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Concepts in chemistry

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This broad-based chemistry module covers key organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry principles. It introduces sustainable and ‘green’ chemistry early on and develops this knowledge throughout ­– you’ll learn how chemists increasingly work to minimise detrimental environmental effects and constantly seek new ‘green’ ways of chemical manufacture. It also introduces the application of coding in chemistry using Python. A basic understanding of coding is an important skill for a chemist to acquire, which the module draws upon at several points.

What you will study

Topic 1: Foundations
You’ll spend the first two weeks revising chemistry covered in OU level 1 science modules, giving you a solid grounding in critical areas. The topic concludes with an interactive computer-marked assignment that provides invaluable feedback on your preparedness, identifying areas to revisit, if necessary.

Topic 2: Key concepts
Over these two weeks, you’ll look at chemistry fundamentals, key concepts around atomic and molecular structure and the skills you’ll develop as the module progresses. You’ll examine redox reactions and a redox titration to determine the concentration of vitamin C in fruit juice. One study session focuses on an introduction to sustainability and ‘green’ chemistry and chemists’ role in a sustainable world.

Topic 3: Periodicity (1)
During this one-week topic, you’ll examine the elements in the main group (s-block and p-block) and consider how their physical and chemical properties reflect their position in the Periodic Table. You’ll look closer at the role of hydrogen as a future fuel and potential hydrogen storage materials.

Topic 4: Periodicity (2)
This two-week topic focuses on the chemistry of the Periodic Table's d-block and f-block. You’ll look at the chemistry of complex formation, including uv-visible spectra and magnetic properties. The topic also contains an activity where you’ll investigate reclaiming rare-earth metals from electronic waste.

Topic 5: Organic molecules (1)
During this week, you’ll consider carbon-based (organic) molecules in detail, particularly how they form the building blocks of substances familiar in everyday life – drugs, foodstuffs and cleaning products. You’ll also look at chemical bonding in organic molecules and different types of isomerism.

Topic 6: Coding
This week’s study introduces coding in chemistry - the process of creating and ‘running’ a set of instructions to enable a computer to carry out a particular task. You’ll discover why a basic understanding of coding is an important skill for chemists. You’ll study further aspects of coding in subsequent topic blocks.

Topic 7: Thermodynamics
This three-week topic looks at why chemical reactions occur, focusing on energy (and entropy) changes. You’ll conduct two interactive on-screen investigations around energy changes, collaborating with fellow students during some aspects.

Topic 8: Kinetics
This topic tackles how fast chemical reactions proceed, how chemists measure rates of reactions and introduces the factors that affect reaction rate. There’s an interactive on-screen experiment on this topic.

Topic 9: Bonding and structure
The topic describes the formation of chemical bonds in molecules according to currently accepted theories. It also looks at the structure and chemistry of solids.

Topic 10: Organic molecules (2)
Here, you’ll take a closer look at functional groups in organic molecules. Using simple bonding models, you’ll consider how chemists synthesise chemical compounds.

Topics 11/12: Organic reactions/Making molecules
These topics focus on strategies for designing new molecules with potentially useful applications. You’ll develop skills in mechanism determination and how to apply this to any reaction by developing a series of rules. The topic ends with a chemistry in context section to show a real-world application of organic chemistry.

Topic 13: Spectroscopy
Finally, you’ll use the applications of several important spectroscopic techniques (UV-visible, IR, NMR and mass spectrometry) to characterise organic molecules and analyse unknown substances.

You will learn

The module aims to:

  • develop key chemistry knowledge and understanding
  • cultivate a holistic view of the subject across the traditional subdisciplines of inorganic, organic, physical, and analytical chemistry
  • provide familiarity with the principles and practical applications of sustainable chemistry in the context of critical societal challenges and current thinking on sustainable development within the chemical industry
  • provide the opportunity to critically analyse and interpret scientific information and data, and cultivate capability in problem-solving across all topics, integrating real-world case studies
  • integrate reflection on skills relevant to employability.

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 obtained through:

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

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed:

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.

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 (TMAs) 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 the 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.

Laboratory schools

The School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences offers optional laboratory schools in Milton Keynes at an additional cost. Laboratory schools are not part of this module; however, they are compulsory if you’re studying towards one of the following chemistry qualifications:

If you’re not studying towards one of the above qualifications, the laboratory schools may be of interest if you wish to gain relevant hands-on laboratory experience.

Further information and instructions for booking are on the SS021 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 S218 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

Concepts in chemistry (S218) 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 2031.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
3 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment