Chemistry 115/116 Honors Sequence

CHEM 115/116 Chemical Principles I/II is a two-semester mathematically based honors chemistry sequence designed for highly motivated first year students with an interest in science or engineering. The goal of this unique sequence is to expose first year students to topics and concepts at the frontiers of science that are not normally covered in General Chemistry. The physical and experimental origins for understanding atoms and molecules are emphasized, focusing on quantum mechanics, which is a subject that chemistry majors do not typically learn until they are juniors or seniors. Advanced mathematics, physics, and coding tools like Python are used to model and explain chemical phenomena.  We will provide instruction in these areas to ensure a positive learning experience. In 116, students are placed into research laboratories in Chemistry and other Departments across campus for a guided research project over 8 weeks.  Many students continue in those research groups after the class ends.

Course Details

  •  Class size is small with about 28-32 students.
  •  Each course is 5 credits and includes three 50-minute lectures, one 3-hour laboratory, and one 50-minute discussion weekly.
  •  CHEM 115 is offered only in the Fall semesters, followed by CHEM 116 in the Spring semester.
  •  CHEM 115 explores a detailed atomic and molecular view of matter and its interactions, with a specific focus on quantum theory, molecular structure, and chemical bonding using a mathematical and physics description.
  •  CHEM 116 provides a quantitative treatment of macroscopic phenomena including thermodynamics, chemical equilibria, solution behavior, electrochemistry, and chemical kinetics, covering more topics common to General and Analytical Chemistry.
  • There are weekly laboratories.  Chemistry 115 laboratory is designed to give students a broad range of experiences performing basic chemical manipulations and measurements following good laboratory practice.  In addition to exploring wet chemistry, students gain experience modeling chemical phenomenon using Python, and learn to navigate the scientific literature and receive support while developing a presentation and paper on a topic of interest.  The first half of Chemistry 116 is designed to give students experience using modern instrumentation including HPLC, GC-MS, fluorometers, and automatic titrators along with practice performing more complicated synthesis.
  •  A highlight of the 115/116 sequence is a seven-week independent research project during the second half of the spring semester in which students are placed in various research groups across campus. In recent years, students have had projects in chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering, physics, materials science, cell and regenerative biology, pharmacy, and human oncology.  Students are placed in a research group whose interests match their own as closely as possible: pre-med students sometimes synthesize potential new drugs, physics students might build a new optical spectrometer, chemical engineers might work on biofuels, and chemists on new solar cell materials, for example.  Some titles of presentations recently given by 116 students on their research projects:
    • Genome Minimization of E. coli for Improved Chemical Production
    • Photoexcitation dynamics in new carbon nanotube solar cells
    • Proteomics and LC-MS
    • Oxidative Catalytic Fractionation for Lignin Feedstocks: The Adsorption of Para-Hyrdroxybenzoic Acid Product on Catalyst Surface
    • Calibration of D-galactose in an aerosol chemical speciation monitor to study the chemical composition of sea spray aerosols involved in the atmosphere

About the Instructors

Professor Etienne Garand is a physical chemist who specializes in mass spectrometry and laser spectroscopy with applications to molecular biophysics and solar energy conversion.  Professor J.R. Schmidt is a theoretical chemist.  He specializes in electronic structure theory, meaning he calculates the energies and structures of molecules, which he uses to predict their reactivities, such as advanced materials for capturing carbon dioxide. He will teach CHEM 116 in spring 2025.  You can find their websites at and . The weekly laboratories are designed and run by Dr. Pamela Doolittle, who is an analytical chemist that directs the undergraduate analytical laboratory program, with the mission of teaching students practical matters of, and the science behind, chemical measurements.

What are the Requisites?

Quantitative Reasoning Part A: Students must have satisfied the UW-Madison general education requirements of Quantitative Reasoning Part A. This requirement may be satisfied via the UW System Math Placement test.

Math Experience: Proficiency in first semester calculus (equivalent to MATH 221 at UW-Madison or one year of high school calculus) is required.  Concurrent enrollment in second semester calculus (MATH 222) or higher is strongly recommended.

Chemistry: Two years of high school chemistry is required.

Physics: One year of high school physics is required.

What degree requirements do Chemistry 115 and 116 satisfy?

Students who take CHEM 115 in the Fall should intend to continue with CHEM 116 in the Spring. CHEM 115 and 116 together satisfy both general and analytical chemistry requirements for any major at UW-Madison. Chemistry, biochemistry, and chemical engineering majors specifically require both general and analytical chemistry. The sequence can also be used to satisfy general chemistry and elective requirements for many other science and engineering majors. The combination of CHEM 115 and 116 is the formal equivalent of CHEM 109 (advanced general chemistry) and CHEM 329 (analytical chemistry) combined. Students who complete either sequence (115/116 or 109/329) will have satisfied both the general and analytical chemistry requirements for any major on campus that requires them. However, because of the order of topics in the CHEM 115/116 sequence, CHEM 115 alone does not satisfy general chemistry requirements, while CHEM 109 does. It is only the two semesters together (both 115 and 116) that are equivalent to the CHEM 109-329 sequence. As in the past, we expect to award higher grades in CHEM 115 than in CHEM 109. Both CHEM 115 and 116 earn honors credits, and they count towards L&S physical science breadth requirements. Students not wishing to continue to CHEM 116 after completing CHEM 115 should contact the chemistry advisor to discuss options.

Is Chemistry 115/116 a good choice for me?

If you think math is fun and enjoyed your high school physics and chemistry classes, then you should consider 115/116. If you like the fundamentals of chemistry, the rigor of math, and are intrigued by quantum mechanics, then consider this course. If you want to work in a research laboratory during your first year of college, consider this sequence.  If you are willing to work hard and are intellectually adventurous, take this course!

The nature of this course is intrinsically different from most other General Chemistry courses, which usually start with topics that students are already familiar with from high school. Chem 115 begins with content very different and more abstract than their high school chemistry.  It is not until after the first month of class that students begin to see topics resembling what they learned in high school. Here are some quotes from recent students:

“I recommend chemistry 115/116 for students seeking a challenge. The material covered in the sequence goes well beyond the scope of traditional general chemistry courses and the small class size gives you the opportunity to get to know your fellow classmates and professors well.”

“I found it difficult and stressful at the beginning of 115 because I was learning new things beyond high school on the very first day.  But, it was worth it.  I enjoyed the class, loved the research experience, and it is helping my engineering major.”

“Chem 115 is the hardest class I took in my first year. I put in many hours and sometimes struggled, but I don’t regret taking the class and recommend it to anyone who has a strong work ethic and loves learning. The whole class became friends which lead to many late-night study groups for homework and exams. Part of the success in the course is learning and collaborating with classmates. What also makes the class worth the work is the professors who care about the success of the students and push the students to think deeply. It was an amazing experience and led me to joining a terrific research lab on campus.”

Students who are accepted to CHEM 115 will have an opportunity to consult with their SOAR advisor and/or the SOAR Chemistry consultant about whether CHEM 115/116 is a good option given their interests and goals, prior to enrolling.

How To Apply

Incoming first-year students who have accepted their offer of admission to UW-Madison and meet the requirements described above are eligible to apply to the CHEM 115/116 sequence. Here are some steps to take before starting your application for CHEM 115.

  • Activate your UW-Madison NetID. Doing so will give you access to your UW Madison G Suite (Google Suite) account. The CHEM 115 application form is only open to those with a UW Madison NetID and G Suite account.
  • Register for your required UW System Placement tests. Your offer of admission from UW-Madison should have included information about which tests you need to take. Instructions on how to register are available on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page of the SOAR website. It is recommended that you take the placement tests as soon as possible (in May) so that your math placement test results are available when we are reviewing applications. You do not need to have taken the tests prior to submitting your CHEM 115 application.
  • Obtain an unofficial copy of your high school transcript. If you have taken college courses, find those transcripts as well. Combine transcripts into a single pdf and name the file with your last name, then first name, and “Transcripts”. For example, Bucky Badger’s file would be named “BadgerBucky Transcripts”.
  • If you have taken any AP or IB exams and your scores are now available, gather the unofficial score reports. Combine them into a single pdf and name the file with your last and first names, as in “BadgerBecky Test Scores”. Scores from AP or IB tests taken in spring 2024 will not be available until after the application is due.
  • Be sure you are logged in with your UW NetID and your UW Google account when attempting to access the application. More information about the UW Google Suite is here.

Apply Here

Applications are due by 8:00 AM on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. We intend to notify applicants whether they have been accepted to the class by Monday, June 3. Questions may be addressed to