Departmental Introduction

Chemistry is a fascinating and important subject, and it is at the heart of life and everything around us. For this reason, it is often called “the central science.” The processes in our brains involve chemical reactions. Chemical reactions convert the food that we eat into molecules for building tissue and providing energy.

The clothes we wear, houses we live in, and vehicles that transport us are made of natural and synthetic chemical materials. The earth under our feet is comprised of rocks, minerals, and soil – all of which can be appreciated on a chemical basis. Taxol, found in the Pacific Yew tree of the Northwest’s ancient forests and whose structure is shown to the right, is an example of a molecule that has helped the lives of many by its activity as an anticancer agent. The basis for the medicinal action of Taxol rests upon chemistry.

ACS Approved Chemistry Seal

The Department of Chemistry at Pacific Lutheran University is well-equipped to help you understand the many facets of chemistry in our lives. The PLU chemistry faculty has expertise in all of the major disciplines of chemistry: organic, analytical, physical, inorganic, polymer, and biochemistry. Our curriculum will prepare you for a job or for graduate study toward an advanced degree. An undergraduate degree in chemistry provides you with valuable thinking skills and practical training, whether your interests lie purely in chemistry, a related scientific field, or in an area you might think has nothing to do with chemistry (but almost certainly does!).


Our curriculum takes a traditional approach to the first two years of college-level chemistry. Students take two semesters of general chemistry in their first year followed by two semesters of organic chemistry in their second year. We find that this sequence gives students the solid foundation they need for success in later chemistry courses. It also highlights connections of chemistry to life and the world around us, and prepares them for study in related fields. Students then take analytical chemistry and physical chemistry, and embark on other upper division courses including biochemistry, instrumental analysis, and advanced courses. Along the way, students prepare professional style written materials and give oral presentations about their work. All of our bachelors of science students apply their chemical skills to undergraduate research projects, as well. In sum, our curriculum trains students very well for either direct employment or graduate study in chemistry.


Our laboratory facilities in Rieke Science Center are uniquely suited to close interactions between faculty and students. Introductory courses use the Open Laboratory, an airy space in which students conduct experiments in sections of roughly twenty students or less, which is about half of the size of general chemistry lecture section.


The PLU Chemistry Department has a very long history of faculty research collaboration with undergraduates. Projects underway by chemistry faculty include studies on the structure of natural metabolites and synthetic enzyme inhibitors by NMR and molecular modeling; how environmental factors related to oxidation and antioxidants influence cellular damage, and disease processes; synthesis and study of modified RNAs; X-ray crystallography and correlation of magnetic and electronic properties of transition metal complexes with molecular and crystal structure; synthesis of polymers and the study of their properties using laser light scattering and NMR. Opportunities for students to work on these projects are available every academic year. In the summer, grant and endowment funds allow a number of selected students to receive a modest fellowship award while they conduct research.


The PLU chemistry faculty is significantly involved in professional matters of local, national, and international relevance, as well. Members of our department volunteer at the national and local level with the American Chemical Society, work with citizen’s and governmental technical advisory groups, volunteer with K-12 chemistry education, sponsor professional development experiences for public school teachers, organize professional meetings, and author research articles and books.

All of this is to say that we invite you to study chemistry at PLU. Get to know the faculty, facilities, and curriculum. Start to probe the marvels of chemistry that undergird all of the world around you. If you have any questions about our program, please don’t hesitate to contact the Chair.

Written by Craig B. Fryhle, Ph.D.