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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.
OU SCQF FHEQ
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See 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 2022.

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
    No residential school


    Entry requirements

    There are no formal entry requirements.

    However, you will need appropriate knowledge of biology or chemistry. You’d normally be prepared by completing OU level 1 study as part of one of the biology, chemistry or natural sciences qualifications, having passed Questions in science (S111) or Science: concepts and practice (S112).

    Are you ready for S248? is a diagnostic quiz to help you decide if you’re prepared to start studying S248.

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

    Preparatory work

    You should aim to be confident and fluent with the concepts covered in the Are you ready for S248? quiz and follow the advice in the quiz.

    Question in science (S111) and Science: concepts and practice (S112) are ideal preparation.

    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. There will be a module primer, which contains information on basic concepts you should understand from OU level 1 study. You can use this primer to refresh your knowledge before starting S248, or as a resource throughout your studies.

    Register

    Start End Fee
    - - -

    No current presentation - see Future availability

    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 are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Field school/labaratory school

    This module has an optional field school/lab school. You must pay an additional charge for tuition, accommodation and meals (see module details for further information). You must also pay for your travel to and from the venue. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we may replace face-to-face events with online alternatives.

    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 fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2022. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 16/10/2021.

    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 a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    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 website.