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Chemical Principles Laboratory (CHEM 181L)
Course Syllabus

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Course Description

Principles of Chemical Structure Laboratory (CHEM 1811) is a complementary, independent lab course which explores and expands upon many of the ideas covered in CHEM 1810 lecture. Using state-of-the-art chemical tools—traditional as well as computational ones—and the current research literature, you will investigate interesting chemical problems like, should you spend more money to purchase an SPF-100 sunscreen? should you drink from plastic water bottles, should you eat foods containing Truvia™ sweetener. Though there will not always be clear cut answers to the questions we ask, the inquiry skills you develop will help you make better, scientifically sound judgments and decisions. The scientific writing skills you develop will allow you to better convince others that you are right.

Along the way you will also have opportunities to explore the role of chemistry in other scientific disciplines; see how chemistry shapes many aspects of our lives, in both positive and negative ways; and better understand the value of other people's skills and learn to make best use of them.

Learning Objectives

CHEM 1811 was designed with a number of learning objectives in mind. Some focus on tangible knowledge and skills while others are more abstract and long-term. All learning activities in the course rely and/or build upon one or more of these objectives.  The overriding goal for the course is that you better understand how to think like a scientist.  As a result, at the end of the semester you will be able to:

  • explain chemical structure, properties, and reactivity using electronic structure and bonding arguments
  • use common experimental laboratory techniques, instrumentation, and computational tools as appropriate to explore chemical question
  • employ scientific inquiry skills to solve novel, unstructured chemical problems
  • write aspects of a research-quality paper and properly cite references
  • use appropriate online databases to search the chemical literature
  • use electronic tools to prepare graphs and tables, draw chemical structures and equations, and produce videos on chemical principles

Assessment of Learning

Learning is hard! Meaningful learning—the kind of learning that lasts well beyond the test—is really hard. You will have to struggle through complex ideas, reconcile misconceptions, take risks, and continually practice the skills you learn. At times this will be frustrating, but the more you engage, the more you will learn.

Throughout the course, you will have multiple opportunities to explore a variety of chemical problems, engage in scientific inquiry, form and develop arguments, and share what you learn through problem solving and writing. The following activities will help guide you in this process and help you measure your progress as you move toward deeper understanding.

    Scientific Writing

To help you learn chemistry, you will learn to write about chemistry. You will use writing as a tool to help clarify understanding, identify missing information and holes in logic, brainstorm errors and biases, develop your ideas, and answer and ask questions. The format you will use is a research report. You will start small, focusing first on the results & discussion section and then slowly build in the other parts: experimental methods, introduction, abstract. For your final experiment of the semester, you will write a complete research report.

Each section of the research report will be assessed based on a rubric, or a set of scoring "rules." The rubric defines and explains the criteria against which your work will be evaluated. It also makes public key criteria that you, as a student, can use in developing, revising, and evaluating your own work. In addition to the general guidance the rubric provides, you will receive specific feedback from your instructors along the way so that you can continue to improve throughout the semester. For additional help, you may find it helpful to attend the optional, semi-weekly writing tutorial/workshop. This one-hour session will focus specifically on aspects of writing. The expectation is that you come prepared to actively engage in the writing process.

     Lab Notes

Science centers on making observations and asking questions about those observations. Rather than a definitive set of steps or procedures to follow, the Lab Notes serve as a guide for laboratory activities and as a prompt for inquiry. Use the Lab Notes to direct your lab activities and focus your investigations, but feel free to explore beyond what they contain. Your Lab Notes will be invaluable as you write up the results of your lab experiments. At times, these will be graded.

     Lab Exam

The lab exam is designed to assess the content knowledge and skills you've developed throughout the semester. It will consist of 2-3 novel, unstructured chemistry problems. For at least one of the problems you will also write aspects of a research report, e.g. abstract, experimental methods, and/or results & discussion section (appropriately cited). The exam is an open note examination; you are allowed to use anything in your laboratory notebook, the course website and text, and any software tools we've utilized throughout the semester. Keep in mind, however, that the "answers" will not reside in any of these resources. The resources only contain your ideas and experiences, in the case of your lab notebook, and mechanistic details and procedural information, in the case of the website. Armed with foundational knowledge (i.e. specific facts, information, etc.), you will discover the "answers" to the problems using the same scientific inquiry processes utilized throughout the laboratory sessions. Click here for example questions from previous exams.

     Participation Activities

The participation activities are designed to help you prepare and get the most out of this course. There will be one or more activities each week, none of which is intended to take much time (15-30 minutes). But, the more effort you put into them, the more you will learn! As long as you take the activity seriously and expend a reasonable amount of effort, you will receive full credit. The four main types of activities you will encounter throughout the semester are described below. Additional details, including due dates, are found in the Course Schedule.

bK (background Knowledge) Checks
This weekly set of questions will help you begin to understand the main ideas behind the upcoming lab experiment and allow you to demonstrate mastery of previously covered material.  Questions may focus on the background material, procedural processes, or sample calculations.

Procedure Notes
Many of the lab experiments you will perform are complex and have many interrelated steps. Sorting it all out prior to coming to lab will help you make best use of your time and reduce the number of mistakes you make. The procedure notes allow you to create a personalized outline of the steps you need to take for each experiment.

Peer Feedback
To help improve your and your classmates’ science, you will critically read your peers’ write-ups and provide constructive feedback. The feedback you offer will come from the perspective of a reader interested in the science. What do you find helpful, what do you find confusing, and what questions do you have?

Feedback Responses
The Feedback Responses are designed to help you to continue improve your scientific writing skills throughout the semester. They provide you with on-going opportunities to critically reflect on your written work and to respond to comments you receive from your peers and/or instructors. In general, you will be asked to respond to feedback by pointing to specific instances in your work which address feedback.

"Scavenger Hunt": The scavenger hunt offers you completely optional opportunities for you to participate in the course. They are designed 1) to encourage you to seek out help from your instructors, 2) to give you opportunities to provide constructive feedback to your instructors so they can improve the learning environment, and 3) to allow you to have fun with chemistry. Completing components of the scavenger hunt can help offset missing activities and/or improve your final letter grade. Click here to download a checklist of activities you can do!

     Digital Media Project (DMP)

As the course unfolds, you will be exposed to a variety of chemistries, some traditional and others on the cutting edge of science. Hopefully, something along the way piques your curiosity and wonder. To explore your ideas and questions about a chemistry topic of interest, you will complete a project using digital media. In addition to learning more about chemistry, such a project allows you to gain experience in several areas critical to scientific success, namely literature research, material and idea synthesis, documentation and presentation of technical material, collaborative work, and effective use of digital media.


Click here to see the course schedule.


Several components are factored into your final course grade. The total number of points available is 800. A detailed breakdown of these points is shown in the table below.

Assignment Descriptions
Number of Assignments
Points per Assignment
Total Points
Percentage of
Final Grade

Scientific Writing: For four (4) of the lab experiments, you will write various aspect of a Research Report. At a minimum, you will produce a results & discussion section; each is worth 50 points. For some, you will also write one other component of a research report; each additional part is worth 15 points.

For the final, two-week long lab experiment, you will write a full Research Report. It will be worth 100 points. All of these writing assignments will be assessed using the Research Report rubric.


Results & Discussion




Experimental, Abstract, or Introduction




Full Research Report




Lab Notes: For four (4) lab experiments, you will complete Lab Notes during the designated lab period and hand them in before leaving. Maximum credit is awarded for thoughtful, complete, accurate, and neat work.


Lab Notes




Lab Exam: For the lab exam, you will investigate one novel, unstructured computational chemistry problem and then write up your results. Your write-up will consist of an abstract, experimental methods, and results & discussion section (appropriately referenced). Your work will be graded according to the Research Report rubric.


Lab Exam




Participation Activities: There will be approximately 24 participation activities—bK Checks, Procedure Notes, Peer Feedback, and Feedback Responses—throughout the semester. Each will be awarded a check or a check-minus. A check indicates work that fulfills the basic requirements of the activity. It translates to full credit, i.e. 100%. A check-minus indicates work that is missing, late, incomplete, or noticeably deficient in some way. Participation activities may not be made up, but completing scavenger hunt tasks can offset low or missing scores. Here's how all this works:

  • Each check is assigned a value of zero (0); each check-minus is assigned a value of minus one (-1). As long as the sum of the values at the end of the semester is greater than or equal to zero, you will receive full credit for the participation activities (120 points). Five (5) points will be deducted from your participation grade for each point below zero (0). For example, if the final sum of your Participation Activities is -2, 10 points will be deducted from your score.
  • For every five scavenger hunt tasks you successfully complete, you will earn an additional value of +1. In other words, by completing scavenger hunt tasks you can promote a check-minus to a check. There are 28 scavenger hunt tasks; thus, you may receive up to five (5) promotions. If the sum of the values you receive on participation activities and promotions is +4 or greater, your final course grade will be increased one-third of a letter grade. In other words, if you have completed 20 tasks beyond any needed for missing assignments, you will earn the grade increase. (One caveat: Grades already in the A range will not be promoted to A+.)

Participation Activities




Digital Media Project (DMP): For the Digital Media Project (DMP) you will utilize digital media to explore and report on a chemistry topic. You have complete freedom to choose the subject and whether the project takes a creative or technical slant. Regardless of your choices, the completed project must effectively illustrate the chosen chemistry and should be self-explanatory to a knowledgeable layperson; i.e. the "point" of the project should be clear without explanation. Several components will be factored into the assessment of your project; a rubric will be provided.


Project Idea, Outline, & Schedule








Instructor Meeting & 60-second Demo




Final Project





Final grades will be based on the following fixed scale. Using this type of scale gives everyone in the course—not just the few above the curve—an opportunity to earn an A. It also allows you to know exactly where you stand in the class at all times. The numbers in parentheses in the table below indicate the minimum number of points required to receive a particular grade.

100-97: A+ (733)       89-87: B+ (657)       79-77: C+ (582)       69-67: D+ (506)       59-0: F (<453)
96-93: A (702)   86-83: B (627)   76-73: C (552)   66-63: D (476)      
92-90: A- (680)   82-80: B- (604)   72-70: C- (529)   62-60: D- (453)      

Keep in mind, your final grade is a reflection of how well you meet the learning objectives, not a comment on effort or self-worth.


All assignments are due at the start of class/lab one week after the day they are assigned unless otherwise noted. See the Schedule for detailed information. Late assignments will only be accepted if you know you'll be absent for a legitimate reason and let your instructor(s) know ahead of time.

All assignments should be typed, with all structures, figures, and graphs produced electronically.


Attendance at both the lecture portion and laboratory component of CHEM 1811 is required. This stipulation is based on the following:

  • The lecture component of the lab expands on some of the broader, "big picture" ideas of science which are not covered explicitly in lab.
  • The lecture component of the course will introduce/explain concepts necessary for a successful lab experience.
  • A laboratory course by nature is a "hands-on" endeavor.
  • Much of CHEM 1811 is designed to be collaborative, and therefore, others depend on your contributions.
  • Your instructors like/want you to be there, and are willing to help and answer your questions.

Note: Missed labs may only be made up if you know you'll be absent for a legitimate reason and let the instructor know ahead of time. Every attempt should be made to complete the work during another section performing the lab; i.e. during the same week.


I trust every student in this course to fully comply with all of the provisions of the UVa Honor System.

Students will typically work with a partner (or in small groups) on laboratory exercises and other related work. While the experience should be collaborative in nature, the final version of all written documents must be entirely the work (and writing) of each individual student. You should cite all sources using the guidelines in Davis, H. B.; Tyson, J. F.; Pechenik, J. A. A Short Guide to Writing About Chemistry; Longman: Boston, 2010; pp 34-50.  A definition of plagiarism and examples are found in the aforementioned reference on pages156-158 and 160-165.  Finally, all submitted work should state who collaborated on the assignment and in what ways.

The final examination should be pledged, stating that the student neither received nor gave aid during the exam.

If it is shown beyond a reasonable doubt that a student has committed an honor violation with regard to any assignment or test, that student will receive an immediate grade of '0' (zero) for that work, irrespective of any subsequent action taken by the Honor Committee.

© 2004-2013 Michael Palmer