Course: CHM 301
Instructor: Semmelhack, Hyster, Gingrich
F 2019

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

CHM 301 has several purposes, primary among is to introduce students to the fundamental concepts of Organic Chemistry that will be discussed in the yearlong sequence of CHM301 and CHM302/304 as well as MOL345 (Biochemistry). This course will allow you to develop problem solving skills and give you a general understanding of the most important reactions around us that make life possible. Thus, this is a very exciting course where you will learn a lot (believe me!) The course is separated into 3 sections. The first unit explores the general structure and properties of organic molecules and  introduces concepts such as the acid-base chemistry of organic compounds, the structure of bond orbitals, and electron delocalization (resonance stabilization) --- all of which may be considered an essential “grammar” that informs nearly all aspects of the course for the rest of the semester and becomes increasingly critical for understanding the reactions explored in the second semester of the sequence. Furthermore, since the exams are cumulative, it is assumed that students have a firm, working knowledge of the concepts and fundamental facts presented at the beginning of the course. The second unit presents the different ways of determining the structure of organic molecules using techniques such as mass spectrometry, UV spectroscopy, IR spectroscopy, and NMR spectroscopy. The third unit combines students’ knowledge of the concepts presented in units 1 and 2 and explores different chemical reactions of organic compounds. The best thing about this course is that it is somewhat telling you a story about organic compounds. It first unit introduces you to organic compounds and their properties. Then you learn how to determine their structure. Finally, you use your knowledge of organic compound structures and chemical properties to determine their reactivity. You will learn numerous new concepts, but these concepts build on each other so by the end of the course you will have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of Organic Chemistry. In that sense, learning Organic Chemistry can be likened to learning a new language because you need to master different skills and concepts and put them together to understand the bigger picture.  

Learning From Classroom Instruction

Lectures are based on the lecture slides that Professor Semmelhack posts on blackboard the night before (if you come to lecture early you can get printed slides which is extremely helpful). During lecture, Professor Semmelhack goes through the slides and annotates them to add any missing or important information. Although some students do not find this very engaging, I believe that if you come with even some basic understanding of the concepts that will be covered in lecture you will be at an advantage because what the professor says will be more meaningful. In fact, one of the reasons why Professor Semmelhack posts the lecture slides beforehand is so that you can come to lecture prepared. Thus, I highly recommend pre-viewing the lecture slides before you go to lecture (for an hour or even maybe 10 minutes if you don’t have time)

Learning For and From Assignments

Unlike other Chemistry classes, Organic Chemistry psets are actually quite short and fairly straightforward. They are also not graded for accuracy but completion, so students rarely worry about them. However, don’t let this fool you, your success in this classes is mostly based on your ability to solve problems which you can only develop by doing as many practice questions as possible. That is why you receive large problem set packets during precept that cover the topics discussed during lecture in a given week. These are questions from past exams, so you should do them all because if you cannot solve these questions it will be hard for you to solve the questions on the exam. My advice is to first go over your lecture notes and gain a good understanding of the concepts and then try to do as many practice problems as possible. Furthermore, you will be given 5 practice tests from the past 5 years. Do all of these practice tests and make sure to review them afterwards. My strategy was to write down the concepts tested in each problem in the practice tests and record my score in order to see which concepts I mastered and which ones I needed to review again. I would also note problems I struggled with and keep track of “silly mistakes” I made so that I don’t make them again.

External Resources

There are numerous resources online such as mastering organic chemistry, khan academy, youtube… I also highly recommend David Klein’s book “Organic Chemistry as a Second Language.” Reach out to your preceptors, undergrad TAs, and McGraw tutors if you need more help!

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

Most people who take this class are either Chemistry/Mol/CBE majors and pre-meds. Don’t let this intimidate you because I know a lot of people who took it simply out of interest. Personally, it has been one of my favorite classes at Princeton because I was able to develop my problem-solving skills. It is time consuming, so you should take that into consideration when choosing your other classes. Nevertheless, I believe that you will learn a lot in this class and have fun!
Organic Chemistry I: Biological Emphasis

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