Requirements: Chemistry

Natural Sciences Division

Chemistry is often called the central science, overlapping significantly with biology, physics, psychology, mathematics, geology and engineering. All studies of matter at the molecular level (for example, biochemistry, molecular biology, pharmacology, neuroscience, nanoscience, computational chemistry, solid-state physics, geochemistry, the environmental sciences and material science and engineering) depend on the theories and methods of chemistry.

The Kenyon College faculty voted to change from Kenyon units to semester hours. This change will go into effect for all students who start at the College in the fall of 2024. Both systems will be used throughout the course catalog with the Kenyon units being listed first.


New Students

The first semester of introductory chemistry is offered at two levels.

CHEM 121 (Introductory Chemistry) is a lecture and discussion course intended to give students a thorough introduction to the fundamental concepts, theories and methods of chemistry; enrollment priority is given to first- and second-year students. CHEM 122 (Chemical Principles) is an accelerated lecture course covering a full year of general chemistry in one semester and is designed for students with previous study of chemistry. The prerequisite for CHEM 122 is a score of 4 or 5 on the AP chemistry test or the equivalent, determined by a placement exam administered during Orientation. CHEM 121 and 122 meet at the same time. CHEM 123 (Introductory Chemistry Lab I) is the accompanying lab course. It is highly recommended for students in CHEM 121 and is required for students in CHEM 122.

Students who have successfully completed CHEM 121 advance to CHEM 124 (Introductory Chemistry II), which continues the investigation of chemical principles as they apply to issues in modern chemistry, such as sustainability, neurochemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine. CHEM 126 (Introductory Chemistry Lab II) is the accompanying lab course and is highly recommended for students in CHEM 124. Students who complete CHEM 122 may enroll directly into CHEM 231 (Organic Chemistry I) in the spring and get an early start on the upper-level curriculum.

Completion of one of the introductory lecture and lab sequences, either CHEM 121, 123, 124 and 126 or CHEM 122 and 123, is a prerequisite for enrolling in organic chemistry or any other advanced chemistry courses. 

Students planning to complete medical school requirements should, in their first year, plan to take either the traditional introductory chemistry sequence CHEM 121, 123, 124 and 126 or the accelerated sequence CHEM 122, 123, 231 and 233. Please consult with your likely applicant medical schools regarding exact chemistry requirements. The following combinations should satisfy those requirements for courses in general chemistry:

  • Combination one
    • CHEM 121: Introductory Chemistry
    • CHEM 123: Introductory Chemistry Lab I
    • CHEM 124: Introductory Chemistry II
    • CHEM 126: Introductory Chemistry Lab II
  • Combination two
    • CHEM 122: Chemical Principles
    • CHEM 123: Introductory Chemistry Lab I
    • CHEM 124: Introductory Chemistry II
    • CHEM 126: Introductory Chemistry Lab II
  • Combination three
    • CHEM 122: Chemical Principles
    • CHEM 123: Introductory Chemistry Lab I

The organic chemistry requirements should be satisfied with:

  • CHEM 231: Organic Chemistry I
  • CHEM 232: Organic Chemistry II
  • CHEM 233: Organic Chemistry Lab I
  • CHEM 234: Organic Chemistry Lab II

The department also offers courses designed for students who are not planning to continue beyond one or two semesters of study. These non-majors courses, which are numbered below 120 and have no prerequisite, serve various purposes. CHEM 109 is part of the Neuroscience Concentration, and CHEM 110 is a core course for the Environmental Studies Concentration. Students wanting to complete the College requirements for 1.00 unit/8 semester hours in the natural sciences can take these two courses. Non-majors courses do not serve as a prerequisite for any higher-numbered courses in the department.

The Curriculum

The chemistry curriculum begins with a series of courses covering introductory chemistry and organic chemistry in the first two years, then branches out to advanced topics in physical, inorganic, analytical and biochemistry. Because of this vertical structure, we advise students to begin their study of chemistry as soon as possible. This also helps capitalize on secondary-school preparation in math and science, the roots of college chemistry.

Students who are considering a chemistry, biochemistry or molecular biology major should plan to take CHEM 121 and 123 or CHEM 122 and 123 in their first semester and continue with the appropriate chemistry courses in the second semester, either CHEM 124 and 126 or CHEM 231 and 233. The chemistry major is rounded out with an offering of courses and labs on the major subdisciplines of the field, along with seminar-style special-topics courses. Opportunities to work on independent research projects are available at all levels of the curriculum.

A capstone chemistry research seminar for seniors in the fall semester guides students through a self-study of an individual research topic, and the Senior Capstone in the spring semester involves preparing and presenting a talk on two research papers on the senior research topic. 

Chemistry majors are well-prepared for professional employment or graduate study in chemistry, biochemistry and related fields; the health sciences such as medicine, dentistry and nursing; the veterinary sciences; secondary-school teaching; engineering; the environmental sciences; business and law; and public service. The major emphasizes the development of independent, critical thinking as well as problem-solving and communication skills. Our department is accredited by the American Chemical Society (ACS), and students may elect to receive a degree certified by the ACS (see below).

Numerous opportunities exist for students to participate in the life of the department through undertaking research with faculty members; participating in social and outreach activities; advising the department in the hiring and evaluation of faculty members; and other matters, and working as stockroom assistants, laboratory proctors and tutors.

Requirements for the Major

The minimum requirement for a chemistry major is eight to nine lecture courses and six to seven laboratory courses in the department, including the following:

1. One year of introductory chemistry lecture with lab:

  • Combination one
    • CHEM 121: Introductory Chemistry
    • CHEM 123: Introductory Chemistry Lab I
    • CHEM 124: Introductory Chemistry II
    • CHEM 126: Introductory Chemistry Lab II
  • Combination two
    • CHEM 122: Chemical Principles (prerequisite: AP score of 4 or 5 or IB chemistry score of 5, 6 or 7 at the High Level)
    • CHEM 123: Introductory Chemistry Lab I

2. One semester of organic chemistry lecture with lab:

  • CHEM 231: Organic Chemistry I (prerequisite: CHEM 124 and CHEM 126)
  • CHEM 233: Organic Chemistry Lab I (prerequisite: CHEM 122 and CHEM 123)

3. Required advanced lecture courses:

  • CHEM 243: Inorganic Chemistry (prerequisite: CHEM 122 or 124)
  • CHEM 335: Chemical Kinetics and Thermodynamics (prerequisite: CHEM 122 or 124)
  • CHEM 341: Instrumental Analysis (prerequisite: CHEM 233)
  • CHEM 475: Chemistry Research Seminar (prerequisite: senior standing)

4. Two elective advanced courses from the list below:

  • CHEM 232: Organic Chemistry II (prerequisite: CHEM 231)
  • CHEM 336: Quantum Chemistry (prerequisite: CHEM 122, 124 or 126)
  • CHEM 401: Chemistry and Biochemistry Seminar (prerequisite: check specific section for more information)

Of special note: MATH 112 is highly recommended before enrolling in CHEM 335 or 336.

5. Four advanced labs from the list below:

  • CHEM 234: Organic Chemistry Lab II
  • CHEM 370: Advanced Lab: Computational Chemistry
  • CHEM 371: Advanced Lab: Biochemistry
  • CHEM 372: Advanced Lab: Inorganic
  • CHEM 373: Advanced Lab: Organic
  • CHEM 374: Advanced Lab: Spectroscopy
  • OR 0.5 units/4 semester hours of CHEM 375 (Chemical Research) may replace one advanced lab

6. Senior Capstone

The Senior Capstone in chemistry has two components, one written and one oral. At the end of the fall semester, students submit a review paper on an assigned topic. During the spring semester, senior chemistry and biochemistry majors must prepare and present a talk on two research papers relating to their senior research topic. See the chair and the department website for more information about the Senior Capstone.

7. Additional Advanced Coursework & ACS Certified Degrees

What follows are recommendations and related information, not degree requirements.

Students planning to do graduate work in chemistry or related areas should take additional advanced courses in chemistry and the Natural Sciences Division, and partake in research opportunities during the school year and summer.

We encourage students to take upper-level courses in departments affiliated with chemistry (biology, environmental science, math, neuroscience, physics and psychology). With department approval, one of the required advanced labs can be replaced with one unit of selected 200- or 300-level coursework in another department. 

For a degree to be certified by the American Chemical Society, a student must complete the equivalent of two semesters of calculus; 1.5 units/12 semester hours of introductory physics; the minimum chemistry major plus CHEM 256; and 1 unit of research in CHEM 375, including a comprehensive written report. Completion of honors satisfies the research requirement. Summer or off-campus research may satisfy the research requirement if it includes a comprehensive written report.

To be ACS certified, the major must be completed with a specific set of courses. To satisfy the ACS requirement for laboratory exposure to four of the five subdisciplines of chemistry (analytical, biochemistry, inorganic, organic and physical), two advanced lab requirements must be selected from 371, 372 and 374. To satisfy ACS requirements for in-depth coursework, four courses from 232, 336, 370, 373 or 401 must be taken. 401 may be taken twice, as long as it covers different topics.

For example, the degree would be ACS certified if electives were 232 and 336, and advanced labs were 370, 371, 372 and 373. It also would require 1.5 units/12 semester hours of introductory physics, CHEM 256 and 1.00 unit/8 semester hours of 375, as described above. In this example, 374 could substitute for 371 or 372, and 401 could substitute for 232, 336, 370 or 373.

The chemistry and biology departments offer interdisciplinary majors in biochemistry and molecular biology. Refer to the biochemistry and molecular biology section in the course catalog for more information. 

Requirements for the Minor

The minor in chemistry requires a minimum of 2.5 units/20 semester hours of credit earned in the chemistry curriculum; these include completion of CHEM 122 and 123 or CHEM 124 and 126; an advanced seminar, CHEM 401; and two upper-level lectures from CHEM 231, 232, 243, 256, 335, 336 or 341 or additional sections of 401. Certain majors require some of these courses; College policy does not allow counting any course toward both a major and a minor


Students can gain research experience by participating in independent research under the supervision of a faculty advisor in CHEM 375. Although independent research is not required for the major, conducting research is a valuable educational experience, particularly for students planning to pursue graduate or medical training.


Departmental honors in chemistry involve demonstrating excellence in both depth and breadth of the discipline, through accomplishments on a specific research project and achievement in studying the principal areas of chemistry knowledge. Students wishing to pursue senior honors research in chemistry should apply to the chemistry department chair no later than April 15 of their junior year. See the chair and department website for more information about honors in chemistry.

Transfer Credit

Any transfer credit to be counted for the chemistry major or minor must be approved in advance by the department chair.