Questions in science
This introductory science module encompasses astronomy and planetary science; biology; chemistry; earth and environmental sciences; and physics. A series of questions, starting with ‘Can you make a hole in water? and ‘How do you know what is alive?’, demonstrates the interdisciplinarity of the sciences and teaches scientific thinking.
What you will study
This module consists of 11 topics, which have questions as titles to help you start thinking like a scientist. The final topic, What is ‘Bad science’? brings together the principles of good science practice that you will have learnt throughout the module.
Topic 1: Can you make a hole in water?
Water is essential for life as we know it and water has many special properties singling it out from other substances, making it of interest to all scientists. This topic will introduce you to some fascinating science including chemistry, earth sciences and physics.
Topic 2: How do you know what is alive?
This topic will focus on the biological functions which are used to define ‘life’. First you learn about the diversity of living things, and what living organisms are made up of. You will learn about the basic functions of life; growth, reproduction, metabolism, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment.
Topic 3: Why does it snow in winter?
You will gain a basic understanding of what makes the weather on earth, and its seasonal cycle. The topic starts with forces, then investigates gravity, and the orbit of Earth around the Sun, and the Moon around Earth. Finally the topic looks at how these forces combine to give Earth its distinctive climatic zones.
Topic 4: Is there life on Mars?
Life is found in all environments across Earth, with a huge range of diversity and abundance. Some organisms have developed ways to live and thrive in extreme environments such as hot deserts or deep oceans. Knowing how these organisms survive enables us to consider whether life might exist on Mars.
Topic 5: Why do metals corrode?
This topic explores the main characteristic properties of metals. You will look at the chemical interactions of metals with different surrounding environments (in air, soil and water) and how the reactivity of different metals varies greatly. Easy ways of preventing metal deterioration are also discussed. You will build a battery using galvanized nails and copper wire and carry out simple chemistry experiments with copper coins and iron nails.
Topic 6: How similar am I to a plant?
The diverse array of organisms that exist on earth seem to have very little in common, apart from being ‘alive’ as described in Topic 2. You will learn about the principles of inheritance and genetics and you will consider how different humans are from one another and investigate this yourself.
Topic 7: Does the earth move under your feet?
Earth is very diverse, yet we do see similarities between separate parts of world in the geology, and the species living there. How has this come about? Is it the result of moving plants and animals or a moving Earth? This topic discusses the different mechanisms underlying the movement and distribution of organisms around the world, including ocean and wind currents, continental drift and sea-level change, as well as the role of humans and the influence of evolution.
Topic 8: Are waves everywhere?
What are waves and how do they form? There are waves you can see as well as waves you cannot see. You will develop an understanding of what waves are, and why and how they happen, as well as how we as humans can exploit some of their properties.This topic is also about conservation of energy and restoring forces.
Topic 9: Can we lead a chemical-free life?
This topic examines some common misconceptions, responsible for turning the word chemical into a shorthand for “unpleasant additive". Are synthetic chemicals dangerous? Are natural chemicals better for us? We look at chemicals within the Earth and their use as ‘natural resources’; at chemicals in our diet and inside our homes; and at chemicals as treatments for disease. This topic includes a home experiment on toxicity and a field trip to survey the ‘health’ of a local water body.
Topic 10: Why does the sun shine?
The Sun provides the energy necessary for life on Earth but how does it work? We look at the physical properties of our own star and the physical processes that power it. In the latter part of this topic we examine the Sun in a wider astronomical context, relating it to other stars, examining its evolution and death in the far future and the intimate role played by the death of stars in the birth of life.
Topic 11: What is ‘Bad Science’?
The module concludes with a look at the ethics of scientific experimentation; a discussion of good practice in experimentation to ensure results are unbiased and scientifically sound. This final topic leads to the final piece of assessment which looks back over experiments undertaken throughout the module.
You will learn
You will learn the key scientific concepts that underpin the world around us. You will develop scientific and critical thinking skills that will help you understand and use scientific information. You will develop skills of scientific investigation through practical experimentation and share your findings with other students. An important part of this module is the development of key mathematical skills, crucial for scientific analysis and explanation. As this module is entirely online, your skills for learning and working online will also be developed. By the end of the module, you will be a confident, independent learner.
This is a key introductory OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning, to help you to progress towards OU level 2 study.
The module is designed for students who are new to science as well as those with some background in a science-related subject. Although you’re not expected to have any previous knowledge of science, you should be able to do simple calculations (add, subtract, multiply and divide whole numbers) and to understand written English of the standard of a broadsheet newspaper (for example The Daily Telegraph or The Guardian). You should also be able to write clearly and concisely, structuring short pieces of writing so that they flow coherently; log on to the internet, find websites and communicate by email; and create, save and retrieve documents using basic word processing skills.
If you haven’t studied science or maths up to GCSE level recently, or you’re new to using a computer to access online resources, you may need to spend slightly longer on the study materials. An adviser will be able to discuss with you how much extra time you are likely to need and whether you should consider completing an OU Access module or some preparatory study before beginning this module.
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 and get the most enjoyment out of the module. To help you decide whether you already have the background knowledge or experience to start the module we have an interactive quiz Are you ready to study S111?
By the end of the module you will be expected to be working successfully at the level required of first-year undergraduate students. Successful completion of this module will equip you to go on to study Science: concepts and practice (S112), for our BSc (Honours) Natural Sciences (Q64) or Essential mathematics 1 and 2 (MST124 and MST125) for the BSc (Honours) Physics and Mathematics (Q77).
If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.
You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:
- a week-by-week study planner
- course-specific module materials, including interactives and animations
- audio and video content
- assessment details, instructions and guidance
- online tutorial access
- access to student and tutor group forums.
Where possible the materials are also available in other formats including PDF, EPUB, interactive ebook (EPUB3), Kindle ebook and Microsoft Word, which can supplement your online study. ‘Print-on-demand’ is not available for this module.
You’ll also have access to learning events that support your study skills and offer an opportunity to engage with current research and topical issues in science. The ‘Discover’ labcast is delivered live by OU researchers and academic members of the module team from the laboratories at the Open University campus in Milton Keynes. The ‘Good academic practice’ tutorials support your skills development in writing and referencing at university level.
You will need
A phone or tablet with a camera, or a digital camera1 – to take photographs of your experiments and upload images.
A simple scientific calculator – of the type sold as suitable for GCSE/A level use in any large supermarket. The calculator on a mobile phone, tablet or computer isn’t sufficient for this module.
Some basic kitchen, DIY or garden equipment – for simple home experiments – including (but not restricted to):
- a kitchen weighing scale
- a means of freezing water
- re-usable plastic and glass containers of various sizes
- a clock or watch
- galvanised nails
- copper wire
- electrical cable
- items of fruit or vegetables
- offcuts of cardboard.
A list of equipment needed for home experiments is provided at the beginning of each topic. If you’re unable to undertake the experiments, particularly those that form part of the assessment, we’ll provide alternative ways to enable you to take part.
1A scanner is recommended for uploading drawn images.
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 (11 'Big Sur' 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.