Overview of Tufts Chemistry


Sound undergraduate and graduate training, and the solid foundation for fundamental research, go back to 1865 when Chemistry was first taught as an undergraduate course by Prof. John Marshall (1865-76) and then Prof. Stephen Pitman (1877-82). In 1892 Prof. Arthur Michael officially established the "Department of Chemistry". Under his guidance, Tufts College, as it was then known, achieved international prominence in the area of organic chemistry. [Tufts Chemistry Department 1855-1933 by Prof. Frank Dürkee, 1934]

Up until 1894, there were no majors at Tufts.  Instead, students completed a fixed curriculum leading toward the bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree. In the Fall of 1894, Tufts instituted 12 majors within the curriculum to give students the opportunity to develop depth of knowledge alongside the traditional prescribed course work. Chemistry was one of the first majors offered. The first doctorate in chemistry at Tufts was awarded in 1904 to Arthur Becket Lamb who went on to serve as Editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society from 1918-1949. Since then the Department has appointed over 80 full-time faculty to teach chemistry. Many have made significant contributions to the field, garnering world wide stature, both as teachers and researchers. An historical list of full-time faculty, some with biographies or links, can be found HERE.


The tradition of high quality research coupled with educational excellence continues at Tufts today. We offer students the facilities and research opportunities of a top research institution while retaining the effective and personal training characteristic of a smaller institution. Frequent personal contact and consultation with advisers are essential for graduate students, especially in the early stages of research. At Tufts, the size of the faculty and of the student body is such that graduate students have little problem conferring with their research advisers in both informal and formal settings on a regular basis. Tufts provides a lively and intellectually stimulating environment for both undergraduate/graduate students and faculty alike. Highly motivated undergraduates participate in research projects and offer stimulation and intellectual challenge in teaching situations.

Research in the department encompasses the many diverse interests of the research faculty and reflects the interdisciplinary nature of modern chemical research.  While research still draws heavily on the traditional subdisciplines of organic, inorganic, physical, and analytical chemistry, students at Tufts receive a broad-based education that is less constrained by traditional subdisciplinary boundaries.

A number of current research projects illustrate the nature of research at Tufts. These include investigating new classes of fiber optic chemical sensors for use as an “artificial nose”, the design of “smart” windows capable of changing their transmissivity with the flip of a switch, research & development of new field analytical technologies capable of rapid analysis of pollutants in the environment, and the use of autonomous analytical chemical laboratories to study in-situ the geochemistry and biological potential of Mars and extreme environments on Earth. Still other projects focus on uncovering new strategies for the treatment of diabetes mellitus, developing compounds which inhibit gene expression at the RNA or DNA level, understanding the chemistry on a raindrop, synthesizing molecular tweezers, evaluating the global warming potential of CFC substitutes, and discovering new strategies for understanding and controlling chemical reactivity at surfaces.

In this age of interdisciplinary research, the walls of the department have expanded beyond the Pearson-Michael Chemistry Complex to include collaborative work with government and industrial scientists as well as with other academic researchers, both on and off campus. A number of students have participated in such collaborative research and benefited from the opportunity.

The chemistry department currently offers a graduate program at the M.S. and Ph.D. level in organic, inorganic, physical, and analytical chemistry.  Active research groups represent each of the four subdisciplines, and many projects cross traditional lines. A joint graduate program with the Tufts University Biotechnology Center offers M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Chemistry/Biotechnology for students who wish to apply their chemical training to emerging areas of biotechnology.