Science Savants: 5 Things Every Chemistry Student Should Know
Everybody needs to start somewhere. Walking into a chemistry lab, for the first time, can be a bit intimidating. It helps to have information that will help you navigate. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you begin this journey.
Write It Down
Your lab notebook needs to be a complete record of everything done in the laboratory. In applied science, it is important to be able to replicate your work when necessary. Keeping an accurate account of the procedures performed, and the order in which they were performed, will save you if you ever need to repeat a lab. It’s easier to develop strong reporting skills early than to correct bad habits later. A useful guide for setting up and maintaining your lab notebook can be found here.
The Metric System
Every chemistry student needs to be comfortable using the metric system. You will want to familiarize yourself not only with the standard units of measurement, but also with the prefixes and their symbols. Most professors will expect you to have these memorized. Practice calculating both increases and decreases in the unit of measurement, because you will be doing a lot of unit conversions.
It’s crucial to read all instructions and procedures prior to performing a lab. If your professor allows it, fill in your lab notebook through the procedures section beforehand. If there are any changes made to the procedure, corrections can be made in class. You will want to have access to a chemical resource, such as a dictionary or MSDS book, so that you can familiarize yourself with all the chemicals you’ll be using for each lab. Pay special attention to chemical properties and safety warnings.
The Periodic Table is Your Friend
Elements within the periodic table are arranged so that they not only increase in size as you move to the right and down but also so that chemicals with similar properties are near each other. Learn what each of the numbers mean and memorize the abbreviations of all elements you learn.
There are also many trends, such as atomic radii and ionization energy, with which you will want to become familiar as you learn more about chemical properties.
Precision is the Key
One of the most important things to remember when mixing chemicals is that precise measurements are essential. This requires the use of the appropriate lab equipment. When measuring liquids, you will want to use the smallest vessel that will hold the necessary volume. Also, slow down as you approach the measurement goal. It’s far more accurate to reach the goal and stop than to overshoot and need to remove some.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but it should provide a good starting point. Chemistry is a language that you will spend the entirety of your education learning.