Inorganic Chemistry: Reactions and Mechanisms

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CHM 408
Inorganic Chemistry: Reactions and Mechanisms
Level: Advanced
Format: Lecture-based
Department: Chemistry
Offered: Spring
Required for major: Yes

CHM 408 is the spring semester undergraduate course in inorganic chemistry. It is a course designed primarily for chemistry majors, and may only be taken by juniors and seniors. This class is limited to 40 people and tends to fill up quickly, since it fulfills the inorganic chemistry requirement for chemistry majors.


Course description

CHM 408 is an introduction to inorganic chemistry, with an emphasis on the formation of inorganic complexes and inorganic reactions. The course begins assuming only general chemistry background with the transition metals that are the subject of the course. CHM 407, the fall inorganic course, is not required for this course as they cover different material.

The first 6 weeks of the course is focused on a fundamental understanding of metal complexes, with a large focus on d-orbital arrangements. Those who have taken CHM 202 at Princeton will have had some introduction to this; however this class goes into much more depth. The course begins with a discussion of metal oxidation, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), and d-orbital complexes. A large focus is placed on molecular orbital theory and crystal splitting diagrams.

The next 4 weeks of the course are dedicated to reaction mechanisms using metals. A large emphasis is placed on the reaction kinetics, and their ability to describe the reaction mechanisms occurring within the organometallic systems. This part of the course depends on a complete understanding of the previous material.

The final 2 weeks are spent reviewing material for the final exam.

Class structure

CHM 408 has 3 one hour lectures a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), at 10 AM. The course is unconventional in the way that it is graded. There are 8 problem sets that account for 40% of the grade in the course. There is no midterm, but the final accounts for 60% of the grade. As such, there is a heavy emphasis on preparation for the final, with the rest of the course focused on building the toolbox required to solve the final exam.

There is no textbook. Lectures, while not strictly mandatory in attendance, are required to obtain a complete understanding of the course material. All notes are taken by hand on handouts provided on Blackboard starting at the beginning of the course. Precepts are dedicated to reviewing the homework.

It is easy to fall behind in this class and not notice. However, the material ramps up in difficulty starting after spring break, and those who did not pay close attention or did not obtain a clear understanding of the fundamentals, will be blown away by the final exam.

Things to expect


Professor Schwartz has very demanding lectures. He frequently will ask the students in the class questions regarding the material currently being discussed. Detailed notes, and reviewing of the material before lecture would help to avoid an embarrassing moment in front of the class.

Problem Sets

The problem sets are hard. They test your understanding of the material to a very basic level, and are very time consuming. It is heavily suggested to form a study group and work on the questions together, starting far in advance of the due date. The point of the problem sets are to make sure the students understand the material; a good argument is more important than the right answer.

Note: Students grade their own problem sets. While this may be considered a great way to boost your grade, grading yourself fairly helps you understand how much you understand the material. In essence, your grade hinges upon the final. Problem sets will not significantly boost your grade, and since you assign your grade, there is no asking for more points.


This is when problem sets are handed back, and then graded. This is when students have the opportunity to defend their answers. It cannot be emphasized enough that understanding the reasoning behind the answer is more important than the answer itself.

Final Exam

Many students will get shocked at how hard this exam is. It is an open-notes test, but they are not very useful. Instead, the practice final exams are vital for understanding the types of questions on the exam. Make sure to have a complete understanding of reaction mechanisms, as the exam is heavily weighted towards the material presented in the last few weeks of the course. Schwartz reviews extensively for this exam, but it is imperative to keep this material fresh through reading period and finals period, as this is one of the last exams.

The exam usually contains 3 multi-sectioned questions. The answers are not particularly long, but the justification of the answer must be sound for credit. If you take the practice tests and keep up the work, you can do well; but be prepared for one of the hardest tests at Princeton.

Now what?

Students will have a fundamental understanding of inorganic complexes and organometallic chemistry. This can be extremely useful if you are interested in the mechanisms behind some complex metal reactions (e.g. Grubbs olefin metathesis). The material in this course has a broad range of applications, ranging from solar cells and electronics, to environmental and medicinal chemistry.

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