Undergraduate Program Overview

Chemistry is the study of molecules, their formation from atoms, and their transformation into new molecules.  Chemistry seeks to understand and control the reactions that cause these transformations.  Chemistry's breadth results from the diversity of molecules, which range from the simple two- to three-atom molecules of the earth's atmosphere to the incredibly complex molecules and molecular structures of living things.

Students who like to invent and enjoy thinking in quantitative and mathematical terms may be interested in chemistry.  Likewise, students who can break complex questions into a series of less complicated questions that can be answered through experimentation should consider the chemical sciences.  The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry offers the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and the Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in Chemistry and the Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Biochemistry.  The BA's requirements are somewhat less restrictive than those of the BS.  The BA is a good choice for students interested in medical, dental, law, or business school.  Students interested in graduate work in chemistry or biochemistry may pursue any of the three degrees.

A two-year core curriculum in chemistry, mathematics, and physics lays a solid foundation for the required and elective coursework of the upper division majors.  These upper division courses, which add breadth and specialization to the program, have low enrollments that enable students to work closely with faculty members of their choice.  Undergraduate students are encouraged to undertake independent study and research projects as soon as they acquire the basic laboratory skills and background to benefit from such experiences.  Many join departmental research groups during their junior and senior years.  All Chemistry and Biochemistry majors are assigned an advisor with whom they consult regarding selection and substitution of coursework and other matters pertaining to their academic careers.

What Can I Do With a Major in Chemistry?

Our department offers undergraduates a first-class program of courses leading to either a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Chemistry, a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Chemistry, or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biochemistry. A minor in Chemistry also is offered.

Majoring in Chemistry

A major in Chemistry leads one to a trail head at graduation from which many career paths may be taken. One path leads to medical school, or veterinary school or nursing; that is, to a career in the health sciences. Another path leads to graduate studies in chemistry or biochemistry, fore-shadowing a life of teaching and research. Most environmental problems have a fundamental chemical basis. The chemistry major is well prepared to attack such problems, both technically and politically. Chemical analysis underlies many specialties. Criminal forensics, medical tests, and impurity testing come to mind. The chemistry major may choose a path in one of these directions. Synthesis of new materials and drugs is often the goal of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Many of our chemistry majors choose paths leading to careers in these areas. Large numbers of our former chemistry majors follow non-chemistry career paths. They tell us that their chemistry major provided excellent grounding in analytical thinking and an understanding of the basics of nature that helped make them successful in their chosen line of business.

At UCSB the freshman student planning a degree in chemistry begins with a three quarter course in General Chemistry with Laboratory. Courses in Physics and Mathematics also are taken to provide the tools and understanding needed for later chemistry courses. In the second year, the student takes a three quarter course in Organic Chemistry with Laboratory. More required courses in Physics and, in the case of the B.S. degree Mathematics, also are taken. The student takes Analytical and Physical Chemistry with Laboratories in the junior year. The first opportunity to take upper division electives in chemistry occurs in this year. Electives allow you to place an emphasis on one of the subfields of chemistry. The student takes Inorganic Chemistry and more electives in the senior year. In addition to advanced courses in organic, inorganic and physical chemistry, electives exist in biochemistry, biophysics, quantum mechanics, photochemistry, and statistical mechanics. We urge qualified chemistry majors to do some real research too by encouraging independent study and research with individual professors.

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry offers two degrees in Chemistry, the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree, and the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree. The B.A. degree is intended for those who want more time for courses outside chemistry itself, and who intend to branch farther afield after graduation. The B.S. degree includes more electives chosen in chemistry, and is intended for those who expect to pursue more studies of a chemical nature.

Majoring in Biochemistry

Biochemistry is an interdisciplinary science that links biological sciences like molecular biology and genetics to physical sciences like chemistry and physics. We offer a separate major in biochemistry because biochemistry is a very large, dynamic subdiscipline of chemistry that requires a broad training program. The successful graduate will have the ability to communicate across different scientific fields while still being expert in an important specialty. The biotechnology revolution ensures that many employment opportunities in industry and government await the holder of the B.S. degree in Biochemistry.

A Biochemistry degree is also excellent preparation for advanced graduate and professional training in many fields. Skills in analytical and critical thinking developed by the major are broadly applicable to careers in medicine, pharmacology, environmental fields, technical management, teaching, business and law.

The Biochemistry curriculum in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry emphasizes a distinctly chemical perspective and quantitative training and hands-on experience with state-of-the-art instrumentation. Every effort has been made to ensure the best possible laboratory experience. Honors sections are available in the freshman and sophomore years. The laboratory courses form an excellent foundation for undergraduate research. While such an apprenticeship is not a requirement for the B.S. degree, it is looked upon very favorably by employers and educational institutions.

As befitting its interdisciplinary nature, the course of study leading to the B.S. in Biochemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry requires a broad range of introductory science and mathematics courses. These include courses in biology, physics, calculus and differential equations. General and organic chemistry also are required and normally completed in the first two years.

The first course in biochemistry normally is taken in the third year. It begins with the structures of important biological molecules and the properties of enzymes. The course continues with metabolic pathways and finishes with gene expression and inheritance. Courses in physical and biophysical chemistry with laboratory are taken, and the first opportunity to take upper division electives occurs this year. Electives allow the student to place an emphasis on one of the subfields of biochemistry. The student takes Inorganic Chemistry and more electives in the senior year. In addition to advanced courses in biochemistry and biophysics, electives exist in advanced organic, inorganic and physical chemistry, quantum mechanics, photochemistry, and statistical mechanics.

Well-qualified undergraduates also can work closely with specific faculty members on research projects. Quite differently from structured laboratory courses, involvement in undergraduate research represents a commitment to explore the possibility of undertaking a career in scientific research. The projects often involve 15-25 hours per week of work, extended research during the summers, and the opportunity to be directly involved with some of the most groundbreaking work in the field.