you will be granted 4 Cornell credits of General & Inorganic Chemistry. Complete the remaining 4 credits of General & Inorganic Chemistry by taking either CHEM 2150 or CHEM 2080.
- Be granted admission to CHEM 2150 by the instructor based on your interest in the Chemistry major. After completing CHEM 2150 you will only have four credits of General Chemistry showing on your transcript. However, when you apply to medical school, the DUS will provide you a letter certifying that you have demonstrated proficiency in General Chemistry as required for admission to graduate school or medical school.
Approximately 40 Chemistry majors graduate each year. More than half these majors engage in research; almost half of each graduating class will submit a written senior thesis. Chemistry majors do research all across campus — in Chemistry, Engineering, Physics, Biology, and at the Veterinary School.
The DUS will usually co-host, along with the chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma, a seminar each year on how to go about locating and landing a research position. In brief, research positions must be arranged individually, since not all faculty members have openings at any given time. To begin arranging a research position, browse CCB faculty research interests and contact potential advisors directly to inquire about openings (preferably by email, with your resume and unofficial Cornell transcript attached).
Starting research in the junior year is most common; a few students start as sophomores; we know a couple of students who started research the summer after their freshman year.
The limiting reagent is usually not the number of open positions. You should expect that carrying out advanced research under the mentorship of a faculty member and graduate student requires a time commitment of 8 to 12 hours per week. To have time for research, you need to complete your weekly coursework and laboratory work efficiently, with time to spare. Most of our undergraduate student researchers will do at least one summer research either here or elsewhere.
Undergraduate research can be carried out either for credit or for pay. Students may carry out research for chemistry-course credit through one of the following supervised-research courses offered by our department:
- CHEM 4210 - Introduction to Inorganic Chemistry Research
- CHEM 4330 - Introduction to Analytical Chemistry Research
- CHEM 4610 - Introduction to Organic Chemistry Research
- CHEM 4770 - Introduction to Physical Chemistry Research
To enroll in one of these courses, please complete the College of Arts & Science’s Independent Research Form.
Undergraduate students who demonstrate academic excellence may be nominated to receive one of several Undergraduate Student Awards given annually by CCB. Notification to the recipients of an award will occur late in the Spring semester.
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Office of Undergraduate Studies:
Dept. of Chemistry & Chemical Biology
131 Baker Laboratory
Ithaca, NY 14853-1301
Hours: M-F 8am-4:30pm
Undergraduate Major Coordinator:
Director of Undergraduate Advising:
Thomas R. Ruttledge