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.
In this course you will participate in two compulsory residential field trips and carry out two online activities at home.
You will start your study with the Water quality monitoring activity followed by one of the residential school field trips. Your third activity will be Remote observation followed by the second of the residential school field trips. You will have an opportunity to choose / book the dates for your residential school attendance, in January 2014, and this will decide the order you study the residential school field trips.
Water quality monitoring – At the start of this online 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.
Remote observation – What can we discover about our planet – and others – using remote sensors? This online activity will guide you through the manipulation and interpretation of large-scale observational data on oceans, atmosphere and planetary surfaces, mainly using geographic information system (GIS) techniques. You will use an open-source GIS software package, guided by instructions produced specifically for this activity. The study materials include projects focused on ocean colour, Martian landforms, atmospheric spectra, and land cover change. This activity is interdisciplinary and combines aspects of geology, environmental science, physics, chemistry and biology.
Residential school field trips
Hydrology and meteorology in the field – This compulsory three-day residential school concentrates on how to collect and interpret hydrological and meteorological data in the field. In the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park in the UK, you will carry out three days of fieldwork around Malham Tarn. The accommodation and laboratory work will be based at a field centre in a converted Georgian country house. You will study a local catchment; investigate the flow of water in rivers and through soils; and analyse the water quality. You will collect meteorological data; examine cloud formations; measure the temperature of clouds and the lower atmosphere; and investigate relationships between weather and hydrology. Online study materials will introduce the field techniques that you will be using. See the Residential school section below for more details.
Vegetation and soils in the field – This compulsory three-day residential school will teach you how to describe and interpret vegetation and soils in the field. You will carry out three days of fieldwork in the heart of the Shropshire countryside near to the town of Shrewsbury, UK. The accommodation and laboratory work will be at a field centre set in 12 hectares of grassland and woodland. You will learn to identify plant species; map plant communities; investigate the properties of soils; and study the interactions between soils and vegetation in the upland environment of the Shropshire Hills. You will also learn to use GPS technology to assist your mapping work. Online study materials will introduce the field techniques that you will be using. 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.
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. This course Practical environmental science (SXE288) is a compulsory module in our BSc (Hons) Environmental Science.
You will learn
The practical skills developed in this course include:
planning and conducting observations and experiments
You will catalogue evidence of your achievement of these in a Skills Portfolio that forms part of the assessment.