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Undergraduate Chemical Physics

The Chemical Physics Option of the Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry provides the student with a course of study concentrating on the interface between Physics and Chemistry. The course requirements therefore give more emphasis to physical chemistry, physics and mathemetics, which form the foundation for a detailed description of how atoms, molecules and solids are put together, interact and react. This is a course of study which will be of interest to students preparing for careers in the more quantitative aspects of chemistry, such as physical chemistry, spectroscopy, analytical chemistry, theoretical chemistry, nuclear chemistry, biophysical chemistry, polymer chemistry, electronics and materials science.

What is Chemical Physics?

The name "Chemical Physics", just a reversal of the root words in "Physical Chemistry", has come to denote the area of chemistry where the basic laws of physics, such as quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics, are applied to the detailed understanding of the behavior of chemical systems. The systems of interest range from atomic nuclei to biological molecules, but the unifying theme of chemical physics is the quantitative understanding of atoms and molecules which are often more complex than those of interest to physicists. Work in chemical physics can be either theoretical or experimental. Theoreticians attempt to create new mathematical models to explain the behavior of matter and use these models to calculate chemical and physical properties. Often their work involves the extensive use of powerful computers. Experimentalists use the latest technological tools to invent and use new methods of probing the intimate details of chemical systems. Commonly they construct unique instruments using lasers, accelerators, high-vacuum systems, and other state-of-the-art devices. The models and techniques developed by Chemical Physicists are often adapted and used by the rest of the chemical community. Due to its fundamental nature a background in Chemical Physics provides a good foundation for careers ranging across the entire spectrum of chemical pursuits.

Declaring the Major

The Chemical Physics Option of the Chemistry Major is open to all Stony Brook undergraduates. Perhaps the ideal time to declare the major is at the beginning of a student's sophomore year. It is usually unwise to postpone the declaration past the beginning of the student's junior year. Students who wish to elect this major should speak to the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Plan of Study

Freshman students usually begin their studies toward the major by completing their introductory studies in chemistry and mathematics. In the sophomore year studies in physics and physical chemistry are combined with additional mathematics courses. In the junior and senior years, organic and inorganic courses are completed as well as a series of advanced physics courses.


Chemical Physics is based upon research. This is why students in the major have so many laboratory courses required for their degree. However structured instructional laboratories can not truly introduce students to independent research. For this experience the student must seek out independent research opportunities. The faculty of the Department of Chemistry welcome qualified undergraduate students into their research laboratories. These opportunities are especially suitable for students in their junior and senior years of study. Interested students should review the research interests of the various faculty members and then discuss the possibilities for independent study or research with the individual faculty members who have the research programs of greatest interest. Each summer there are numerous special research programs available at Stony Brook, at nearby Brookhaven Laboratory and at universities across the country, open to qualified students. Interested students should talk to the Director of Undergraduate Studies several months in advance.


Students who have completed the Chemical Physics Option are well prepared for entry level positions in many different industries. Such students are particularly attractive to the chemical industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the the pertroleum industry, the electronics industry, and the biotechnology industry. The best jobs go to students with good records and with lots of laboratory experience, including research. Students who earn a degree certified by the American Chemical Society may have an edge (see next section). Many students choose to pursue graduate study in such fields as Chemistry, Chemical Physics, or Materials Science at various universities around the nation. Masters degrees are usually obtainable after one and a half to two years additional study. Ph.D. degrees usually require four-five years study beyond the Bachelor of Science Degree. Graduate students usually receive substantial stipends throughout their period of graduate study.


Special internships are available for qualified undergraduate students majoring in the chemical sciences. These programs allow students to combine work in an industrial setting with their academic studies. Students in the program work in an industrial laboratory one or two days a week. In return they receive a salary from the company and academic credit from Stony Brook. Interested students should talk to the Student Affairs Coordinator several months in advance.

Double Majors

Highly motivated students often choose to complete the requirements for two majors. Students choosing the Chemical Physics Option may wish to consider a second major in such fields as engineering chemistry, physics, or mathematics. Students completing a double major will have an extra credential when looking for a job or when applying for graduate study. However a double major is certainly not a good idea for everyone. Often a better approach is to choose particular advanced courses as electives, matching one's own interests and abilities. And in all cases students should consider the importance of research and additional laboratory courses.

American Chemical Society Certification

The American Chemical Society is the national organization for chemists in the United States. The Society publishes the most prestigious journals, hosts the major national chemistry conferences, and influences chemical education in the country. The Society sets standards for the undergraduate chemistry programs at American universities. As part of this program the American Chemical Society's Committee on Professional Training has defined a minimum set of courses that they consider necessary for a student to achieve the skills needed for entry into the chemistry profession. Students who complete these requirements have their degrees certified by the Society. Students receiving certified degrees are eligible for immediate entry into the Society upon graduation. Certification requires the completion of a small number of courses in addition to those required for the major.

Major Requirements for the Bachelor of Science Degree

Candidates for the Bachelors of Science Degree in Chemistry who elect the Chemical Physics option must complete the Chemistry Core Requirements of basic chemistry, mathematics and physics courses, plus a series of area requirements unique to the Chemical Physics Option. In addition all students must fulfill the Upper-Division Writing Requirement.

All required courses must be taken for a letter grade; P/NC grades are not acceptable. All of the courses used to fulfill the requirements of the major (CHE, MAT, PHY, BIO, etc.) must be passed with a grade of C or higher, with the exception of three courses, for which the grade may be C-. No transferred course with a grade lower than C may be used to fulfill any major requirement.

Completion of the major requirements entails approximately 65 to 67 credits.

A. Core Requirements

  • CHE 129/130 or 131 & 132 or 152 ( General Chemistry I & II or Molecular Science I)
  • CHE 133 & 134 or 154 ( General Chemistry Laboratories I & II or Molecular Science I Laboratory)
  • CHE 301 & 302 ( Physical Chemistry I & II )
  • CHE 303 ( Solution Chemistry Laboratory)
  • CHE 321 & 322 or 331 & 332 ( Organic Chemistry I & II or  Molecular Science II & III)
  • CHE 375 ( Inorganic Chemistry)
  • CHE 327 ( Organic Chemistry Laboratory) or CHE 383 ( Introductory Synthetic and Spectroscopic Laboratory Techniques
  • CHE 385 ( Tools of Chemistry)
  • MAT 131 & 132 ( Calculus I & II) (Substitutions are possible. See note 1.)
  • MAT 211 or AMS 210 ( Introduction to Linear Algebra or Applied Linear Algebra) (Substitutions are possible. See note 1.)
  • PHY 131 & 132 ( Classical Physics I & II) with PHY 133 & 134 ( Classical Physics Laboratory I & Classical Physics Laboratory II) or PHY 141 & 142 ( Classical Physics I & II: Honors) or PHY 125, 126 & 127 ( Classical Physics A, B & C) with PHY 133 & 134 ( Classical Physics Laboratory I & Classical Physics Laboratory II)

B. Area Requirements for Chemical Physics Option

  • CHE 304 Chemical Instrumentation Laboratory
  • CHE 351 or CHE 353 Quantum Chemistry or Chemical Thermodynamics
  • CHE 357 Molecular Structure and Spectroscopy Laboratory
  • MAT 203 Calculus III with Applications or MAT 303 Calculus IV (Substitutions are

    possible, see note 1)
  • PHY 251/252 Modern Physics and Laboratory
  • One elective chosen from: PHY 277 Computation for Physics and Astronomy, PHY 300 Waves and Optics, PHY 307 Physical and Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, PHY 301 Electromagnetic Theory I , PHY 303 Mechanics, PHY 306 Thermodynamics, Kinetic Theory, and Statistical Mechanics (the last three courses require other physics prerequisites or permission of the instructor)

C. Upper-Division Writing Requirement

  • Successful Completion of CHE 385


  1. Alternate Mathematics Sequences

    The following alternate sequences may be substituted for major requirements or prerequisites: MAT 125MAT 126MAT 127 or  MAT 141MAT 142 or  MAT 171 o r AMS 151, AMS 161 fo r MAT 131MAT 132MAT 203 for  AMS 210 or  MAT 211. MAT 203 may be replaced by AMS 261 and MAT 303 may be replaced by AMS 261. The Chemical Physics option requires two math courses in addition to Calculus I and II. Equivalency for MAT courses as indicated by earning the appropriate score on a placement examination will be accepted as fulfillment of the requirement without the necessity of substituting other credits.

  2. Transfer Credit

    At least twelve credits of upper-division work in chemistry must be taken at Stony Brook; these must be taken in at least two of the major subdisciplines (inorganic, physical, and organic chemistry).

  3. American Chemical Society Certification

    The American Chemical Society's Committee on Professional Training has set nationally recognized standards for professional preparation in chemistry. The Chemistry faculty recommends that students intending to pursue careers in the Chemical Sciences secure ACS certification along with their Bachelor of Science in Chemistry degree.

    For ACS certification, students electing the Chemical Physics Option need to complete the following courses:
    • CHE 346 Biomolecular Structure and Reactivity
    • CHE 384 Intermediate Synthetic and Spectroscopic Laboratory Techniques
    • CHE 496 Senior Research
  4. Additional Areas of Study.

    Because knowledge of computer programming is of great value to all chemists, a course in computer programming is recommended.
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