What concepts do you find tricky to understand as an undergrad in chemistry?

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stefjaie
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What concepts at undergraduate level chemistry bug you or find hard to understand?
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TajwarC
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(Original post by stefjaie)
What concepts at undergraduate level chemistry bug you or find hard to understand?
Most of it.

On a serious note, For inorganic: I've never been a fan of organnometallics and catalytic cycles. Symmetry and group theory isn't exactly a piece of cake either..
For organic: Retrosynthesis is a pain and anything to do with chemical biology (DNA, polyketide synthesis, glycosidic pathway) is agonising. So is interpretting NMR when you have multiplets like doublet of doublet of triples or some other nonsense
For physical: Classical thermodynamics was quite tricky for me personally although now I look back it isn't too bad. Electrochemistry and fuel cells can also be tricky imo

On the other hand, some of the topics I've found easiest:
Inorganic: some aspects of organometallics (although I didn't enjoy it), selection rules and spectroscopy, lanthanoids/actinoids
Organic: directing groups, NGP, aldol mechanisms, stability of carbocations, some synthetic pathways
Physical: Quantum mechanics (despite it being watered down because chemists can't do maths unfortunately), statistical thermodynamics, kinetics/rate laws
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artful_lounger
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CheeseIsVeg ?
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DrawTheLine
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(Original post by artful_lounger)
CheeseIsVeg ?
You beat me to it!
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CheeseIsVeg
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(Original post by stefjaie)
What concepts at undergraduate level chemistry bug you or find hard to understand?
Hey :ahee: Fellow Chemistry student over here :five:
Literally most of organic chemistry.
I can't memorise mechanisms and I've tried so hard to understand it. Admittedly there were parts of the first semester that I could get my head round such as radicals, enolates etc. but carbenes :yucky:
(Original post by TajwarC)
Most of it.

On a serious note, For inorganic: I've never been a fan of organnometallics and catalytic cycles. Symmetry and group theory isn't exactly a piece of cake either..
For organic: Retrosynthesis is a pain and anything to do with chemical biology (DNA, polyketide synthesis, glycosidic pathway) is agonising. So is interpretting NMR when you have multiplets like doublet of doublet of triples or some other nonsense
For physical: Classical thermodynamics was quite tricky for me personally although now I look back it isn't too bad. Electrochemistry and fuel cells can also be tricky imo

On the other hand, some of the topics I've found easiest:
Inorganic: some aspects of organometallics (although I didn't enjoy it), selection rules and spectroscopy, lanthanoids/actinoids
Organic: directing groups, NGP, aldol mechanisms, stability of carbocations, some synthetic pathways
Physical: Quantum mechanics (despite it being watered down because chemists can't do maths unfortunately), statistical thermodynamics, kinetics/rate laws
I really do agree with you a lot here!
Was actually going to ask you for some advice as I'm starting the Retrosynthesis bleurck now :ashamed2: I hate it already and we've had one lecture
and I can just see myself failing this module if I really don't put my heart into working at it

I have to say I quite enjoy the maths in chemistry, it's one of my strengths. Really like electrochemistry :love: Hoping to do an internship related to it fingers crossed! :ahee:
Really love QM and most of inorganic chemistry but agree that I find group theory so hard, have not got a good brain for imagining rotations/orientations of a molecule and have to use the models and hope I'm looking at the right thing :lol:

Not looking forward to statistical thermodynamics/kinetics this semester though :puke:

Spoiler:
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It's been disheartening to be in classes of fellow students who don't even know basic indices/log/e rules


(Original post by DrawTheLine)
You beat me to it!
(Original post by artful_lounger)
CheeseIsVeg ?
Cheers guys :hugs:
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_NMcC_
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Still finishing off my degree but since the beginning,

Hardest;

Physical; I've never really enjoyed Thermodynamics. They involve some partial differential calculus and even a few PDE's. I find Atkin's textbook heavy going. Photokinetics is also a very weird subject and I find a lot of it very unintuitive. Both of those are definitely the hardest subjects I've studied to date. Thermodynamics is fundamental to Chemistry however so got to keep plugging at it!

Organic; Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. Although I feel reasonably competant in the background theory and analysis of basic 1D 1H or 13C NMR, there's so much more to it like 'Nuclear Overhauser Spectroscopy', TOCSY and other 2D/3D stuff that I admit I do not feel strong on at all! It never seems to have an endpoint. It's very a difficult subject to explain to people in laymans terms also... The ''Robinson Annulation'' I will admit was demon to learn also. 'Protein Synthesis'/Chemical Biology I also find very ''memorise''' heavy...

Inorganic; Actually Periodicity isn't a language I can speak very well. For some it's very intuitive but I find I have to revise all the trends a lot... Other weird ligand trivia like the 'trans-effect' and some areas of catalysis are very strange indeed. Bioinorganic is interesting but I hate having to memorise Nucleobases and their bonding patterns. Materials is interesting but it seems like a very ''all over the place'' subject to me and nowhere near as 'organised' as parts of Physical or Organic.

Easiest;

Organic; I've always found most Synthetic Organic Chemistry and Stereochemistry in general very natural and like a language to me. I'm also enjoying the Woodward Hoffman laws and how they mix Quantum Theory to explain Pericyclic Chemistry. Challenging but not horrendous for me. Parts of NMR I actually don't find too challenging (once I understood how things like 'scalar coupling' arise from the different spin-states.) I think Organic is a more beautiful subject than people give it credit for...

Physical; Symmetry and Mathematical Group Theory I'm picking up quite well I feel, while I still haven't learned all of it, it doesn't feel too difficult. I like how you can (most of the time) visualise what Symmetry Operations are doing. Surprisingly I found Quantum Theory a lot less difficult than Thermodynamics and It's quite nice how orbitals can be treated as 'Symmetry objects', I would be lying if I said it was easy though. Kinetics is a nice subject and the calculus isn't too difficult in it, it also applies very nicely to other areas of Chemistry.

Inorganic; Ligand Field Theory and Crystal Field Theory are the most logical bits of Inorganic I've found and I like how they can explain so much, like Magnetism, Colour, Geometry etc Again I like the visual aspect of it and It's cool how you can 'prove' whether a complex will be paramagnetic or diamagnetic...It's a great theory. HSAB is also a nice theory to deploy when all else fails!

Most Enjoyable: Got to be a tie between Molecular Symmetry, Magnetism and Organic.

Interestingly rather similar to the above posts!
Last edited by _NMcC_; 1 year ago
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TajwarC
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(Original post by _NMcC_)
Still finishing off my degree but since the beginning,

Hardest;

Physical; I've never really enjoyed Thermodynamics. They involve some partial differential calculus and even a few PDE's. I find Atkin's textbook heavy going. Photokinetics is also a very weird subject and I find a lot of it very unintuitive. Both of those are definitely the hardest subjects I've studied to date. Thermodynamics is fundamental to Chemistry however so got to keep plugging at it!

Organic; Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. Although I feel reasonably competant in the background theory and analysis of basic 1D 1H or 13C NMR, there's so much more to it like 'Nuclear Overhauser Spectroscopy', TOCSY and other 2D/3D stuff that I admit I do not feel strong on at all! It never seems to have an endpoint. It's very a difficult subject to explain to people in laymans terms also... The ''Robinson Annulation'' I will admit was demon to learn also. 'Protein Synthesis'/Chemical Biology I also find very ''memorise''' heavy...

Inorganic; Actually Periodicity isn't a language I can speak very well. For some it's very intuitive but I find I have to revise all the trends a lot... Other weird ligand trivia like the 'trans-effect' and some areas of catalysis are very strange indeed. Bioinorganic is interesting but I hate having to memorise Nucleobases and their bonding patterns. Materials is interesting but it seems like a very ''all over the place'' subject to me and nowhere near as 'organised' as parts of Physical or Organic.

Easiest;

Organic; I've always found most Synthetic Organic Chemistry and Stereochemistry in general very natural and like a language to me. I'm also enjoying the Woodward Hoffman laws and how they mix Quantum Theory to explain Pericyclic Chemistry. Challenging but not horrendous for me. Parts of NMR I actually don't find too challenging (once I understood how things like 'scalar coupling' arise from the different spin-states.)

Physical; Symmetry and Mathematical Group Theory I'm picking up quite well I feel, while I still haven't learned all of it, it doesn't feel too difficult. I like how you can (most of the time) visualise what Symmetry Operations are doing. Surprisingly I found Quantum Theory a lot less difficult than Thermodynamics and It's quite nice how orbitals can be treated as 'Symmetry objects', I would be lying if I said it was easy though. Kinetics is a nice subject and the calculus isn't too difficult in it, it also applies very nicely to other areas of Chemistry.

Inorganic; Ligand Field Theory and Crystal Field Theory are the most logical bits of Inorganic I've found and I like how they can explain so much, like Magnetism, Colour, Geometry etc Again I like the visual aspect of it and It's cool how you can 'prove' whether a complex will be paramagnetic or diamagnetic...It's a great theory. HSAB is also a nice theory to deploy when all else fails!

Most Enjoyable: Got to be a tie between Molecular Symmetry, Magnetism and Organic.

Interestingly rather similar to the above posts!
Ah yes I forgot about CSFE and all that stuff, definately some of the most straightforward things I've come across.

Are your physical chemistry courses more mathematically based? I don't mean to sound patronising but I don't think many people on my course know what a PDE even is let alone solve one. Personally it's my biggest pet peeve of this course, lots of mathematical (and important) rigour is simply overlooked. I assume because A-level mathematics isn't a requirement for my course.
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_NMcC_
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(Original post by TajwarC)
Ah yes I forgot about CSFE and all that stuff, definately some of the most straightforward things I've come across.

Are your physical chemistry courses more mathematically based? I don't mean to sound patronising but I don't think many people on my course know what a PDE even is let alone solve one. Personally it's my biggest pet peeve of this course, lots of mathematical (and important) rigour is simply overlooked. I assume because A-level mathematics isn't a requirement for my course.
Phys.Chem didn't go light on the Maths and there were one or two PDE's last year...they were explained in great detail... as an 'extra' thing that we weren't examined on...but I don't feel confident at all with them! May never will... Phys.Chem overall though wasn't ridiculous on the maths but there were also a few Matrices and a bit of standard Calculus thrown in also. Required some revision...

I don't actually think Maths was a requirement for my course either actually though...seems to be a thing with Chemistry, shame a lot of it is thrown out...only Physicists get closer to 'the truth', but at the end of the day...a lot of people don't seem to mind 'approximating' a lot of the Physics in Chemistry to 'double-bonds' or 'curly arrows'...nature of the science. I feel though I've grasped enough of the Quantum/Thermo details so far to at least understand how Organic/Inorganic Chemistry 'works'.

But you're right, the Physics is 'diluted' down a lot, no matter where you go...
Last edited by _NMcC_; 1 year ago
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