Chem 440 Course Description

Principles of Physical Chemistry

An introduction to the principles of physical chemistry

The goal of physical chemistry is to build quantitative models to predict how molecules behave, using the smallest possible number of assumptions while keeping reasonable accuracy.

Our goal in this class is to see how physical chemists derive properties of molecules from fundamental ‘laws’ of nature, such as ‘H Psi = E Psi,’ and how one might come up with new and (hopefully!) useful equations based on those ‘laws.’ Unlike a multi-semester physical chemistry class, we will not try to prove every detail and study 500 pages worth of a textbook. Rather, I want you to get a feel for what the most important quantitative concepts in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, kinetics and transport are, using just a few examples ranging from the simple, like H2 forming a bond, to the complex, like protein folding.

Physical chemistry is a mathematically difficult subject. Many undergraduate courses try to go through a lot of applications, while leaving out a lot of mathematical fundamentals. This makes it possible to vaguely appreciate what’s going on, but it does not enable one to make and assess models. For this reason, we will spend our first week on some mathematical basics, including subjects such as simple differential equations and Bayesian probability. But fear not; these tricky areas will be introduced in a practical manner, as we are interested in using math, not proving math.

The price we pay is that far fewer applications will be covered. The reward is that you can actually work with quantitative models that span disciplines from climate research to protein drugs.