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Chemistry 120a: The Nature of the Chemical Bond Fall term (3-0-6)

Professor William A. Goddard, III,
Collaborator: Dr. Richard P. Muller,
Head Teaching Assistant: Jeremy Kua,


In 1937 Linus Pauling showed how to understand the structures of chemical, biological, and materials systems using the concepts of quantum mechanics but no equations. This revolutionized chemistry, leading to concepts that have dominated many of the developments over the last 60 years.

Chemistry 120 was created to utilize the progress in quantum mechanics of chemical and materials systems that has been made in the last 30 years to further elucidate the principles of bonding and how to use these principles to predict the properties of inorganic, organic, biochemical, and materials systems. The philosophy is the same, that is, to develop the qualitative and semi-quantitative understanding useful for predicting properties prior to experiment or detailed calculations. Thus Ch120 requires an understanding of the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics (at the level taught at Caltech in 2nd year physics or junior level physical chemistry). However, we are interested in using symmetry and physical principles to obtain semi-quantitative solutions rather than solving the Schrodinger equation. As with Pauling it is not the equations we are after but the understanding that allows one to predict new systems.

Ch120a will start with the fundamental reasons why atoms form chemical bonds, and consider the implications for chemical reactions with applications selected from Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Organometallic chemistry, Biochemistry, Semiconductors, Ceramics, Polymers, Metallic Alloys, Surface Science, and Catalysis. The idea is to illustrate how to use the concepts by examining nontrivial problems in these areas so that the student will be able to independently apply the principles on their own.

There is no text for the course. We will use typed notes created in previous years plus handwritten lecture notes taken in 1996 (the last time the course was taught).

The course will contain weekly homework assignments, a midterm, and a final examination.

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Richard P. Muller