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Chemistry in life: food, water and medicines

Explore how fundamental chemistry relates to food, water and medicines – all key to modern life. You’ll learn by developing your problem-solving skills in chemistry and through experimental investigations. Learn about the role chemists play in developing a more sustainable future and how they solve problems related to human health. By the end, you’ll understand the structures and roles of food components, how drinking water is purified, and how drug molecules are designed and function.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

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

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Module

Module code

S248

Credits

Credits

  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
30

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
OU SCQF FHEQ
2 8 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This online module has three blocks. They’ll develop your understanding of key chemical concepts, whilst you discover the role of chemistry in human health and sustainability. At key points, experts from industry discuss the context of the chemistry under discussion.

Block 1: Food
This block introduces you to the relationship between nutrition, food production processes, and chemistry. You’ll see how an understanding of molecular properties can be used to explain why we need food; what the body does with it; and how raw materials can be processed to make products for the food industry. You’ll study the chemical properties of the food groups (fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals) which will allow you to understand interplay between molecular structure and chemical behaviour. You’ll then study food digestion; how the body extracts energy from food; and how food energy content is measured. The block finishes with a home experiment, in which you will synthesise and analyse the degradation of a sustainable food packaging material.

Block 2: Water
This block focuses on water as it plays a ubiquitous role in our daily lives. You’ll study the unique properties of water in a fundamental sense. You’ll begin by studying pH, buffers and buffering, antacids and why some substances are strong or weak acids. Alongside this, you’ll remotely access apparatus at the OU campus to measure the acidity of a compound. In the next section. you’ll focus on other substances that are commonly dissolved in water (soaps, detergents, antibacterials and metal ions), further studying the close relationship between chemical properties and function. You’ll also address the issue of environmental sustainability through the study of drinking water and waste-water treatment.

Block 3: Health
The block starts with a home experiment investigation relating to sustainable approaches to water purification. The focus of this block then shifts to medicines. You’ll learn about the drug discovery process and how drug molecules are designed. In doing this, you’ll see the key structural features and chemical properties of different classes of drug molecules. You’ll study the interactions between drug molecules and their receptors, which will bring together much of the chemical thinking you developed in the module. You’ll also study drug absorption, allowing you to gain an understanding of how particular drugs must be administered. Your learning will be supported throughout the block by extensive use of the Protein Data Bank. This will enable you to visualise in three dimensions how drugs interact with their targets (receptors or enzymes) and interrogate the nature of the molecular interactions.

You will learn

As well as studying key conceptual skills relating to chemistry, you’ll also develop your skills for further study of science including:

  • investigation
  • numeracy
  • problem solving
  • handling and presenting data
  • collaboration
  • communication.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students in dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.

Assessment

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

Future availability

Chemistry in life: food, water and medicines (S248) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2028.

Regulations

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

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination


Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this module.

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need an appropriate knowledge of biology or chemistry obtained through:

  • OU level 1 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Are you ready for S248?

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed:

You’ll be able to access the module website 2–3 weeks before the module starts, so you can learn to navigate the website and organise your study plan. A module primer contains the basic concepts you should understand. You can use this primer to refresh your knowledge before starting your studies or as a resource throughout.

Register

Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £1818.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

Register
This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2028.

Additional Costs

Study costs

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

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

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.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

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

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. 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 module 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 module.  

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, Mastercard, Visa 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).


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 fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 15/06/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

You’ll also have access to the OpenSTEM Labs, where you’ll conduct some of your experiments.

You will need

You may need either a scanner or a digital camera to produce files of diagrams or graphs you’ve drawn to include with your assessments.

Some equipment – for simple home experiments – including (but not restricted to):

  • microwave or small pan
  • electronic balance or measuring spoons
  • mobile phone (with a camera) that can download apps
  • everyday chemicals such as starch, glycerol, food dye, washing soda, white vinegar, citric acid
  • transparent plastic or glass vessels and a measuring jug
  • silicone muffin cases or aluminium trays
  • oven gloves or tongs
  • PPE: apron/lab coat, gloves, laboratory glasses
  • scissors.

It’s difficult to estimate the cost of buying the home experiment items, as you probably already own some of them.

You’ll also need to buy a molecule modelling kit (cost: £20-£40). Examples of kits are:

  • MMS-008 or MMS-004 from Molymod
  • Organic and inorganic student set (0073), from Cochranes of Oxford.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S248 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.