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Practical science: chemistry and analysis

The activities in this practical science course explore a range of topics in chemistry and analytical science from fundamental synthesis and analysis to the vital themes of water and biochemistry. It will give you the opportunity to use a range of laboratory equipment, much of it via the internet from the comfort of your own home, in various combinations of observation and experiment. Or you can choose to go to a three-day residential school – the cost of accommodation and travel is not included in the course fee. The course ends with an exciting team project, where you will work with students from other courses in this Practical science series.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

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 9 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

Scientific enquiry, whether in the field or in the laboratory, proceeds through objective observation and experimentation: the questions ’why?’ and ’how?’ are explored through interactions and tests inspired by ’what if ....?’. Skilled practical scientists reveal underlying relationships by devising questions that can be addressed safely; they report effectively and critically evaluate their findings. By studying this course you will develop these skills that are essential for practical work.

You will carry out four practical activities that you can do online and in and around your own home. 

  • NMR: molecules and imaging
  • water quality monitoring
  • drug metabolism and genetic variation
  • formation and habitability of planets.

Alternatively when you register, you could choose the following four activities which include a residential school based at a university chemistry laboratory. Please note that there are limited spaces available; additional costs involved; and the residential school activity may not be suitable for all students

  • NMR: molecules and imaging
  • water quality monitoring
  • drug metabolism and genetic variation
  • laboratory chemistry (residential school – subject to available places).

1. NMR: molecules and imaging – In this activity you will explore the fundamentals of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. After learning the basics of the technique, by measuring frequency-intensity data, you will investigate the 1H NMR spectroscopy of simple organic molecules, spin-spin coupling and correlation charts. You will complete this activity by exploring the fundamental relationship between proton resonance frequency and magnetic field strength and investigating key features of MR imaging. In a remote control experiment, you will be able to establish the key principles of spatial localisation in one dimension. In an interactive screen experiment, you will discover how to measure a spin-lattice relaxation time. As a result, you will be able to appreciate key features (localisation and contrast) of a MR medical image. This activity is interdisciplinary and combines aspects of chemistry and physics.

2. Water quality monitoring – At the start of this activity you will carry out a water survey at a local pond or river, based on a subjective assessment and an analysis of the aquatic invertebrates present. You will then complete a series of online investigations and interactive screen experiments to:

  • measure the total hardness of water samples by performing titrations
  • determine the nitrate levels in samples of river water in which you prepare a calibration curve using a spectrophotometric method
  • work out which pesticides are present in a given water sample using a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry system
  • look at the microbiological safety of drinking water using a variety of standard methods.

You’ll also collect data over a week-long period, via a webcam, to determine the biological oxygen demand and the rate constant for the uptake of oxygen used in the breakdown of organic material by microorganisms present in water. This topic is interdisciplinary and combines aspects of environmental science, chemistry and biology.

3. Drug metabolism and genetic variation – A person’s genotype determines how quickly a drug is metabolised, influencing its effectiveness. In this activity you’ll complete a series of online experiments and interactive screen experiments to identify the structure and concentrations of drug metabolites for nortriptyline, an antidepressant drug. You will relate this to the frequency of the population with different genotypes, determined by using biological analytical techniques. To discover the concentration, you will carry out an online experiment using UV-Vis spectroscopy. Using an online polymerase chain reaction experiment, you’ll determine the frequency of gene variants within a population of 100 people. You will select suitable primers, controls and concentrations. Next you will use NMR spectroscopy to determine the metabolic pathway for nortriptyline by exploring its structures and major metabolite. Finally, you will conduct an online investigation of a subset of the 100 samples. Using liquid chromatography, you’ll identify which genotypes are rapid, normal, slow or superslow metabolisers. This topic is interdisciplinary and combines aspects of chemistry and biology.

4. For the final practical activity you will have a choice from the following options when you register.

Non-residential activity – Formation and habitability of planets – How do planets form? What makes a planet capable of hosting life? How we can tell? These are the exciting questions that science is now beginning to answer. You can get a feel for the challenges, pleasures and pitfalls of planetary science in this activity. After completing the necessary background, you will examine meteorites to extract evidence for how planets began to grow, and study detailed images of parts of Mars (obtained from orbit) to design a strategy for a lander mission intended to search for signs of life. This activity is interdisciplinary and combines aspects of geology, planetary science, astronomy, physics, environmental science, and biology.

Residential activity – Laboratory chemistry – This activity is centred on an optional three-day residential school at a university chemistry laboratory. You will carry out a range of pre-laboratory activities exploring the different techniques that you will encounter, in order to maximise your time in the laboratory. You will also be expected to complete risk assessments for the chemical substances to be used. Experiments will include:

  • preparation of a copper-glycinate complex and subsequent spectrophotometric analysis using UV-Vis spectroscopy to determine the number of glycine ligands in the complex
  • preparation of N-benzylbenzamide involving the initial reaction of benzylamine with benzoyl chloride, recrystallisation melting-point determination and preparation of a Nujol mull for IR spectroscopy
  • study of acid/base equilibria involving the standardisation of a sodium hydroxide solution, a strong acid-base titration and determination of the pKa of acetic acid
  • preparation of triphenylmethanol involving the initial preparation of phenylmagnesium bromide (under reflux) then the preparation, separation and extraction of the triphenylmethanol and its subsequent analysis using TLC and melting-point determination
  • preparation of tin bromide.

We recommend that you register early if you wish to study this activity as the number of places is limited. See the Residential school section below for more details.

Method of study

During the course you will be required to use your own personal computer to access experiments and data, and to analyse and report results for the non-residential activities. You should be prepared to set aside several periods of up to half a day for completing some of the tasks. Therefore, to study this course successfully, you must be able to study regularly (for 8-10 hours per week) and have broadband access to the internet (for up to 4 hours per week) throughout the duration of the course.

Some tasks within the course will require scheduled interactions either with equipment or with your tutor group. Therefore this course may not be suitable for you if you are often unavailable for study for more than a week at a time. The end-of-module assessment (team project) will require working online in a group during the month of September, and if you are unavailable for study, or do not have regular access to a broadband internet connection, for more than a week during this time you may not be able to complete the course satisfactorily.

Team project

At the end of the course you will join a multidisciplinary team to complete a short project on contemporary practical science. You’ll work collaboratively with students from other courses in this Practical science series, using a variety of communication methods, including scheduled online forums.  Experience of this kind of professional teamwork is highly regarded by many employers.

Other practical science courses in this series

You must study one of the courses in this series as the practical element of our BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences and Diploma of Higher Education in Natural Sciences.

You will learn

The practical skills developed in this course include:

  • planning and conducting observations and experiments
  • data handling
  • data presentation
  • report writing
  • safe working
  • professional team-working.

You will catalogue evidence of your achievement of these in a Skills Portfolio that forms part of the assessment.

Vocational relevance

While studying a variety of interesting topics, this course will develop your problem-solving abilities, team working 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.

Outside the UK

This course is open to students based outside the UK.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with your general progress, and whom you can ask for academic advice and guidance. In addition, each practical activity will be supported by specialist tutors.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this course can be found in the facts box above.

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

Future availability

The details given here are for the course that started in February 2014 for the last time.

A new 60-credit course is planned from October 2014, Chemistry: essential concepts (S215), which integrates practical activities with theory. These activities will involve online interactive exercises but may also offer a residential option during which you can take part in laboratory-based activities.


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:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
4 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment
Embedded residential school


This is a Level 2 course and you need to have a good knowledge of the subject area, obtained either through study with the OU, or by doing equivalent work at another university.

To complete this course successfully you do need some basic mathematical skills and experience of practical observations and measurements in a scientific context. An appropriate level of mathematical and scientific knowledge can be obtained by studying Exploring science (S104) and either Investigative and mathematical skills in science (S141) or Scientific investigations (S155) plus appropriate Level 2 courses.

You should have completed at least 60 credits of Level 2 study in the chemical and analytical sciences before starting this course. We recommend that you study SXC288 as the final Level 2 module of your degree.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.


Start End Fee
- - -

No current presentation - see Future availability

This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2014.

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 annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. 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 10 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.  

For more information about employer sponsorship speak to an adviser or request a call back.

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. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

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

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.

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 based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 25/07/2014.

What's included

Study and assessment materials will be delivered online.

The costs of the residential school accommodation, and your travel to the venue, are not included in the course fee, even if you are eligible for financial support or funding your study with a Tuition Fee Loan. See the Residential school section above for details.

You will need

Broadband internet access is required for the non-residential activities and a digital camera is also highly desirable to record images of your work.

If you have a disability

Study material will be delivered entirely online and will include printable versions of web pages for students to use should they wish. Some Adobe PDF components may not be fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical and scientific materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Students with hearing impairments may have difficulty participating in the audio conferences but should be able to participate fully in online forum discussions. Written transcripts of audio- and audio-visual clips will be included in the study materials.

Some aspects of this course are not fully accessible to all visually impaired students and studying them will require extra time and possibly use of a sighted helper. Students with manual dexterity problems may need assistance to complete some experiments. 

As the course is primarily web-based, you will need to make extensive use of a computer and the internet. If you use mobile technology, or specialist hardware or software to assist you in operating a computer or with the types of material outlined above you are advised to talk to the Student Registration & Enquiry Service about the support available to meet your needs.

The residential school Laboratory chemistry may be challenging if your sight is severely impaired because of the essentially visual nature of the investigations and the observational skills required. Students with manual dexterity impairment may also find the residential school challenging. The laboratories are accessible to wheelchair users, but wheelchair users or those who are blind or partially sighted will need an assistant. Teaching sessions run from 08:30 each day and finish at 17:00 on the final day of your school.

The venue will make every effort to accommodate additional requirements if they have sufficient notice but please note that it might not always be possible to fully meet your needs. It is therefore essential that you read the venue information on the residential schools website, and make contact with the residential venue before selecting this activity.

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.