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Analytical science: health, heritage and environments

Have you ever wondered … How are sport drug cheats caught? How many calories are there in a burger? How do pregnancy testing kits work? How old is the Earth? How do X-rays work? How are antiquities dated? How do we know our water is safe to drink? How are diseases diagnosed? This module explains how analytical scientists know the answers to these and other fascinating questions, and introduces the major concepts in analytical science. Using examples from medicine, science and the arts you will learn about the major biological, chemical and physical techniques employed in improving the quality of our lives.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
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Entry requirements
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What you will study

Analytical science, in its many guises, is the foundation for many ‘real world’ applications of science which help to maintain or improve the quality of people’s lives. This module uses case studies from medicine, science and the arts to illustrate the importance and impact that analytical science has on a global society. This module comprises two books, two online chapters and interactive online resources including a techniques compendium containing details of the major concepts and techniques used throughout the module.

Book 1 Analytical science for health and wellbeing . This book consists of five chapters in which you will learn about the role of analysis in the human lifecycle from preconception to the end of life.

Chapter 1 introduces the main concepts and terminology used in analytical science; describes hospital and food-testing laboratories; looks at over the counter test kits for screening and diagnosis; and discusses the importance of health and safety, and ethics.

Chapter 2 describes the analyses used from preconception to birth. It covers ovulation prediction; the sperm count; pregnancy testing kits; Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA); ultra-sound; and screening for, and diagnosis of, Down’s syndrome using Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and fluorescence microscopy.

Chapter 3 explores food safety and nutrition. Nutritional labelling is discussed with a focus on protein, salt and energy content. Through these, the principles of spectroscopy, electrochemistry and calorimetry are described. Methods of detecting both chemical and microbiological contamination are also studied.

Chapter 4 is about drug analysis. The detection of performance-enhancing drugs through chromatographic and mass spectrometric techniques is covered, as well as testing for recreational drugs such as alcohol and ecstasy. The chapter concludes with the identification of counterfeit pharmaceuticals using infrared spectroscopy.

Chapter 5 covers infectious diseases and adulthood. The varied techniques used to diagnose sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis, cancer and diabetes are explained. Finally we discuss how death is confirmed.

Chapter 6 summarises the techniques covered in the earlier five chapters.

Book 2 Analytical science to enrich our lives . This book consists of four chapters in which you will learn about the analytical techniques applied to research and investigation in the space, heritage and archaeology, and environment sectors. It looks at how our global society is protected by our analytical capabilities.

Chapter 1 introduces the use of analysis as an investigative research tool in contrast to the regulative-based approach in Book 1. It covers analytical working practices, data handling, intellectual property, ethical practices and communication.

Chapter 2 covers the use of analysis in understanding our place in the Universe. It illustrates the ability to undertake analysis remote to the laboratory, such as using telescope-based spectroscopy to detect molecules in interstellar space. It describes how extraterrestrial samples are handled and analysed using microscopy and how objects and processes in our Solar System are dated.

Chapter 3 describes how analysis is used to enhance our cultural society. Ötzi the iceman and the warship, the Mary Rose, demonstrate the sampling and analysis of artefacts through carbon dating, isotope ratio mass spectrometry, and analysis of ancient DNA. Techniques in art analysis and conservation including Raman spectroscopy and XRD are introduced.

Chapter 4 explores the use of analysis to investigate and maintain our environment. The analysis of soils, water and air introduce nutrient and microbial testing, X-ray fluorescence (XRF), and atomic absorption spectroscopy.

Case study – this online chapter draws together aspects of Books 1 and 2 through a case-study approach. By applying various analyses to solve a particular problem you will see how technique selection, sampling, the use of standards and data-reduction techniques work together to form the most effective analytical strategy.

Our analytical future – this online chapter is dynamic and interactive; it will consist of a collection of structured resources such as, audio-visual files, newspaper articles and regularly updated text. The resources illustrate novel techniques and applications in analytical science, such as UV sensors to protect against skin damage, the use of mobile phone technologies for health monitoring in the home, and the potential application of landmine-detection techniques to food quality assurance. This chapter will be regularly updated.

You will learn

Throughout this module you will learn about the analytical process: defining the problem; selecting the appropriate technique; carrying out the analysis; interpreting the data; and communicating the results. Some common analytical themes that run throughout the module include standardisation, calibration and the use of controls.

Vocational relevance

While studying a variety of stimulating topics, this module will develop your problem-solving abilities, mathematical and communication skills, and use of computers for learning and communication. All these skills are likely to be useful in a work context, particularly for jobs requiring a precise and quantitative approach such as those involving work in a laboratory environment.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. There will be a number of online tutorials that you can join and access via your computer. You are encouraged, but not obliged, to participate in these. You will also be able to participate in discussions through online forums.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above but may be subject to change.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Each TMA is half weighted, i.e. two are equivalent to one standard TMA, and the four interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs) in total are equivalent to one standard TMA. Both the iCMAs and TMAs will focus strongly on learning through practice rather than on assessment. The feedback you receive on your answers will help you to improve your knowledge and understanding of the study material and to develop important skills associated with the module. These assignments do not contribute towards your final overall score but elements of them are compulsory and form an essential part of the learning process.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015 when it will be available for the last time. A new 60-credit module Issues in science and society (S201) is planned for October 2016.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
4 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This module is for you if you have already studied a fairly broad range of science disciplines (that is, more than just only life sciences or the physical sciences) at OU level 1 and have an interest in the role of analytical science in the world around us.

You should have studied one of the following:

You should be able to understand a number of basic mathematical concepts and have mathematical skills to at least GCSE level.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

We strongly recommend that you check whether or not your background and experience are sufficient to give you a sound basis on which to tackle this module, since we have found that students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully and get the most enjoyment out of the module. Our booklet Are you ready for S240? provides more detailed guidance; this can be viewed or printed as a PDF.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £1350.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

October 2015 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 06/07/2015.

What's included

Module books, a website including online resources, an interactive techniques compendium and online forums.

You will need

A basic scientific calculator.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.