Chemistry Principles and the Environment module description

  • An introduction to the key concepts from chemistry that are fundamental to an understanding of the way environmental systems and processes operate.

    Key topics include isotopes, chemical bonding, mineral structures and properties, equilibria and kinetics, and water chemistry. Emphasis throughout is placed on application of concepts, to prepare students for the second year.

    • Elements, atoms, atomic number and mass number, isotopes, atomic mass, radioactive decay and the half-life, stable isotopes in climate reconstruction, radiometric dating
    • The origin of the elements, elemental abundances
    • The periodic table, electronegativity, formation of ions and ionic bonding, covalent bonding and Lewis structures, oxidation numbers, chemical formulae, reactions and equations
    • Chemical amount and concentration, the mole, parts per million and partial pressures
    • Chemical equilibria, enthalpy, entropy, Gibbs free energy, the equilibrium constant, Le Chatelier’s Principle, kinetics, activation energy, catalysts
    • Water chemistry: hydrogen bonding, the phase diagram of water, density characteristics, anomalous boiling and melting points, specific hear capacity, latent heat of evaporation/condensation, surface tension, water as a solvent, ionic potential and solubility, solubility products and saturation
    • Acids and bases: strong and weak acids, the ion product of water, pH, the carbonate system and buffering
    • The structure of silicate minerals, clay minerals, isomorphous substitution, ion exchange and soil fertility
    • Environmental systems: energy flows and cycles of material, open, closed and isolated systems, biogeochemical cycles and box models
    • Laboratory practicals on the determination of salinity in natural waters, the spectrophotometric determination of phosphate, reaction kinetics, and investigating the buffering capacity of river water
    • Box modelling mathematical workshop.

    On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

    1. apply basic concepts from chemistry to the study of environmental systems and processes
    2. apply numerical problem-solving skills to the study of chemistry, particularly in an environmental context
    3. use standard laboratory equipment, instrumentation and techniques competently and safely to pursue a simple chemistry-based scientific investigation
    4. record the progress of a simple scientific investigation using a laboratory notebook
    5. acquire and interpret experimental data.

    The lecture course covers the fundamental concepts and introduces students to the quantitative and problem-solving aspects of the module. These are reinforced in the three problem classes and a box modelling workshop.

    The four laboratory practical classes are timed to reinforce and extend ideas and understanding introduced in the lectures. In addition they introduce students to safe and competent working in a chemistry laboratory and to some fundamental procedures and instrumentation. 

    Lectures Practicals Seminars Tutorials Fieldwork Other Assessment
    20 9 8       50% coursework
    50% examination


     The coursework (50%) comprises:

    • Laboratory notebook (40%)
    • Box model workshop write up (10%)