5.301 | January IAP 2012 | Undergraduate

Chemistry Laboratory Techniques


Course Meeting Times

Lectures and Labs: 17 sessions for 4 weeks, 7 hours / session (each session includes a morning lecture and an afternoon lab)


Welcome to 5.301! This course has been specially designed as an intensive introduction to the techniques of experimental chemistry. Our goals in this class are twofold. First, since freshmen cannot enroll in any of the regular chemistry lab courses, 5.301 has been created to give interested first-year students an opportunity to get “hands-on experience” with chemistry. A second aim of 5.301 is to prepare freshmen for UROP in the Chemistry Department. Freshmen often have a difficult time finding a UROP position in our department because they don’t yet have the experimental skills and experience developed in our regular chemistry lab course sequence. During the next month, you will mix, stir, and measure until you reach a “professional level” of skill in various techniques fundamental to chemical research. Unlike other laboratory classes, the goal is not just to successfully perform an experiment and write a report; instead, the focus will be on mastering the techniques and skills necessary to carry out experiments.

The techniques we will study in 5.301 are divided into five different modules, each consisting of two sections: “Competent Chemist” and “Expert Experimentalist.” To obtain your “Competent Chemist Rating” for each technique, you will be required to develop a certain level of proficiency with that skill as demonstrated by obtaining a minimum amount and minimum purity of a specific product. After you have attained your “CC Rating” for a particular section, you may then move to the more challenging “Expert Experimentalist” level technique where you will need to demonstrate an even higher level of skill to obtain your “EE Rating.” To help gauge your personal progress, after completing each module you should review the “Techniques Checklist” at the beginning of the section and ask yourself whether you now feel comfortable performing that set of laboratory operations. Remember that you can be comfortable with a technique while not being a true expert. It is too ambitious for us to imagine that after 5.301 you will be able to independently solve any problem that comes your way in the research lab. This will come after much more experience and practice. Our goal is for you to reach a professional level of comfort and understanding so that you can seek the proper advice when confronted with unfamiliar problems or techniques.

In the final week of the course, you will be introduced to original research. Your “advisor” will pose a problem that you will try to answer in the lab. The experiments you will run require many of the techniques you will learn during the first three weeks of the class. If these skills are applied correctly, you will be able to provide your “advisor” with an experimentally determined answer.

When you have completed 5.301, you will have acquired many of the fundamentals of laboratory practice, and you will be ready to attack more challenging problems. Good luck!


Enrollment in Chemistry 5.301 is limited and requires permission of the instructor. MIT students who wish to take the course are required to submit an application through the Chemistry Department in order to be selected for the course.


Three texts have been chosen for 5.301:

Zubrick, James. The Organic Chem Lab Survival Manual: A Student’s Guide to Techniques. 8th ed. Wiley, 2010. ISBN: 9780470494370. (Referred to as Zubrick)

Leonard, J., B. Lygo, and G. Procter. Advanced Practical Organic Chemistry. 2nd ed. CRC Press, 1994. ISBN: 9780748740710. (Referred to as LLP)

Mohrig, J. R., C. Noring Hammond, and Paul F. Schatz. Techniques in Organic Chemistry: Miniscale, Standard Taper Microscale, and Williamson Microscale. 3rd ed. W.H. Freeman, 2010. ISBN: 9781429219563.

These texts complement each other nicely. Although each text was designed particularly for organic chemistry lab students, the techniques described are equally relevant in inorganic and organometallic research. Many of the included techniques are important in biological and physical chemistry labs as well.

The text by Zubrick is extremely readable and was designed specifically for the introductory organic lab student. It has excellent practical advice, nice illustrations, and is actually quite funny. This is a good place to start when learning about unfamiliar techniques. One note of caution, however, is that some of Zubrick’s discussions are either dated or a bit below the level of 5.301. This is where LLP comes in.

The text by Leonard, Lygo, and Procter, while still readable, was (as the title indicates) designed for a more advanced audience than Zubrick. This text can supplement Zubrick by explaining subjects in more detail and describing the true research lab, as opposed to the undergraduate teaching lab. LLP can aid you in your goal of becoming comfortable not only in the teaching lab, but also in the research environment.

Study Materials

This course includes a series of chemistry laboratory instructional videos called the Digital Lab Techniques Manual (DLTM), used as supplementary material for this course as well as other courses offered by the Chemistry department. Please note that the full “Digital Lab Techniques Manual” is available in our Supplemental Resources section under Chemistry. The videos are intended to help you prepare for your chemistry laboratory class. Each video provides a detailed demonstration of a common laboratory technique, as well as helpful tips and information.



This class will be graded strictly on a pass/no record basis. It has been constructed such that, if you complete a predetermined number of experiments, you will pass the class. In 5.301, a pass means that you are qualified to begin UROP in a chemistry research laboratory. If you do not complete the required experiments, then you will not receive a pass and will not be ready to start a UROP. However, this class has been designed so that talented, dedicated, and enthusiastic students should not find it difficult to successfully complete the requirements.

During our four weeks together, you will encounter five technique modules and an introduction to an original research project. You will work on the technique challenges during the first three weeks, with the final week set aside for the research project. Each technique module has two exercises rated at different levels of technical difficulty. Successfully completing the first level will earn you a “competent chemist” rating, denoting that you have achieved a sufficient level of expertise in this technique area to allow you to carry out research requiring this experimental technique. Successfully completing the second exercise in each technique area will gain you the coveted “expert experimentalist” rating, identifying you as having an advanced level of skill in that technique.


All technique modules, CC and EE, come complete with standards that you must meet to earn your rating in that experiment. If, on the first try, you do not meet these standards, then you should repeat the experiment until you obtain the desired result. Keep in mind that experimental chemistry is both a craft as well as a science, and in some cases considerable practice is necessary before chemists can reach a certain level of expertise.

To successfully complete 5.301, you must pass all five CC level experiments and two EE challenges. You are encouraged to complete them all, but required to complete only two.

Course Info

As Taught In
January IAP 2012
Learning Resource Types
Demonstration Videos
Instructor Insights