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Chemistry: further concepts and applications

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Chemistry is fundamental in our lives and this module explores chemistry in the context of the natural world, from its role in the environment, in both aqueous and atmospheric systems, to that in plants and animals, in proteins and metabolism. This online module, which includes experimental work, builds on key concepts in inorganic, physical and organic chemistry, exploring the subtle interplay between molecular structure, chemical reactivity and their practical consequences. Application of this chemistry is considered, with topics ranging from materials, industrial and environmental catalysis and pollution control, to diagnostic and therapeutic medicine, as well as strategies for the synthesis and structural determination of organic molecules.

What you will study

Chemistry has a major and far-reaching impact on our daily lives. From its role in the natural world, in our bodies and in the environment, to its importance in the production of new materials and drugs, chemistry plays an integral part in our understanding of these processes and interactions.

This module is designed to stimulate your interest in chemistry, and to increase your knowledge and understanding of chemical principles through exploring the natural and ‘synthetic’ world. You will study important concepts in physical, inorganic, organic and biological chemistry and explore how these concepts shape our understanding of the world around us.

The module is delivered entirely online; audio, video and interactive activities are integrated throughout the module texts. The module is based on ten topics with a particular focus on the two main themes underlying the module: chemistry in the natural world, and chemical reactivity: molecular design and synthesis. An understanding of the chemical processes that take place in the natural world, the focus of the first theme, is vital for the development and production of modern materials, medicine, and so on, the focus of the second theme. Key to both is an understanding of the structure of molecules and materials, and so this is explored in a third theme, related to structural determination.

Theme 1: Chemistry in the natural world

Knowledge of the role that chemistry plays in living systems is vital, both in understanding life processes themselves and in the treatment of disease. Similarly knowledge of aqueous chemistry, in particular how pH effects the chemical species present in solution, is critical in our understanding of the natural environment. Furthermore an appreciation of atmospheric chemistry is important to rationalise climate change and the development of materials for pollution control.

Through this theme you will explore:

  • how the structure of a protein influences the function that it plays in living systems
  • the influence of pH on the chemical species present in solution and its significance on solubility, metal complexation and speciation, both in the environment and the body  
  • how metal ions are acquired by living systems from the environment, how they transported and ultimately how they are stored
  • the roles that metal ions play in processes in the body, from communication to metabolism and their importance in metalloproteins, a class of proteins containing metal ions within their structure, such as iron in haemoglobin
  • atmospheric chemistry, in particular how materials released into the air by human activities can alter the natural system.

Theme 2: Chemical reactivity: molecular design and synthesis

The guiding principles that govern whether, how and under what conditions substances will react with one another are of central importance in all areas of chemistry. They impact in many ways on modern life, from the production of vital everyday materials – drugs, fuels, plastics, fertilisers – to the control of pollution in our environment.

The principles derive from two of the most important cornerstones of physical chemistry: thermodynamics and chemical kinetics. A key aim of the module is to examine the practical consequences that arise as a direct result of the interplay between these two fundamental concepts.

Through this theme you will explore:

  • the steps involved in chemical reactions at the molecular level (the mechanism)
  • the processes involved in catalysis, particularly at solid surfaces where the world market for solid catalysts is immense, and in enzymes which elegantly catalyse reactions in the body
  • how drug molecules interact with molecular targets such as enzymes and other proteins, one of the key drivers behind much of the design and development of new drugs
  • the factors that are important in the design of molecules and materials for a range of applications, from organic molecules in drugs, metal complexes in medical diagnostics and therapy, to the ‘catalytic convertors’ used to control exhaust emissions
  • the wide range of reactions in use today for the synthesis of organic compounds with specified structures and stereochemistry, in chemical research and in industry; the choice of reaction, reactants and reaction conditions

Theme 3: Structural determination

The structure of a molecule, be it a protein or a drug, is integral to its function. Similarly, in an effort to optimise the performance of solid catalysts, the ability to characterise the surface and study the interactions of molecules with the surface is important.

Through this theme you will explore:

  • the methods used to determine the structure of a protein
  • the techniques which can be used to understand the chemistry taking place at metal centres within proteins
  • the theoretical basis and application of NMR spectroscopy, a key technique used to determine the structure of organic and inorganic molecules
  • the techniques used to examine the surface of solid materials and species adsorbed on the surface.

Scientific skills

In addition, at appropriate points in your studies you will undertake activities to develop your scientific skills through a mixture of onscreen practical investigations and scientific literacy activities. Use is made of online databases, both those available through the library to investigate the scientific literature, as well as external sites such as the RCSB Protein Data Bank and associated visualisation tools/software.

You will learn

The module aims to develop your knowledge and understanding of:

  • protein structure and function
  • aqueous chemistry and its relationship to natural environments
  • the roles that metals and their complexes play in living systems and in medicinal applications
  • chemical reaction mechanisms, particularly in the context of atmospheric chemistry and catalysis
  • how molecules can be designed
  • the synthesis of organic molecules
  • characterisation techniques to determine the structure of proteins, organic and inorganic molecules and surfaces

In addition, scientific skills such as critical analysis, problem solving, scientific literacy and exploration of scientific databases will be developed.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module and you need to have a good knowledge of chemistry, obtained through study of the OU level 2 module, Chemistry: essential concepts (S215) (or the discontinued module The molecular world (S205)) or equivalent study at another university.

Students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully and get the most enjoyment and satisfaction out of the module. 

Whilst this module has been designed to be studied as part of a natural sciences degree, it can also be studied on a standalone basis assuming that you have the necessary background.

It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle the module, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. The Science Faculty has produced a booklet Are You Ready For S315? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the module or whether you need some extra preparation. 

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

What's included

This module does not have any printed material. All the teaching and assessment materials are embedded within, or linked to from, the texts of the module, which are accessed via a dedicated website.

Downloadable ebook versions of the study texts for each topic are also available.

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 your studies and mark and comment on your written work. Tuition will be delivered online, both in small group sessions delivered specifically to your tutor group by your tutor and in larger module-wide sessions available to the all students studying the module which will be delivered by academic experts in each particular field. Your tutor will also offer advice and guidance through email and a module forum supported by the team of tutors and module team provides continuous study support and acts as a virtual self-help group.

Assessment

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

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances you must inform the University and negotiate with your tutor about submission on paper

Residential school

S315 students have the choice to attend a laboratory school run by The Open University. These four-day programmes focus on laboratory work.

SS031 Further Laboratory Skills - Chemistry is in November at The Open University in Milton Keynes.

For students who started S315 in October 2018, the additional cost is £275 – we expect to confirm the cost for students starting S315 in October 2019 by July. You must also pay for travel to and from the venue, accommodation, and food.

Booking will begin in early September – 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 S315 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: further concepts and applications (S315) 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 2022.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination
No residential school

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