Academic Year Research 


Independent Study (CHM490) is taken for course credit for at least two semesters, normally in the senior year. A letter grade is assigned for each semester. If a student has not been involved in summer research, he or she should consult with faculty members early in the spring semester of the junior year. Significant results and the development of confidence, independence, and good laboratory technique can be realized only by careful planning and consultation with the research supervisor.

In The Lab

Each CHM490 student should expect to spend 12 to 15 hours a week in the laboratory and additional time thinking about the research project, reading relevant literature, and learning the appropriate background theories. Much of research consists of failures in the laboratory, and these frustrating experiences must be countered by perseverance, discipline, and optimism. As each student progresses, the ability to think critically about a problem should improve so that the amount of assistance required from the advisor gradually decreases. Eventually, the student should be able to suggest and devise new experiments to be performed or new directions for the project. A complete and well-organized notebook is invaluable in developing independence as a researcher and in recording all experimental observations.



Honors in Chemistry

If your research is considered outstanding by the research supervisor, the student may be nominated by the research supervisor for Honors in Chemistry. Generally, all of the following criteria must be met:

  • An unusual commitment of time and effort: Normally, only work accomplished during the summer preceding the senior year and the CHM 490 (independent study) results (during the senior year) will be considered.
  • Results that are publishable: Most Honors students will also have presented their results at the Intercollegiate Student Chemists Convention or an American Chemical Society meeting.
  • Independent contributions to the project from the student.
  • A well-written thesis of high quality that conforms to the Thesis Guidelines (listed in next column).
  • A successful defense of the project.

The Honors defense is given to a committee consisting of at least four members (selected by the research advisor who is not a member of the committee) of the chemistry department. The chairperson of the department must be a member of the committee. It is also customary to include an additional committee member from outside the chemistry department. The defense consists of a presentation of results followed by questions from the committee designed to probe the student's understanding of the underlying theory and results obtained. The research advisor does not participate either as questioner or responder. Following the defense, the committee meets with the supervisor and transmits its recommendation to the advisor. If the recommendation is positive, the student graduates with Honors in Chemistry.

Although it will be expected that the thesis read by the committee has been carefully done and is in final form, under some circumstances the committee may require that the thesis be modified in order to qualify for Honors. Honors defenses will normally be scheduled during reading days between the end of classes and the beginning of finals.



The thesis may vary slightly in format depending on the individual proclivities of the student and the research supervisor, but it must contain the following elements:


An introduction that clearly states the objectives of the project and relates them to previous work in this area. A careful summary of the literature is absolutely essential. A description of the theories necessary for an understanding of the project is also important.


An experimental section that contains sufficient detail to allow future researchers to reproduce the work. This section should contain no discussion or conclusions.


A results section that presents, often in tabular form, the results of the research. These results might be data in various forms; e.g., infrared frequencies, voltages or chemical shifts. Alternatively, the results might be descriptions of the varied attempts to prepare specific compounds that include variables (such as temperature, mole ratios, mode of addition, solvent, etc) that were changed in each attempt. Some researchers prefer to present physical properties (such as boiling point, percent carbon, etc.) that were used to characterize compounds in the results section, while others prefer to give these in the experimental section.


A discussion section that gives a carefully organized analysis of the results of the project. The results should be related to the previous work discussed in the introduction and the significance of the results should be made crystal clear. Some writers prefer to combine the results and discussion sections.

The thesis must contain a title page, an acknowledgements page, a table of contents, and a listing (the references section) of the articles referred to in the body of the thesis. Literature citations must be given with appropriate journal abbreviations and the style currently used by the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Some authors prefer to add features such as a listing of tables and illustrations, a bibliography (a listing of all literature read, as opposed to literature cited), separate discussions of particular theories, and appendices that present computer program listings, or unusual derivations. Some researchers use occasional footnotes (at the bottom of the page, not in the references [literature cited]) to add parenthetical comments. It is essential to use headings to indicate how the thesis material is organized.

The thesis should be bound in a three-ring binder with the name of the student, the thesis title, and the year given, both on the front of the binder and on the spine. Each CHM 490 student must provide one copy of his/ her thesis for inclusion in the department's archives and one copy for the thesis advisor. If the student is awarded Honors in Chemistry ​(see previous column), a copy of the thesis must also be sent to the archivist in the College library.


It is particularly important for the student to constantly be conscious of the potential for danger in every operation and to seek advice, when necessary, from the advisor. Before beginning any operation the toxicity of reagents must be known and possible misadventures anticipated.

All chemistry researchers are required to attend a laboratory safety training session led by F&M's safety officer, Denise Freeman.


A careful search of the literature for previous work is an essential part of the project. A written progress report at the end of the first semester is required. If it is carefully written, much of this report can be incorporated into the final Thesis, which is normally due approximately one week before the end of classes in the second semester.

Oral Presentation 

An oral presentation of results is given at the end of each semester. Appropriate visual aids include Powerpoint™ slides or overhead transparencies. The talks are followed by questions from the audience of faculty and students.