Student Competencies: These will be updated as the semester progresses and as we cover them.

Fundamental Chemistry Competencies

  • Understand and clearly be able to explain and diagram blackbody (thermal) radiation.  Use Wien’s Law to calculate temperatures or wavelengths of maximum absorption.
  • Be able to interconvert among photon energies, frequencies, and wavelengths in various units.
  • Understand and write chemical equation for given photodecomposition processes.  Be able to use bond energies to calculate the range of wavelengths or frequencies with sufficient energies.
  • For a given reaction, use bond energy tables to estimate whether it is endothermic or exothermic; relate this result to the expected rate of the reaction for atmospheric reactions that involve free radicals. Use energy level diagrams and an understanding of chemical kinetics to support this rationale.
  • For a given reaction, use enthalpies of formations to calculate the overall change in enthalpy.
  • Use the Arrhenius equation to calculate the fraction of collisions at a given temperature with sufficient kinetic energy to react. Draw both reaction-coordinate energy diagrams and kinetic molecular distributions to clearly illustrate this. Be able to rapidly calculate relative rates for a given reaction and activation energy at different temperatures.
  • Be able to interconvert among gas concentration units of ppb (or ppm), molarity (M), and molecules/cc (or per liter). Be able to quickly and to clearly show how to convert a given concentration into ppm or ppb units.
  • For a given chemical reaction mechanism, be able to write the rate law and to calculate the rate of reaction from given rate constants and concentrations.
  • Be able to quantitatively relate gas pressures to solubility in liquids using Henry’s Law. Write appropriate equilibria expressions from given chemical reactions or physical processes.
  • Demonstrate competence in using and in clearly explaining Le Chatelier's Principle.
  • Be able to solve weak acid equilibria problems using solubility results from Henry’s Law to calculate pHs.
  • Use changes in enthalpy and entropy to predict the temperature ranges over which a reaction would be expected to become spontaneous.  Be able to predict how equilibria constants for a given reaction would change with temperature.
  • Compare the pHs of metal oxides and nonmetal oxides. Fully discuss the acid-base characteristics of metal oxides and nonmetal oxides.


Chemistry of the Ozone Layer

  • Know the wavelengths associated with the visible, UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C regions of the spectrum.  Discuss the transparency of the atmosphere in each of these spectral regions; identify the major atmospheric components responsible for any absorptions that occur.  Discuss which of these regions have the greatest adverse impact on human health.
  • Discuss the adverse human health consequences concerning ozone concentration changes in the earth's stratosphere.
  • Explain how atmospheric temperature changes with altitude for the troposphere and stratosphere. Outline the reactions that cause the temperature changes with altitude that are observed in the stratosphere.
  • Compare the degree of air mixing that occurs in the troposphere and stratosphere.  Explain why this occurs.
  • Understand how ozone concentration varies with altitude; explain using chemical reaction rates why this pattern of ozone variation occurs.
  • Outline the set of reactions that are involved with the production and destruction of ozone in the stratosphere.
  • Discuss the mechanism involved with the noncatalytic and catalytic destruction of ozone.
  • Discuss the work published by Roland and Molina during the early 1970's concerning stratospheric ozone.  Outline the set of reactions that explained and that formed the basis for their concern.
  • During the late 1970's, there was a great deal of concern about the effect of supersonic transport planes on stratospheric ozone concentrations.  Understand how the pollutant of concern is generated as well as the mechanism through which it could have affected stratospheric ozone levels.  Explain whether this is still a concern today.
  • Understand and explain why a depletion of stratospheric ozone occurs during early spring over the South Pole.  Predict how a mild winter over Antarctica would be expected to affect this phenomenon.  Explain how the ozone concentration returns to normal levels in late spring.
  • Understand why HCFC's are being used to replace CFC's.  Use key reactions to explain why they are much less effective in depleting stratospheric ozone.
  • Be able to discuss the forms of inactive chlorine in the stratosphere and outline sink reactions for each.


Photochemical Smog

  • Understand and outline the specific mechanism and reactions for the tropospheric production of ozone.
  • Outline the daily ozone cycle and how ozone and its precursor concentrations change during a given day; discuss the seasonal variation for tropospheric ozone formation and the underlying basis for this.
  • Explain the sources and causes of ozone precursor emissions
  • Demonstrate an understanding of ozone control strategies; discuss VOC-limited and NOx-limited regions.
  • Describe the design of a three-way catalytic convertor; identify the pollutants and reactions involved.
  • Understand the basis for ozone's toxicity; be able to describe how anthropogenic pollutants affect ozone levels in the troposphere and stratosphere.


Acid Rain

  • Outline the series of reactions involved in sulfuric acid rain.  Do the same for nitric acid.
  • Outline the reaction for the oxidation of sulfur dioxide and for the solubility reaction for both the reactant and the product with water.
  • Coal-fired plants often feed limestone with coal into incinerators; explain the basis for this and clearly show all appropriate reactions.
  • Relate atmospheric CO2 levels with rainfall acidity. Outline the reactions that occur between aqueous and gas phase as well as the aqueous phase equilibria. Be able to competently conduct quantitative calculations to predict rainfall pHs from given atmospheric vapor concentrations.
  • Outline and fully describe the mechanism through which acidic rainfall damages trees and adversely affects fish.
  • Discuss efforts being made to reduce acid rain pollution; be very specific and identify each of the major overall contributors that are addressing this problem.



  • Define TSP, PM10, and PM2.5 and describe their historic significance.
  • Outline the mechanism of toxicity for particulates.
  • Identify the three major categories of anthropogenic fine particulates, clearly describe the sources of these, and outline what specific actions are being taken to address these problems.
  • Describe epidemiological studies that have been conducted in this country concerning particulates and human health.


Tropospheric Chemical Reactivity

  • Understand the role of the hydroxyl radical in tropospheric chemistry, how it is formed, how it reacts, and what its sinks are.
  • Outline the multi-step mechanism for the oxidation of methane to carbon dioxide.  Understand each of the reactions involved, the rate-limiting step and the stable molecules formed during the oxidation process.
  • Discuss the specific impacts of increased VOC oxidation on photochemical smog formation.


Climate Change

  • Describe the natural and enhanced greenhouse effects. Identify the two and three more important substances for each of these respectively and describe their infrared absorption features.
  • Describe what is meant by thermal radiation and identify the two properties of thermal radiation that change with temperature.
  • Identify the important molecular property that governs whether a molecule will absorb infrared radiation.
  • Explain how and why ocean levels are expected to be affected by climate change; discuss the two most important factors that will cause changes in ocean levels.
  • Know the current and pre-industrial atmospheric concentrations for carbon dioxide; understand and be able to clearly explain the underlying reason for the annual pattern of CO2 concentration fluctuations observed in the atmosphere.
  • Explain the historical basis for the observed changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels; discuss and explain the expected changes that will occur during the rest of this century.
  • Outline and fully describe the six major sources for methane in the earth’s atmosphere.
  • Discuss specifically what is meant by aerosols, identify the factors that lead to their generation, and outline the effects of aerosols on climate change and why that is the case.



  • Outline the three major sources of fossil fuel energy and write combustion equations for each of these.
  • Discuss our nation’s reliance on this triad of fossil fuels in terms of available long-term resources.
  • Specifically explain the underlying scientific principles involved in the generation of nuclear energy.
  • Outline the current role of US nuclear energy and the changes that are being implemented over the next two decades.
  • Fully discuss the two or three main disadvantages of nuclear power. Outline in detail the advantages of nuclear power.
  • Discuss the uranium enrichment process and comment on the percentage of potentially available energy that is currently being harvested in nuclear power plants.
  • Discuss the radon environmental issue; describe the source of radon, the reason the element radon is an issue, and the steps normally taken to detect and to address radon problems.
  • Outline the set of reactions and describe the toxic mechanism of action occurring in humans exposed to a lethal dose of nuclear radioactivity.
  • Comment on the status of wind energy development in the nation and the Carolinas.  Compare this with solar energy.
  • Discuss biofuels in terms of their chemical makeup and their utility, if any, in addressing climate change.



  • Diagram and interpret dose response curves; clearly explain how no observable adverse effects levels (NOAEL) are established by the industrial hygiene community.
  • Outline and describe the various routes of entry for toxins into the human body.
  • Clearly explain what is meant by carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens; describe what chronic and acute effects are.
  • Explain what specifically is meant by dose.  Estimate the dose of exposure from breathing air, drinking water, or eating food.


Toxic Organics

  • Draw the molecular structure for DDT and outline the substance’s historical significance, both during World War II and as portrayed in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
  • Outline the key properties of organochlorine pesticides that control their biodegradability and biopersistence.
  • Define Kow and solve problems involving its use.
  • Discuss bioconcentration and biomagnification of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
  • Discuss the role of organophosphorus and carbamate pesticides that have come into widespread use over the past two decades.
  • Describe the chlorinated phenoxy herbicides and outline their historical significance.
  • Effectively discuss the utility of “Round-Up Ready” crops such as soy beans and corn.
  • Draw structures for PCDDs, PCBs, and PCDFs; outline their sources and describe their toxicity.
  • Show what PAHs are, how they are produced, and what their toxic effects would be. Outline their specific molecular mechanism of action in humans.
  • Identify the major classes of environmental estrogens and discuss their effects on living organisms.  Describe why this has become an issue over the past 150 years.
  • Discuss the fire retardant substances added to cushions and carpets.
  • Outline the substances that are released into the environment from Teflon-coated materials.


Toxic Metals

  • Outline the mechanism of action through which heavy metals exhibit their toxicity; be very specific.
  • Discuss the specific forms of mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and chromium that are most toxic to humans.
  • Outline the major environmental health issues related to heavy metals and describe actions being taken to address them.
  • Discusses the major sources of lead in the environment and the changes that have occurred in these over the past several decades.
  • Outline the uses humans have had for arsenic-containing substances over the years.


Natural Waters

  • Know Henry’s Law and be able to use it both qualitatively and quantitatively.
  • Discuss and clearly explain what is meant by thermal pollution, biological oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD), total organic carbon (TOC), and dissolved organic carbon (DOC).
  • Demonstrate a detailed understanding of aerobic and anaerobic conditions in surface waters to include the reason for their existence, the chemical species present in each, and the seasonal changes expected to occur.
  • Identify oxidation numbers for given chemical species; use these to determine the oxidizing agent, the substance being oxidized, the reducing agent, and the substance being reduced.
  • Discuss acid mine drainage, the underlying chemical basis for the problem, and the adverse environmental effects this causes.
  • Outline and be able to effectively use the appropriate acid-base equilibria involving atmospheric carbon dioxide and natural waters.  Discuss and clearly support the effects of these equilbria upon solubility.
  • Outline and be able to effectively use the appropriate acid-base equilibria involving limestone-based materials and natural waters.  Discuss and clearly support the effects of these equilbria upon solubility.
  • Outline and clearly explain the interaction between atmospheric carbon dioxide and calcium carbonate solubility.
  • Discuss and clearly define water hardness; outline the basis for the historical use of triphosphates in detergents and the environmental problems they caused.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of aluminum levels found in lakes having various pH’s; clearly show and explain the appropriate equilibria.
  • Understand what is meant by the alkalinity index and clearly explain the utility of this for assessing potential environmental impacts.


The Pollution and Purification of Water

  • Outline the basic steps taken in drinking water purification processes and provide a detailed explanation of each.
  • Discuss the basis for the primary water disinfectant used in this country; show all appropriate chemical equilibria.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of colloids and discuss the recently developed use of filtering technology to disinfect water.
  • Understand the form that hypochlorous acid is in over various pH’s and discuss the role of these forms in acting as a disinfectant.
  • Fully discuss the toxic organics found in ground water to include BTEX and chlorinated organics.  Understand and diagram what is meant by LNAPL and DNAPL in ground water.
  • Discuss the pollution of surface and ground water by MTBE; diagram it, outline its role, and discuss the underlying reasons why it is a water pollutant.
  • Discuss THM water pollutants, outline the basis for their being in water, and discuss their relative prevalence in ground and surface waters.
  • Discuss and diagram aquifers, surface water, and ground water. Discuss what this nation is doing to its aquifers, be very specific and detailed.
  • Define MCL and MCLG; outline the difference between these and the basis for this difference