3.091 | Fall 2018 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 3 sessions / week, 1 hour / session

Recitations: 2 session / week, 1 hour / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

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.

The 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 this course, 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. We encourage you to 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.

Why This Matters” is 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.

Who Should Take This Course?

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.


The main text for this course is: General Chemistry: Principles, Patterns, and Applications by Bruce Averill and Patricia Eldredge. It is available to purchase in various formats on FlatWorld. This book is also available from the Open Textbook Library for free under a CC BY-NC-SA license.


Homework consists of (a) weekly practice problems from the textbook and (b) hands on problems via “Goodie Bags” distributed during the semester. Goodie Bags (GB’s) are mini-experiment kits that allow students to explore a key concept and solve related problems.

One week after distribution, in recitation, students take a 15-minute quiz that includes material learned in lecture, in recitation, from the textbook, and through the GB problems. The quiz scores will count as the “homework” portion of the cumulative grade in the subject. At the end of term, the lowest quiz score will be dropped from the average. Note that while the practice problems and GB problems are not collected or graded, if you do not do them, you are very unlikely to pass the weekly quiz.


There are three (3) exams and a final exam in this course (see Exams and Quizzes section). The final exam takes place during the Final Exam Period. Do not leave town until after your last final.


First-year students: Pass/No Record (Institute requirement for Pass is C-level or better)

Upper-level students: A (85%+), B (70-84%), C (50-69%), D (45-49%), F (0-44%)

Passing grade (C-level) ≥ 50% absolute (no grading on a curve)

Final grade: 25% quizzes, 15% each for three exams, 30% final exam

How to Succeed in 3.091

Our focus is on teaching fundamental concepts of solid-state chemistry as a basis for learning the material, combined with problems related to these concepts and hands-on materials. If you are engaged in these aspects of class and make sure to keep up with the homework and quizzes, then you will do well on the exams.

Don’t skip the quizzes, even if you feel you know next to nothing about the subject! The only way to get a zero is to not take the quiz. A low grade is better than no grade. You also may find you know more than you do and get a better score than you may have thought you would.

Also, show your work; since our goal in giving quizzes rather than problem sets is to find out what you know, if you show your thought process in coming up with an answer, it’s possible you may receive partial credit even if the answer is incorrect.

Our goal 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.

Additional Resources

If you find you need a refresher of high school chemistry to help lay the foundation, these free resources may help:

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2018
Learning Resource Types
theaters Lecture Videos
theaters Tutorial Videos
assignment_turned_in Problem Sets with Solutions
grading Exams
menu_book Online Textbook
co_present Instructor Insights