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Chemistry Laboratory Techniques

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  • Course Description

    This course is an intensive introduction to the techniques of experimental chemistry and gives first year students an opportunity to learn and master the basic chemistry lab techniques for carrying out experiments. Students who successfully complete the course and obtain a "Competent Chemist" (CC) or "Expert Experimentalist" (EE) rating are likely to secure opportunities for research work in a chemistry lab at MIT. Acknowledgements The laboratory manual and materials for this course were prepared by Dr. Katherine J. Franz and Dr. Kevin M. Shea with the assistance of Professors Rick L. Danheiser and Timothy M. Swager. Materials have been revised by Dr. J. Haseltine, Dr. Kevin M. Shea, Dr. Sarah A. Tabacco, Dr. Kimberly L. Berkowski, Anne M. (Gorham) Rachupka, and Dr. John J. Dolhun. Course Highlights 5.301 includes a series of chemistry laboratory instructional videos called the Digital Lab Techniques Manual (DLTM), used as supplementary material for this course as well as other courses offered by the Chemistry department. The full "Digital Lab Techniques Manual" is available in our Supplemental Resources section under Chemistry. This course is offered during MIT's Independent Activities Period (IAP)—a special 4-week term that runs the full month of January. You can follow the students who took 5.301 in January 2012, as they faced the challenges of learning chemistry the MIT way, through a unique video series called ChemLab Boot Camp.

    About John J. Dolhun, Dr. Kimberly Berkowski Dr. Sarah Tabacco Aayesha Siddiqui Eileen Huang

    Kimberly L. Berkowski, Ph.D. prosecutes patent applications in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and polymer/material sciences. Her technical research and teaching background enable her to work seamlessly with scientists and lay persons alike to produce quality work and favorable results. She has extensive bench experience with the synthesis, characterization, and application of small molecules, polymers, peptides, and biomaterials. Dr. Berkowski also brings exceptional technical communication skills that she cultivated during her years of teaching in academia.

    Note: Contents for this page are Licensed from under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Course Code

    Date Taught
    Winter 2008

    Undergraduate (First Year)
  • Course Meeting Times

    Lectures and Labs: 17 sessions for 4 weeks, 7 hours / session (each session includes a morning lecture and an afternoon lab)


    Welcome to 5.301! This course has been specially designed as an intensive introduction to the techniques of experimental chemistry. Our goals in this class are twofold. First, since freshmen cannot enroll in any of the regular chemistry lab courses, 5.301 has been created to give interested first-year students an opportunity to get "hands-on experience" with chemistry. A second aim of 5.301 is to prepare freshmen for UROP in the Chemistry Department. Freshmen often have a difficult time finding a UROP position in our department because they don't yet have the experimental skills and experience developed in our regular chemistry lab course sequence. During the next month, you will mix, stir, and measure until you reach a "professional level" of skill in various techniques fundamental to chemical research. Unlike other laboratory classes, the goal is not just to successfully perform an experiment and write a report; instead, the focus will be on mastering the techniques and skills necessary to carry out experiments.

    The techniques we will study in 5.301 are divided into five different modules, each consisting of two sections: "Competent Chemist" and "Expert Experimentalist." To obtain your "Competent Chemist Rating" for each technique, you will be required to develop a certain level of proficiency with that skill as demonstrated by obtaining a minimum amount and minimum purity of a specific product. After you have attained your "CC Rating" for a particular section, you may then move to the more challenging "Expert Experimentalist" level technique where you will need to demonstrate an even higher level of skill to obtain your "EE Rating." To help gauge your personal progress, after completing each module you should review the "Techniques Checklist" at the beginning of the section and ask yourself whether you now feel comfortable performing that set of laboratory operations. Remember that you can be comfortable with a technique while not being a true expert. It is too ambitious for us to imagine that after 5.301 you will be able to independently solve any problem that comes your way in the research lab. This will come after much more experience and practice. Our goal is for you to reach a professional level of comfort and understanding so that you can seek the proper advice when confronted with unfamiliar problems or techniques.

    In the final week of the course, you will be introduced to original research. Your "advisor" will pose a problem that you will try to answer in the lab. The experiments you will run require many of the techniques you will learn during the first three weeks of the class. If these skills are applied correctly, you will be able to provide your "advisor" with an experimentally determined answer.

    When you have completed 5.301, you will have acquired many of the fundamentals of laboratory practice, and you will be ready to attack more challenging problems. Good luck!


    Enrollment in Chemistry 5.301 is limited and requires permission of the instructor. MIT students who wish to take the course are required to submit an application through the Chemistry Department in order to be selected for the course. Here is an example of MIT’s application for first year students. (PDF)


    "CC" refers to the "Competent Chemist" modules.
    "EE" refers to the "Expert Experimentalist" modules.

    SES #




    Introductory Lecture, Pre-Lab Reports and Lab Notebooks

    Safety Instruments & Check in


    NMR Spectroscopy

    CC: Transfer & Manipulation, NMR, IR


    Extraction Techniques & IR Spectroscopy

    EE: Acids, Bases & In Between


    Recrystallization Techniques

    CC: Recrystallization Mothball


    Mass Spectroscopy

    EE: Recrystallization Single Crystal


    Atmospheric & Vacuum Distillation

    CC: Distillation, GC and MS


    TLC, Column & Gas Chromatography

    EE: Distillation, RI & IR


    Students Present Distillation Results

    CC/EE: Column Chromatography


    Protein Assays - Biochemistry

    CC: Biochemistry


    Error Analysis

    EE: Biochemistry


    Original Research Project Charge, Synthesis of Penicillin Derivatives

    Orig Research: Synthesis, Penicillin


    Students Present Results of Synthesis and Schemes

    Purify product, Column Chromatography


    Writing Up The Research Lab Report

    Test Penicillin with E. Coli


     No Lecture

    Complete Research Labwork


     No Lecture

    Work on Lab Report


     No Lecture

    Work on Lab Report (cont.)


     No Lecture

    Lab Reports Due


  • Lectures
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 1 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 2 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 3 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 4 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 5 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 6 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 7 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 8 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 9 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 10 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 11 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 12 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 13 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 14 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 15 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 16 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 17 - John J. DolhunView
    Chemistry Laboratory Techniques - Lecture 18 - John J. DolhunView
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