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Investigative approaches in biology and chemistry

This is an online practical-science module. Carry out activities exploring investigative biology and chemistry skills and techniques. Conduct online and home investigations to develop your practical skills, including: experimental design; good laboratory practice; and data handling, interpretation and reporting. Plus, develop your science communication skills by participating in an online journal club.

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 code


  • 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.
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.
2 9 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 consists of four interdisciplinary topics. It will develop your practical and investigative skills and cover concepts commonly met in biology and chemistry. Each topic will develop your skills through a series of home and online investigations.

Topic 1: The investigative scientist
This topic introduces you to the role of the investigative scientist and investigative scientific thinking. You’ll be introduced to key concepts underlying laboratory science in biology and chemistry and will look at key investigative skills like managing data, designing experiments and safety. Through home investigations and online experiments, you’ll be introduced to aspects of separation science that underpin many areas of laboratory work in chemical and bioscience laboratories. Finally, you’ll collaborate with other students to complete a group investigation bringing together the skills you’ve learned.

Topic 2: Investigating food safety
In this topic, you’ll investigate food safety from chemical and biological perspectives and develop your skills in conducting practical investigations. You’ll complete two investigations.

In the first investigation, you’ll remotely access apparatus in a laboratory at the OU campus. You’ll be introduced to the principles and practice underlying the laboratory technique of spectrophotometry and will apply this knowledge to investigate the concentration of iron in nutritional supplements.

In the second investigation, you’ll be introduced to theoretical and practical considerations associated with common microbiological and molecular techniques. You’ll apply this knowledge to conduct a series of online experiments to identify a microbiological contaminant and decide whether it can be treated with an antibiotic.

You’ll also have an opportunity to find and share an article relating to food safety as part of an informal online journal club with members of your tutor group. This is a great chance to develop your science communication skills and once completed you’ll have a chance to earn a digital microbadge.

Topic 3: Investigating pesticides
In this topic, you’ll investigate pesticides from chemical and biological perspectives, using gas chromatography-mass spectrophotometry (GC-MS) and model organisms as a biological tool. You’ll complete two investigations.

In the first investigation, you’ll revisit key data handling and experimental design concepts from Topic 1 and be introduced to aspects of statistical analysis. You’ll apply this knowledge to design an experimental protocol to study the effect of a pesticide on its biological target in an online experiment.

In the second investigation, you’ll consider the importance of validated scientific methods and develop your understanding of separation science from Topic 1. You’ll use GC-MS to identify pesticides in fruit and determine whether they are safe to eat.

Topic 4: Investigating drug metabolism
In this final topic, you’ll revisit some techniques from earlier in the module. You’ll be using online experiments to investigate how drug metabolism varies between individuals, using the example of a common painkiller. You’ll need to apply skills that you have developed throughout the module to make decisions about the design of your investigations in order to collect, analyse, interpret and report data to determine the relationship between a person’s genes and their ability to metabolise drugs.

You will learn

As well as studying key investigative skills and techniques related to biology and chemistry, you’ll also develop your skills for further study of biology and chemistry including:

  • 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.


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

Future availability

Investigative approaches in biology and chemistry (S285) 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.


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:

    3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    End-of-module assessment
    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 S285? is a diagnostic quiz to help you decide if you’re prepared to start studying S285.

    Preparatory work

    You should aim to be confident and fluent with the concepts covered in the Are you ready for S285? 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 S285, or as a resource throughout your studies.


    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/laboratory school

    This module has an optional field school/laboratory 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 01/12/2021.

    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
    • access to student and tutor group forums.

    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 basic kitchen, DIY or garden equipment – for simple home experiments – including (but not restricted to):

    • carrots
    • blueberries
    • clean jars with lids (or two small glasses and something to cover them with)
    • baby oil.

    It’s difficult to estimate the cost of buying the home experiment items, as you probably already own some of them. At 2021 prices, we’ve estimated the cost of all the resources to be less than £5.

    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 S285 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.