What you'll learn

  • Explain the fundamentals of chemistry, energy, and other elemental forces shaping the modern world

  • Describe the evolution of chemistry's role in addressing global challenges

  • Identify core concepts of energy and energy transformations, including thermodynamics, chemical equilibria, acid/base and redox reactivity, and electrochemistry

  • Understand the central role of chemistry in addressing global issues such as energy and climate change

Course description

What technical forces are shaping the modern world? Revolutionary developments in the union of chemistry and physics hold the key to solving unprecedented global problems; however, understanding the central role that chemistry plays in addressing these problems and shaping our modern world requires a fundamental grasp of fundamental concepts of energy and energy transformations. Learn the foundations of chemistry in HarvardX’s University Chemistry MicroBachelors Program. 

Taught by Harvard University Professor James Anderson, learners in this MicroBachelors program are given a robust understanding of chemistry, atomic structure, the principles of energy, thermodynamics, and electrochemistry. Each course builds on your prior coursework, applying concepts and analysis to real-world case studies and your daily lives. 

In addition to chemistry, learners in this program will study industrial advances in solar cells, energy storage, and molecular imaging — and how international policies relate to these innovations. In addition, you will learn the role of energy in climate change and exactly how irreversible global climate change causes sea levels to rise and storms to become more powerful. You’ll explore how large-scale shifts in the climate structure trigger water and food shortages, as well as how technology advances to address these global issues.

Physical chemistry is fundamental to an understanding of worldwide energy sources and constraints. By the end of this MicroBachelors program, learners will have the quantitative reasoning and critical thinking skills to link the foundations of chemistry to the current global strategies for energy forecasts, technology connecting energy and climate, and role of modern materials science.

Course Outline

Energy and Thermodynamics

  • Describe the different forms of energy, such as mechanical (kinetic and potential), electrical, chemical, electromagnetic, thermal, and nuclear
  • Interpret the units of energy and power and how to convert between them
  • Understand different subatomic particles (proton, electron, neutron) and the major experiments that led to the modern concept of the atom and its structure
  • Recognize the nature of a chemical bond and compare and contrast the different methods of representing the chemical bonds in a molecule
  • Explain the Second Law of Thermodynamics and apply it to chemical reactions
  • Gain an understanding of enthalpy, water condensation, geothermal energy, and thermodynamic pressure

Entropy and Equilibria

  • Explain and apply the Second and Third Laws of Thermodynamics
  • Determine spontaneity of a process or reaction based on entropy and enthalpy
  • Understand how Gibbs free energy relates to other chemistry concepts
  • Explore fundamental competition between energy and disorder that determines the state of materials at equilibrium
  • Compare and contrast different methods of energy generation and storage
  • Explain how different types of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, could be used to meet global energy demands


  • Describe key concepts of acid-base chemistry and equilibrium reactions involving acids and bases
  • Understand the significance of electrochemistry, how it relates to other fields of science, and how it is applied in real life
  • Understand what it means for an element to be "oxidized" or "reduced"
  • Identify the differences in efficiency between renewable primary energy from electrochemical energy sources with primarily fossil fuel-based energy ones
  • Describe the reactions occurring in an electrochemical (voltaic) cell
  • Identify how different types of batteries differ in their energy storage efficiency


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