Chemistry 160: The Quantum World

Course Description

Here is the Course Catalog description of the course:

Chemistry 160. The Quantum World

Catalog Number: 3420
Alán Aspuru-Guzik
Contact email:

For Undergraduates and Graduates Half course (fall term). Tu., Th., 11:30-1 pm Exam Group: 15
Many essential properties of atoms, molecules and materials stem from their quantum mechanical nature. In this course, we will focus on the quantum mechanical aspects of physical chemistry. The basic principles of quantum mechanics will be introduced in tandem with the chemical concepts covered. We will describe the quantum mechanics of molecular bonding, vibrations and rotations. The fundamentals of molecular spectroscopy and photophysics will be seen in the light of quantum mechanics. We will end the course by introducing what goes behind the sciences in quantum chemistry packages for calculating molecular electronic structure and molecular properties. This year, the course will employ online forums for student discussions and turning in homework assignments. Most of the materials for evaluation will be take-home team programming exercises written in interactive Python (iPython). There will be no final exam. Prerequisites: Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b, Mathematics 21a and 21b, or equivalent preparation in calculus and differential equations; Physical Sciences 1 or equivalent preparation in chemical bonding and fundamental principles; Physical Sciences 2 or Physics 11a, and Physical Sciences 3 or Physics 11b.

Teaching staff and friends

The course team includes Alán Aspuru-Guzik, the professor in charge of the course and three teaching fellows Adrián Jinich, Thomas Markovich, and David Tempel. We will also be working together with our friends that are developing the HarvardX version of this course, Professors Peter Love from Haverford College, who will be in town and teaching some lectures, Professor Carlos Amador-Bedolla from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Dr. Colin Fredericks a HarvardX fellow. More information on how to find all of these characters is below.

Alán Aspuru-Guzik

Alán has been a professor of Chemistry at Harvard since 2006. His research interests lie at the intersection of quantum mechanics and chemistry and that is why he really likes to teach this course.

He has taught Chem160 3 times before. After that, Alán taught Physical Sciences 1. He is back!

Alán’s research interests, publications, etc. can be seen here

You can find Alán over e-mail at You can also see him at the office hours section of the course or shortly after class. If you need to setup a one-on-one appointment for some reason, e-mail Marlon and Cynthia at

Adrián Jinich

Adrian is a graduate student in Alan’s group and in the Systems Biology department, studying the thermodynamics of metabolic reactions (ALL the reactions that occur inside ALL cells) from a quantum chemistry perspective. He loves organizing science clubs in Mexico

Thomas Markovich

Thomas is a graduate student in Alán’s research group, studying the implications of sparsity in physical and chemical contexts. You can email Thomas at

David Tempel

David is a postdoctoral fellow in Alan’s research group. He studies different aspects of quantum mechanics in physics and chemistry. His email and other information can be found here: website.

Peter Love

Colin Fredricks

Colin is a Senior Project Lead at HarvardX, helping professors develop online courses. His background is in Physics Education Research, where he studied the on-campus use of online homework systems. Colin has also taught physics and chemistry at the college and high school levels since 2001.

Course Philosophy

The philosophy of this course is to learn by doing by creating an informal learning environment for quantum mechanics. We will use many innovative course teaching elements to make this possible. This includes the use of online tools, living textbooks and learning by interacting with your peers.

This is the first time that we will offer Chemistry 160 in this form, and therefore we will seek your feedback to improve it as we go along.

We will not employ a final exam but rather grade you (in teams and individually) by means of take-home assignments and exams that will be designed to help you learn the material rather than an emphasis on evaluation.

We want you to think, have fun and experiment. We also of course want you to work hard.

Course Mechanics

This syllabus

This syllabus is available online at It will be updated as the cousre developed, so consider it a living document. We will host some notes and materials also in the website.

Online system for course materials

The course materials will be hosted online an