Hi everyone! So this is going to be somewhat of a niche topic for many of you, but as a third-year chemistry major, I took two analytical chemistry courses, Quantitative Analysis and Instrumental Analysis, and I figured as for any other chemistry class, I’d write up a few tips given that I did pretty well and found both classes to be some of my favorites I’ve taken in the department. What I will say is that when you first get to these classes, they seem hard- extremely hard, in fact. On the first day of quantitative analysis, my professor sat us down and said, “Look, to get an A in this course you needed to be within 0.1% of the answer I give you,” which had us all Shooketh. That, frankly, was extremely intimidating. However, a lot of us ended up doing well and having fun in the class, I’m here to give you a few tips on how to do that.
Let us begin!
- The first thing you need to know about this class is that it is easier than it sounds. The goal of this class, in general, is to determine concentrations or amounts of Stuff in various types of mixtures. Sometimes this mixture will be a solution, like tap water, or solid, like a literal rock you need to dissolve in acid. You’ll use a variety of techniques you will learn about in class to accomplish this, as well as observing demos.
- Be very careful with your technique. You need to be able to explain the reason behind what you get, if you happen to get an inaccurate result. In my class, grades were based on results, and you only got decent results when you had impeccable technique. Be meticulous, be slow, and don’t rush to move on with things. In my lab, the students were essentially allowed to go wild- do what you want, at the rate that you want, as long as you’re safe. So go slow and be careful, but don’t fixate so much on little details that you lose the overall picture of why you’re doing what you do.
- Multitasking is important. There will be times when you have to think ahead to the Next thing you need to do in the procedure, like if you need to dry something overnight or let something cool on a timed basis, so you should always be thinking, “Is there something I can be doing right now so that I don’t fall behind?” Writing to-do lists and crossing out things I’ve done always helped me keep track of what needed to be done.
- READ THE LAB PROCEDURE. There are ALWAYS important details in the lab procedures that you HAVE to remember when you’re doing an experiment. Our prof had us write out our procedures and result tables in our lab notebooks so that we knew exactly what we were doing. If one of us had a question, he’d just direct us to the lab procedure because all of the information we needed to know was in there.
- This class’s material is basically all gen chem, but advanced. It’s honestly not too bad if you had a firm grasp on gen chem concepts and ideas, and the math is basically the same. The only thing I’d regard as seriously tricky is the titrations and equilibrium section- be careful and work a lot of homework problems involving those!
- I don’t know about other Instrumental Analysis classes, but I had A BUNCH of papers around 20 to 40 pages long in which I analyzed spectra and wrote about the theory and function of all the instruments we used/were supposed to use. This required being quite detailed and having a good understanding of each part of the instrument, why it was useful, and for what reasons we chose this particular analytical method.
- When analyzing spectra, be as specific as possible when pointing out peaks. For IR spectra, is the peak broad or short? Why? For NMR, identify even the TINIEST hint of peak-peak splitting- there’s a reason for that!
- Construct calibration curves carefully and keep in mind what solutions you made and what value/concentrations you’re looking for. GCMS chromatograms can give pretty inaccurate results if you don’t use an internal standard- just a side thought you might find helpful.
- We spend a lot of time on electromagnetic radiation in class. If you don’t understand this very well, get used to it, fast, and study up on it, because it’s the basis of almost all the methods we use (IR, NMR, UV-vis)
- Labs aren’t necessarily terrible, mostly because the professor or TA likely will not trust you with the machine and will walk you through the process themselves, rather than just letting you operate the whole thing yourself. These things are hundreds of thousands of dollars, so you will only break it over their dead body.
Disclaimer though: these tips are based on my own experiences in these classes, and they might not apply to your classes. I studied for these classes mainly by doing my assigned homework and rewriting my notes, but if that doesn’t work for you, I’d suggest that you try flashcards for terms, diagramming, and generally whatever methods helped you most in general chemistry to think about concepts in quantitative analysis. It really all depends on how specific your professor wants you to be and what concepts they want you to focus on. And don’t be discouraged if it’s hard- chemistry’s hard! Hopefully you guys will have as enjoyable (well..that’s debatable lol) experience in these classes as I did. I hope these tips helped as well!