Cluster 8
The Chemistry of Life

Subject to revisions until January 1 2017


Core Courses

Organic Molecules: Nature's Building Blocks and Drug Design

Organic molecules – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, etc – are the basic construction materials for all life forms.  Organic chemists spend their careers making, breaking, analyzing, and thinking about them.  We will introduce how chemists interact with nature's building blocks in the lab, with molecular models, and on paper, to show how chemistry is applied to solve real-world problems in the fields of pharmaceuticals, energy, and materials science. An emphasis will be placed the importance of the three-dimensional shape of molecules and how this property influences biological activity and the ability to treat diseases. We will discuss the organic chemistry of pharmaceutical molecules and specific drug-protein interactions that help us understand their mechanisms of action. Labs will involve chemical synthesis, renewable chemistry, and the application of computer modeling techniques to the design of new medicinal compounds.


What are polymers and how are they used in our everyday lives?

A polymer (from Greek poly- "many" and -mer, "parts") is a large molecule, or a macromolecule, composed of many repeating subunits, or monomers. Polymers literally surround us: many things we buy, eat, wear, consume, and discard are made of polymers. Most of the polymers are organic molecules, some are natural and some are synthetic. Our bodies are also mostly polymeric: bones, muscles, DNA, skin, hair, to name just a few. We will discuss most common polymer structures, their properties, and what chemistries and building blocks are used to synthesize polymers. We will study relationships between the molecular structure of a monomer and polymer properties. Finally, we will cover typical applications of polymers. Labs will involve synthesis of different polymers and characterization of their properties.


Energy Materials for a Better World

Our economy, in its current form, is not sustainable. We burn fossil fuels to drive cars, run factories, heat or cool houses. But sooner or later, fossil fuel supplies will run out and new energy sources need to be promptly explored. We will cover the fundamental principles of materials for sustainable energy harvesting, storage and transformation: thermoelectrics, Li-batteries, photocatalysts. Current challenges in materials synthesis and performance optimization will also be discussed. Labs will involve synthesis of semiconducting materials and characterization of their properties.

Modified 12-28-16