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Chemistry: further concepts and applications

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Explore chemistry in the context of the natural world, from its role in the environment (in aqueous and atmospheric systems) to that in plants and animals (in proteins and metabolism). This module, which includes experimental work, builds on inorganic, physical and organic chemistry concepts, exploring the subtle interplay between molecular structure, chemical reactivity and their practical consequences. Application of this chemistry is considered, with topics ranging from materials, industrial and environmental catalysis and pollution control, to diagnostic and therapeutic medicine, as well as strategies for the synthesis and structural determination of organic molecules.

What you will study

Chemistry has a major and far-reaching impact on our daily lives. From its role in the natural world, in our bodies and in the environment, to its importance in the production of new materials and drugs, chemistry plays an integral part in our understanding of these processes and interactions.

This module is designed to stimulate your interest in chemistry, and to increase your knowledge and understanding of chemical principles through exploring the natural and ‘synthetic’ world. You will study important concepts in physical, inorganic, organic and biological chemistry and explore how these concepts shape our understanding of the world around us.

The module is delivered entirely online; audio, video and interactive activities are integrated throughout the module texts. The module is based on ten topics with a particular focus on the three main themes underlying the module: chemistry in the natural world, and chemical reactivity: molecular design and synthesis. An understanding of the chemical processes that take place in the natural world, the focus of the first theme, is vital for the development and production of modern materials, medicine, and so on, the focus of the second theme. Key to both is an understanding of the structure of molecules and materials, and so this is explored in a third theme, related to structural determination.

Theme 1: Chemistry in the natural world
Knowledge of the role that chemistry plays in living systems is vital, both in understanding life processes themselves and in the treatment of disease. Similarly, knowledge of how pH and pKa plays a role in the interactivity and reactivity of chemical species present in solution, is critical in our understanding of the natural environment. Furthermore, an appreciation of atmospheric chemistry is important to rationalise climate change and the development of materials for pollution control.

Through this theme you will explore:

  • how the structure of a protein influences the function that it plays in living systems
  • the influence of pH on the chemical species present in solution and its significance on solubility, metal complexation and speciation, both in the environment and the body
  • how metal ions are acquired by living systems from the environment, how they transported and ultimately how they are stored
  • the roles that metal ions play in processes in the body, from communication to metabolism and their importance in metalloproteins, a class of proteins containing metal ions within their structure, such as iron in haemoglobin
  • atmospheric chemistry, in particular how materials released into the air by human activities can alter the natural system.

Theme 2: Chemical reactivity: molecular design and synthesis
The guiding principles that govern whether, how and under what conditions substances will react with one another are of central importance in all areas of chemistry. They impact in many ways on modern life, from the production of vital everyday materials – drugs, fuels, plastics, fertilisers – to the control of pollution in our environment.

The principles derive from two of the most important cornerstones of physical chemistry: thermodynamics and chemical kinetics. A key aim of the module is to examine the practical consequences that arise as a direct result of the interplay between these two fundamental concepts.

Through this theme you will explore:

  • the steps involved in chemical reactions at the molecular level (the mechanism)
  • the processes involved in catalysis, particularly at solid surfaces where the world market for solid catalysts is immense, and in enzymes which elegantly catalyse reactions in the body
  • how drug molecules interact with molecular targets such as enzymes and other proteins, one of the key drivers behind much of the design and development of new drugs
  • the factors that are important in the design of molecules and materials for a range of applications, from organic molecules in drugs, metal complexes in medical diagnostics and therapy, to the ‘catalytic convertors’ used to control exhaust emissions
  • the wide range of reactions in use today for the synthesis of organic compounds with specified structures and stereochemistry, in chemical research and in industry; the choice of reaction, reactants and reaction conditions

Theme 3: Structural determination
The structure of a molecule, be it a protein or a drug, is integral to its function. Similarly, in an effort to optimise the performance of solid catalysts, the ability to characterise the surface and study the interactions of molecules with the surface is important.

Through this theme you will explore:

  • the methods used to determine the structure of a protein
  • the techniques which can be used to understand the chemistry taking place at metal centres within proteins
  • the theoretical basis and application of NMR spectroscopy, a key technique used to determine the structure of organic and inorganic molecules
  • the techniques used to examine the surface of solid materials and species adsorbed on the surface.

Scientific skills
In addition, at appropriate points in your studies you will undertake activities to develop your scientific skills through a mixture of onscreen practical investigations and scientific literacy activities. Use is made of online databases, both those available through the library to investigate the scientific literature, as well as external sites such as the RCSB Protein Data Bank and associated visualisation tools/software.

You will learn

The module aims to develop your knowledge and understanding of:

  • protein structure and function
  • how pH and pKa influences interactivity and reactivity of chemical species
  • the roles that metals and their complexes play in living systems and in medicinal applications
  • chemical reaction mechanisms, particularly in the context of atmospheric chemistry and catalysis
  • how molecules can be designed
  • the synthesis of organic molecules
  • characterisation techniques to determine the structure of proteins, organic and inorganic molecules and surfaces

In addition, scientific skills such as critical analysis, problem solving, scientific literacy and exploration of scientific databases will be developed.

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 chemistry obtained through:

  • OU level 2 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Are you ready for S315?

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed either:

What's included

This module does not have any printed material. All the teaching and assessment materials are embedded within, or linked to from, the texts of the module, which are accessed via a dedicated website.

Downloadable ebook versions of the study texts for each topic are also available.

You will need

A scientific calculator.

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). Any macOS is unsuitable with this module.

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 (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 the BSc (Honours) Chemistry (R59). If you’re not studying towards the chemistry degree, 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 SS031 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 S315 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

Chemistry: further concepts and applications (S315) 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 2027.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)

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