Departmental Honors Spotlight

Each quarter, the University Honors Program showcases the remarkable work done by Honors students and faculty within their majors. While the programs vary from discipline to discipline, most typically conclude in a major research or artistic project and all challenge the students to bring their work to the next level. We hope that you enjoy discovering the many and diverse Honors programs in the departments around campus!
Gary Drobny

Associate Chair, Undergraduate Program

The Department of Chemistry offers five degrees: BS Chemistry-ACS Certifed, BS Chemistry, BA Chemistry, BA Biochemistry and BS Biochemistry (the latter two are jointly offered with the School of Medicine's Department of Biochemistry.) All five of these degrees can be earned with College Honors or Departmental Distinction.

Departmental requirements for students participating in the College Honors or Departmental Distinction programs are:

  • cumulative grade point average of 3.5
  • six credits of CHEM 3/499, BIOC 499 or other approved undergraduate research
  • 2500 word senior thesis based on their research work

The Chemistry Department offers an honors general chemistry sequence (CHEM 145, 155, 165) an honors organic sequence (CHEM 335, 336, 337, 346, 347), and a course in honors physical chemistry (CHEM 475). Students are encouraged, but not required, to take these honors sequences to satisfy the Departmental Honors requirements. The Honors Chemistry courses are conducted at exceptionally rigorous academic levels. The class sizes are much smaller in the honors track which allows more individual contact between faculty and students which increases the likelihood of mentoring relationships to develop.

Undergraduate research is the hallmark of the Department of Chemistry Honors Program. Students participate in research supervised by faculty from the Chemistry and Biochemistry departments as well as by faculty from other science departments. Research topics range from malaria biochemistry to solving surface science problems related to more efficient energy utilization to developing and understanding chemical reactivity relevant to energy challenges and biochemical processes. Many of our honors students participate in the University of Washington Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium as well as present their research results at national symposiums and conferences.

In summary, the Department of Chemistry Honors Program is designed to challenge the intellect of the most ambitious students and to provide a rigorous and enriching education both in the lecture room and in the laboratory.

Benjamin Horst

B.S. in Chemistry (ACS Certified), 2013
B.A. in Biochemistry, 2013
College Honors

I entered the University of Washington Chemistry Honors program a little bit late. During my freshman year, I started the Advanced General Chemistry series but had many friends in the Honors General Chemistry series. We were mostly studying the same topics in sometimes the same order, but the quality of the curriculum and the depth of investigation were significantly superior in my friends’ classes. Next year, I made the switch to the Honors Organic Chemistry series, and was rewarded with the challenge of more difficult material, more thoughtful questions (from both professors and students), and insightful discussion about real-world applications of the chemistry that we were learning about.

Of course, the classes were only one part of the Chemistry Honors Program. Students are also required to conduct research with a faculty member and submit a thesis paper at the end of their senior year. My classes were indeed more engaging, however the research aspect of the Chemistry Honors program was more aligned with my interests as I had started working in a research lab the summer after my freshman year. I worked in the lab of Professor Sarah Keller on model cellular membranes for the first couple of years, and then followed my changing interests to the inorganic lab of Professor James Mayer where I worked on systems that studied the movements of protons and electrons. During the time conducting research in the UW Chemistry department I was able to work on a variety of projects in two very different areas of chemistry. But it was the entire experience that made it worthwhile, giving research presentations at local and national symposiums, learning the inner workings of an academic lab, and learning how to think about questions that have not been asked before.

I have now finished my undergraduate degrees and am now planning to pursue my Ph.D. in Bioinorganic Chemistry. I have no doubt that my experience in the UW Chemistry Honors program significantly enriched my education in the field of study that I have come to call my passion, and provided me with a network of peers and mentors to help me on my journey to achieve my goals.

Chinonso Opara

B.S. in Biochemistry, 2014
College Honors

Hi, I am Chinonso Opara, and I am a senior pursuing a degree in Biochemistry here at the University of Washington. This year, I am conducting a collaborative honors thesis project with the labs of Professor Patrick Stayton in the Department of Bioengineering and Professor William Atkins in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry. I am attempting to incorporate the pH-responsive polymers, used for drug delivery and developed by the Stayton lab, into nanodiscs, which are synthetic membrane models used in the Atkins lab to characterize membrane proteins. This work would establish a baseline for advancing understanding of how the polymers interact with lipid membranes in order to further optimize them for drug delivery. In addition, functionalizing nanodiscs with the polymers could lead to a novel drug delivery vector. The nanodiscs would house and isolate the polymers from one another, potentially allowing for more efficient drug loading and delivery.

The departmental honors thesis requirement has augmented my research experience by prompting me to stitch together my experience in two different labs into one unified project. After my initial time with the Stayton lab working on a drug delivery project, I got the opportunity as an Amgen Scholar during the summer of 2012 to get involved with the Atkins lab. There, I quickly became fascinated with their nanodisc work. I saw an opportunity to establish collaboration between both labs, and the thesis requirement gives me a structured approach through which to do so. In addition, the thesis requirement serves as a culmination of my undergraduate research experience. During the summer of 2013, I got the opportunity to intern for Merck, where I worked with novel formulations aimed at increasing the dissolution performance and bioavailability of poor-water-soluble drugs. At the industrial level, the understanding I gained of what it takes to develop drugs for clinical use enhanced my enthusiasm for coming up with ways to improve clinical treatment. The thesis requirement allows me to devote part of my last year as an undergraduate to more deeply explore my interests in nanoparticles used for drug delivery.

In the future, I see myself as a physician helping to evaluate and manage the community’s long-term care. While my research experience has given me insight into what it takes to develop treatment for the clinic, I would also like to be involved in optimizing patients’ access to such treatments. One way I envision doing this is through clinical research, assessing the safety and efficacy of such treatments at the clinical level and contributing to the recommendations followed by physicians.