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Investigative approaches in biology and chemistry

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This is a practical science module – study investigative topics, including drugs, food safety and pesticides. Carry out activities exploring investigative biology and chemistry skills and techniques. Conduct online and home investigations to develop practical skills, including experimental design, good laboratory practice, and data handling, interpretation and reporting. Plus, improve your science communication skills by participating in an online journal club.

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.

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 appropriate knowledge of biology or chemistry obtained through:

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

Are you ready for S285?

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.

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. We’ve estimated the cost of all the resources to be less than £15.

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.

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.

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 but may be of interest if you wish to gain relevant hands-on laboratory experience.

Further information and instructions for booking are on the Laboratory skills for biology and health (SS022) 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 S285 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

Investigative approaches in biology and chemistry (S285) 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.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment