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Chemistry: essential concepts

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Chemistry is fundamental to our modern world, touching all aspects of our lives; food, health, materials, energy and our environment. Indeed, the solutions for many of the challenges facing the world will require Chemistry as a key facilitating science. This highly interactive module provides a broad foundation in organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. It explores organic compounds and their synthesis, spectroscopic analysis, the Periodic Table and the reactivity of metals and non-metals, bonding and molecular shape, thermodynamics and kinetics. The practical nature of chemistry will be emphasised throughout. There will be an optional, laboratory-based residential school. The cost of accommodation, meals and travel for the optional residential school is not included in the module fee. 

What you will study

The module is delivered entirely online. Audio, video and interactive activities are integrated throughout the module and you will need to download a free external software package.

Block 1: The periodic table

Block 1 focuses on a core concept of chemistry, the periodic table. Trends in properties of elements and their simple compounds are discussed and the predictive powers of the Periodic Table emphasised. Extraction of metals is related to their chemical reactivity and the chemistry of group 1 and 17 elements is given in more detail. In this block you will go on to consider Lewis structures and the prediction of molecular shape.

Block 2: Chemical bonding

Block 2 introduces atomic and molecular orbitals, as you take a pictorial approach to quantum mechanics rather than being purely mathematical.

Block 3: Organic molecules

Block 3 looks at the structure of organic molecules, their stereochemistry and includes an introduction to organic nomenclature. Videos and interactive diagrams are used to aid your appreciation of the three-dimensional nature of the molecules. The software package will enable you to produce chemical structures electronically.

Block 4: Chemical thermodynamics and equilibrium

Block 4 discusses enthalpy, entropy and Gibbs free energy. These thermodynamic quantities are used to examine the principles of metal extraction quantitatively. The use of Ellingham diagrams is explained in this context. The Gibbs free energy is related to equilibrium constants and redox potentials. Audio instructions are provided to guide you through example calculations and some diagrams. You will also be introduced to an online chemistry data book and observe an online experiment in thermochemistry.

Block 5: Chemical kinetics

Block 5 considers the role of the rate of reaction, and introduces chemical kinetics. A web-based program for plotting and analysing graphs is introduced and is used to obtain information from experimental data. As part of this block, there is a virtual kinetics experiment.

Block 6: An introduction to organic reaction mechanisms

Block 6 introduces the functional group concept of a group of atoms within an organic molecule that display particular chemical properties, and the common reaction mechanisms of organic substitution and elimination reactions are discussed. Videos are used to illustrate what happens during such reactions at the molecular level.

Block 7: Alkenes and aromatics

Block 7 continues the examination of organic reaction mechanisms started in Block 6, with a discussion of addition reactions. This is followed by a detailed look at aromatic substitution reactions.

Block 8: Materials chemistry

Block 8 explores the arrangements of atoms in different types of solid. The concepts of lattices and unit cells are introduced. Metal structures are discussed in terms of close-packing of spheres, and this is extended to show how simple ionic structures can be built up from close-packed structures. Building on Block 4, the use of Born-Haber cycles to obtain lattice energies is explored. Close-packing of spheres and the build-up of more complex structures is demonstrated in a series of videos.

Block 9: Molecular characterisation and spectroscopic analysis

Block 9 looks at methods for separating and purifying chemical compounds, and then discusses the spectroscopic techniques used to determine the nature and structure of a compound. The techniques include UV/visible spectroscopy, infrared and Raman spectroscopy, NMR and mass spectrometry. Extensive online exercises are used to teach the use of infrared and NMR spectroscopy to identify molecules.

Block 10: Introduction to first row transition elements

Block 10 introduces you to the chemistry of the transition elements. The role of d orbitals in determining the properties of these elements and their compounds is explored and a simple orbital theory, crystal field theory, which can account for a number of these properties, is introduced. Many of the reactions studied are illustrated by video sequences.

Block 11: Carbonyl and organometallic chemistry

Block 11 expands your knowledge of organic reactions by introducing the chemistry of carbonyl compounds and organometallic compounds. An important organometallic reaction is synthesis using a Grignard reaction and there is a video of an example of this.

Block 12: Organic synthesis

Block 12 pursues possible strategies for synthesising organic compounds, particularly those of interest to the pharmaceutical and related industries. You learn how to plan a set of reactions that will lead to a desired product; for example, the compound responsible for the scent of a flower. The importance of overall yield reaction and the cost of starting materials are emphasised. A video showing how the principles of retrosynthetic analysis can be applied to the production of Tamiflu® forms part of this block.

Block 13: Main-group chemistry

Block 13 returns to the chemistry of the main-group elements which was introduced in Block 1. Water in rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, the water from taps and even bottled water can contain a variety of inorganic species ranging from the beneficial to the toxic. This block explores the chemistry of these species and of some of the elements they contain. Finally ways of undertaking chemical reactions in a more environmentally friendly way are discussed.

Practical work

As Chemistry is such a practical subject the final Practical Block introduces you to aspects of laboratory work. It starts by introducing common apparatus and techniques and health and safety aspects of working in a laboratory. There are video sequences illustrating some of the techniques and an online experiment on some techniques. Online experiments play an important role in acquainting you with the practical aspects of chemistry. During your study of chemical kinetics, you will measure the rate of a reaction using a virtual spectrometer.

The Practical Block provides further experience of experimental methods. You will be introduced to standard apparatus and techniques of the chemistry laboratory and will then undertake three online experiments.

The first uses the virtual spectrometer to measure an equilibrium constant, and the other two allow you to experience a laboratory in an immersive environment. These two experiments are a titration using a pH meter and a synthesis of a copper complex. You will select and assemble apparatus, measure out chemicals and adjust the reaction conditions. Your results will depend on your choices and so, as in real life, they will differ from those of other students.

Entry requirements

This is an OU Level 2 module: you need to have a good knowledge of the subject area through either Level 1 study with the OU or equivalent study at another university.

You must be familiar with the chemistry and mathematical content in the OU Level 1 modules Questions in science (S111) and Science: concepts and practice (S112).

Check you’re ready for Chemistry: essential concepts (S215) with our self-assessed quiz.

If you’re still not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.

What's included

The module is delivered entirely online and all study material, with the exception of the chemical structure drawing package, is accessible via the module website.

You will need

A scientific calculator. 

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

  • A desktop or laptop computer with Windows 7 or higher
  • The screen must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. Your tutor will also offer support through email and online tutorials which you are encouraged to participate. The module forum will provide continuous study support and act as a virtual self-help group.

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

Assessment

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

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Residential school

You’ll have the choice to attend a laboratory school run by The Open University. These four-day programmes focus on laboratory work.

SS021 Laboratory Skills - Chemistry is in March at The Open University in Milton Keynes.

For students who started S215 in October 2018, the additional cost is £275 – we expect to confirm the cost for students starting S215 in October 2019 by July. You must also pay for travel to and from the venue, accommodation, and food.

Booking will begin in early November – further details will be on the module website.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S215 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Chemistry: essential concepts (S215) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2023.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
2 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
Examination
No residential school

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