3.091: Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry

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3.091: Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry is one of the GIRs (General Institute Requirements) that all MIT undergraduates take in order to have a solid educational foundation for their majors and their future endeavors.

What happens in 3.091?

3.091’s thesis is that the electronic structure of the elements holds the key to understanding. What makes one material different from another? How do properties as diverse as how something tastes to how it behaves in a magnetic field all depend on its chemistry? And how can we manipulate these chemical properties to create new and better uses for these materials?

In 3.091, we explore what makes things in the world the way they are and why, to understand the science and consider the engineering. We learn not only why the physical world behaves the way it does, but also how to think with chemical intuition, which can’t be gained simply by observing the macroscopic world. That's because the chemistry of materials is defined by the interactions between building blocks too small to see or interact with. In 3.091, you’ll develop a sense for what’s going on in the objects around us at the atomic and molecular scale, which is key to understanding the world as it is and redesigning the world that could be.

3.091 includes "Why This Matters" — a brief portion of each lecture focusing on how the topic covered relates to important innovations (and sometimes unexpected consequences) in science and in life, demonstrating real world applications, and suggesting creative directions for research.

3.091 uses a combination of lecture and recitation material with textbook readings and practice problems, quizzes, and exams, aka Celebrations of Learning.

Who should take 3.091?

3.091 is for students with anywhere from little to no chemistry background to those with three years of high school chemistry. The first couple of weeks cover introductory material from the periodic table, moles and stoichiometry, and balancing chemical reactions to Lewis structures and molecular shapes. We then dive into more chemistry of the solid-state, from molecular orbitals and intermolecular forces to semiconductors, doping, metals, crystallography, x-rays, defects, glasses, kinetics, aqueous solutions, acids and bases, polymers, electrochemistry, and diffusion.

Our goal in 3.091 is to turn students into scholars. Students may do "rote" learning to pass tests, but scholars learn in order to explore uncharted territory, to discover answers for themselves, to push boundaries, and to see what lies beyond. We believe that chemistry is both fascinating to study as a science and personally compelling for its potential to open doors to engineering solutions that improve the world around us.