Physical Sciences 


Degrees Offered:

  • BA
  • Minor*
  • PhD

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Degree Requirements

Sample Four Year Plan

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* = Minors are not technically a degree, but can be pursued to supplement a bachelor's degree

The Department of Chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder is internationally recognized for its specialized research and education into the study of matter, energy, and the interaction between them. 

As part of its commitment to excellence, the department provides cutting-edge opportunities across a wide range of chemistry branches, resulting in world-class innovation in topics like renewable energy, atmospheric pollution and advanced spectroscopy techniques.

The behavior of atoms, molecules, and ions determines the sort of world we live in, our shapes and sizes, and even how we feel on a given day. Chemists who understand these phenomena are well-equipped to tackle problems faced by our modern society. 

Chemistry, in particular, is the study of matter and energy and the interaction between them. Sometimes called the “central science,” chemistry connects the other natural sciences together in a way that is both theoretical and applied, and allows for a wide variety of science-related careers.

Within chemistry there a number of branches, all of which are researched at CU Boulder. These branches include analytical, inorganic, organic and physical chemistry. In addition, CU Boulder also has a strong research presence into materials and nanoscience, environmental chemistry and atmospheric chemistry (which is one of only a few analytical groups nationwide that offer the focus).

Biochemistry is also researched at CU Boulder, but is located within the Department of Biochemistry.

The Department of Chemistry at CU Boulder is also one of the best in the nation, ranking #24 in the United States according to the most recent US News and World Report rankings, with the Physical Chemistry specialization ranking in the top ten for the last twenty years by the same metrics. 

In addition, the department has a number of excellent and award-winning faculty, including, but not limited to, three Distinguished Professors, four members of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and National Academy of Sciences, eight National Science Foundation CAREER winners, a recipient of the Governor's Award for Research Impact, five highly cited researchers as measured by ISI and Thomson Reuters, five Guggenheim fellowship recipients and numerous fellows for the American Geophysical Union, Alfred P. Sloan, American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As well, the department's faculty are incredibly innovative, resulting in over 150 patents.

The Department of Chemistry is nationally recognized in several areas of research, including analytical, atmospheric and environmental chemistry, materials and nanoscience, organic chemistry and physical chemistry (including spectroscopy). 

Their diverse faculty also include several who have joint affiliations with institutes and centers at CU Boulder like JILA, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES) and the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, other departments like Biochemistry, Environmental Studies, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Mechanical Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering, and outside CU Boulder at institutions like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the National Science Foundation.

For the undergraduate students pursuing a degree in chemistry, there are a number of research opportunities beyond just class work:

  • The American Chemical Society maintains a certification program, which the department offers, in which a student graduating with a specified minimum program is certified to the society upon graduation. To be certified, a graduate must satisfy requirements in addition to the minimum for graduation. A list of these requirements may be obtained from the undergraduate chemistry advising office.

  • The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) offers students a chance to work alongside a faculty sponsor on original research. Learn to write proposals, conduct research, pursue creative work, analyze data, and present the results. For more information, call UROP at 303-492-2596 or visit the UROP website.

  • Majors with successful research projects and strong academic records are eligible to graduate with honors in chemistry. A candidate for honors must prepare a thesis based on the research project, present the work to an honors committee, and pass an oral examination on the work. It is important to identify a faculty mentor and initiate the research sufficiently early so that results suitable for an honors thesis can be achieved prior to graduation.

  • The experience of studying abroad can prove invaluable for you as a chemistry major. A study abroad experience may prepare you for a place in the international scientific community. The university offers more than 100 programs throughout the world. You may earn credit that counts as if you had taken courses here, in some cases fulfilling electives and core requirements. Language study is a prerequisite for participation in many programs, so early planning is essential. Further information about study abroad is available from Education Abroad, 303-492-7741 or on the education abroad website.

  • Chemistry majors can also earn certification as teachers through the School of Education. The program for a secondary school science-teaching certificate is challenging requiring a broad, strong background in science, as well as course work in education and practice teaching. It usually requires at least five years of study. Students interested in teacher certification are encouraged to contact the School of Education.

Chemistry majors are well prepared for many different careers after graduation, with about 30 percent entering directly into industry or government positions that require scientific expertise, such as chemical, oil, electronics, mining, and manufacturing industries, water districts and crime laboratories. In the future, chemists will increasingly find jobs in fields such as energy development, biotechnology, health and safety, atmospheric science and environmental quality.

Specialized graduate education in chemistry attracts approximately 40 percent of graduates. Graduate work is often in one of the traditional branches of chemistry. Increasingly, graduate students are also choosing interdisciplinary areas such as atmospheric, bio-organic or organo-metallic chemistry, biotechnology and chemical physics for their advanced work.

Another 30 percent of a typical graduating class goes on to professional school, pursuing advanced degrees in medicine, dentistry, law, business, engineering and computer science.

Career Services offers free services for all CU Boulder degree-seeking students, and alumni up to one year after graduation, to help students discover who they are, what they want to do, and how to get there. They are the bridge between academics and the world of work by discussing major and career exploration, internship or job searching, and graduate school preparation. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects:

  • Median 2016 pay for chemists and materials scientists was $75,420; and 
  • Job growth for chemists and materials scientists between 2016-2026 will be 7 percent, equal to the average for all jobs.

Estimated Chemistry Salary Info

At CU Boulder, Chemistry graduates earn more than the nationwide average of comparable majors as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. CU Boulder alumni in this discipline earn an estimated annual salary of $85,360, based on a pool of 234 alumni who graduated between 1989 and 2018. This amount, however, is slightly lower than the average for all CU Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree, according to a survey by Esmi Alumni Insight of 25,000 alumni who graduated during the same stretch.

The Department of Chemistry has an extensive alumni network working in a variety of industries across the globe. One such alumni is Clayton Heathcock (PhD '63), an organic chemist, who now is a Professor of Chemistry and Dean of the College of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.