Skip to content

Chemistry Major Guide for 2015-2016

What is Chemistry?

Chemistry is the central science that deals with understanding the atomic and molecular basis of all forms of matter. The science uses observation of phenomena to better understand the constructive and destructive forces needed to modify matter. A principal part of that understanding is defining how atoms are held together to make molecules from the simplest diatomic molecules to the huge complex macromolecules of living systems such as proteins and nucleic acids. Many tools are brought to bear on this issue including the observation of changes induced in matter, spectroscopic measurements, and sophisticated calculations.

Various themes can be used to focus on special aspects of the science. Thus, courses are offered in particular areas such as analytical, inorganic, organic, physical, and polymer chemistry.

Analytical chemistry investigates the composition of a substance to identify it or its components. It often employs sophisticated electronic devices to improve quality control in manufacturing, carry out forensic and environmental investigations, and assess the quality of materials.

Inorganic chemistry is the study of elements other than carbon including metals and the molecules in which they occur such as the hemoglobin in blood. Molecules containing metals play an increasingly important role in modern industrial chemistry as catalysts to make new materials economically.

Organic chemistry explores the nature and behavior of molecules based on carbon. Learning to unite carbon atoms has led to many new materials including miracle drugs, lubricants, adhesives, and the myriad of polymers that provide advanced materials for countless applications.

Physical chemistry details the fun­damentals of atoms and molecules and provides detailed information about attractive and repulsive forces, bonding and related phenomena, energy changes in reactions, etc. It provides insights which allow a deep understanding of chemical phenomena.

Polymer or macromolecular chemistry is the study of the synthesis, structure, and properties of high molecular weight chain-like molecules. These include synthetic plastics and elastomers, as well as naturally occurring polymers such as proteins and polysaccharides.

Career Opportunities in Chemistry

Chemistry contributes to society in many ways which provide numerous possibilities for careers. Professional chemists can work as technicians or researchers in industry developing or improving products, analyzing materials, synthesizing new compounds such as pharmaceuticals, solving other problems, or they can pursue technical sales, management, or administration of the business. In government laboratories chemists are responsible for monitoring the environment, defining standards for foods, drugs, and other consumable chemicals, evaluation of patents, and assisting with chemical aspects of laws and regulations that protect society. Chemists serve the public more directly in hospitals and medical laboratories and as teachers at all educational levels.

Chemistry provides an excellent preparation for other professions including medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, law, business, and the applied sciences.

Salary Trends in Chemistry

Salaries earned by chemists are dependent on degree level and on whether they are employed in industry, government, or academe. According to a recent survey by the American Chemical Society (2014), the overall median salaries by degree are the following:
BS, $72,000
MS, $85,000
Ph.D., $102,000

Industrial salaries are the highest for all degrees; academic salaries are lower.  Industry employs 55% of chemists; academe, 24%; the remainder are employed by government and service companies.
The average annual salary increase for the past decade has been 5.7%, which compares favorably with a decade average consumer price index of 3.0%.

High School Preparation

It is highly recommended that students take at least one year of high school chemistry. Since university physics is a prerequisite to the major, a course in high school physics is also recom­mended.
The quantitative nature of many chemical endeavors requires a solid mathematics background. High school preparation should include as much mathematics as possible, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and, if available, calculus.

How to Major in Chemistry

To major in chemistry, a student should enroll in Chemistry 120–130 (or 128–138) and Math 141–42 during the first year. A student should request a Chemistry Department advisor by meeting with Prof. John Bartmess in BU 601, after the student has obtained a C or better in Chem 120 or 128.

There are two bachelor of science majors for chemistry: the B.S. major in chemistry that satisfies all the requirements of a major in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the American Chemical Society (ACS) certified B.S. major in chemistry.  The ACS major is the more demanding degree.

A degree in chemistry with honors is also available.  Please check the current undergraduate catalog for details.

Requirements for Chemistry

The minimum requirements for the B.S. degree with a major in chemistry in the College of Arts & Sciences are as follows:
Chemistry 120–130 or 128–138
Mathematics 141–142 or 151–152

Physics 221–222, 135–136, or 137–138

Chemistry 240, 310, 319, 350–360 or 358-368, 369, 471–481 or 473–483, and 479, plus 10 hours of additional work in chemistry at the 200-level or above that includes at least one laboratory course or lec­ture/laboratory course; up to 4 hours of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology 401, 402 or Geology 460 may be applied to the 10-hour requirement.

Highlights of Chemistry

The Department of Chemistry offers two B.S. degrees. The B.S. degree with a major in chemistry is a traditional liberal arts degree intended primarily for students who have career objectives in fields such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, business, education, etc. With the proper choice of mathematics, physics and chemistry courses, it is also suitable for students planning careers in chemistry.

The Bachelor of Science in Chemistry degree is intended for students who plan to make chemistry their career and requires a high concentration of mathematics and experimental chemistry.  This program is certified by the Committee on Professional Training of the American Chemical Society.
Both the B.S. degree and the B.S. in Chemistry degree are available as honors degrees with completion of appropriate courses (see the current undergraduate catalog).

Since the two degrees provide for various career goals, students should choose a faculty advisor in the Department of Chemistry at the earliest opportunity.

Ready for the World logo

Ready for the World

“Ready for the World” is part of a long-range plan to transform the UTK campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century.  Thus students are encouraged to actively participate in the diverse cultural programs offered on campus.  Some of these events include the guest lecture series, cultural nights at the International House, and international film screenings.  Visit the Center for International Education website or the Ready for the World website for more information on upcoming cultural programs and activities. Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.

Students are also encouraged to develop a global perspective within their academic program through study abroad. Consult an academic advisor early in your academic career about the best time for you to study abroad as well as what courses you may need to take. For more information about program options, the application process, and how to finance study abroad, please visit the Programs Abroad Office website.

Academic Plan and Milestones

Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years. For first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.

To see a sample academic plan and milestones for this major, please visit the undergraduate catalog.

For More Information

Department of Chemistry
552 Buehler Hall
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-1600
(865) 974-3141
Fax: (865) 974-9332


The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.

Report an accessibility barrier