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    An undergraduate course.

The molecular world

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Chemistry is of enormous importance in everyday life: almost everything we are, see, make and eat is composed of molecules. This course offers a wide-ranging introduction to chemistry and its applications, integrating the three main branches of chemistry: organic, inorganic, and physical. It covers the reactions of metals; the solid state; molecular shapes; thermodynamics; kinetics; the synthesis of organic compounds; spectroscopic methods of determining structure; bonding theory; periodic trends and non-metals. Multimedia materials provide interactive teaching of key concepts. Nine case studies cover topics of current interest including polymers, batteries, catalysis, drug design, liquid crystals, and forensic science.

Modules at Level 2 assume that you are suitably prepared for study at this level. If you want to take a single module to satisfy your career development needs or pursue particular interests, you don’t need to start at Level 1 but you do need to have adequately prepared yourself for OU study in some other way. Check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service to make sure that you are sufficiently prepared.

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No current presentation - see Future availability

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2013.

What you will study

The course provides a broad foundation in chemistry, introducing its fundamental ideas, principles and techniques. It also demonstrates the central role of chemistry in science and the importance of a molecular approach in biology and Earth sciences. The course develops an integrated approach, with themes in organic, inorganic and physical chemistry set in the context of chemistry as a whole. The examples have been chosen to illustrate the importance of chemistry in the natural world and in industry. Nine case studies show how chemistry impinges on topics of social and scientific interest.

Books 1 and 2, Introducing the molecular world, survey the role and scope of chemistry and illustrate its central role in science and its application to diverse areas, from biological systems to new technology.

Book 3, The third dimension, explores the arrangements of atoms in molecules and in different types of solid. The concepts of lattices and unit cells are introduced. Metal structures are discussed in terms of close-packing of spheres, and this is extended to show how simple ionic structures can be built up from close-packed structures. It looks at molecular structures and the stereochemistry of organic molecules.

Book 4, Metals and chemical change, opens with the structure and reactions of metals. The industrial extractions of mercury, tin and aluminium are discussed, and the concept of an activity series of metals is introduced. This idea is also examined quantitatively using thermodynamic concepts. Enthalpy, entropy and Gibbs free energy are discussed, and Born-Haber cycles, lattice energies, and redox potential also play a part in the analysis.

Book 5, Chemical kinetics and mechanism, considers the role of the rate of reaction, and starts with an introduction to chemical kinetics. The rate equations are developed as an activity on a DVD-ROM. It goes on to introduce the functional group concept of a group of atoms within a molecule that display particular chemical properties, and the common reaction mechanisms of organic substitution and elimination reactions are discussed.

Book 6, Molecular modelling and bonding, asks why molecules adopt particular shapes and whether we can predict what shape a molecule will adopt. Atomic and molecular orbitals and band theory are covered. We take a pictorial rather than a purely mathematical approach to quantum mechanics.

Book 7, Alkenes and aromatics, continues the examination of organic reaction mechanisms started in Book 5, with a discussion of addition reactions. This is followed by a detailed look at aromatic substitution reactions. The book ends with a first look at organic synthesis, in which the planning and execution of the synthesis of the drug pseudoephedrine are considered in some detail.

Book 8, Separation, identification and purification, looks at methods for separating and purifying chemical compounds, then discusses the spectroscopic techniques used to determine the nature and structure of a compound. The techniques include mass spectrometry, infrared and Raman spectroscopy and NMR. Vibrational spectroscopy and NMR are taught using DVD-ROM programs.

Book 9, Elements of the p Block, covers the descriptive chemistry of the non-metallic elements, beginning with hydrogen, the halogens, and the noble gases. The book explores trends in the Periodic Table, both down groups and across periods, and uses elements from Groups III–VI: boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, aluminium, silicon, phosphorus and sulfur as illustration. The role of these elements in agriculture, industry, and everyday life is used to illustrate their chemistry.

Book 10, Mechanism and synthesis, pursues possible strategies for synthesising (mainly) organic compounds, particularly those of interest to the pharmaceutical and related industries. You learn how to plan a set of reactions that will lead to a desired product; for example, the compound responsible for the scent of a flower. The importance of overall yield reaction and the cost of starting materials are emphasised.


This is a Level 2 course and you need to have a good knowledge of the subject area, obtained either through Level 1 study with the OU, or by doing equivalent work at another university.

You are expected to have some background knowledge of chemistry, biology, physics and Earth sciences. Our key introductory Level 1 course, Exploring science (S104) would be ideal preparation for this course. 

It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle the course, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. The Science Faculty has produced some interactive material Are You Ready For S205? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the course, or whether you need extra preparation. This can be viewed as an interactive program for PC or printed as a PDF from the Are you ready for Science? website. 

Your regional or national centre will also be able to tell you where you can see reference copies of S104. Even if you have some background scientific knowledge, we advise you to read the chemistry in Book 4 of S104.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

If you would like to do some background reading, these introductory textbooks are helpful:

Burrows A, Holman J, Parsons A, Pilling G, and Price G (2009) Chemistry3: introducing inorganic, organic and physical chemistry. Oxford University Press

Atkins, Peter and Jones, Loretta  (5th edition 2010), Chemical Principles: The Quest for Insight, W.H.Freeman

Kotz J. C, Treichel P, Weaver G.C  (8th edition 2011) Chemistry and Chemical Reactivity, Saunders College Publishing


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

If you have severely impaired sight or manual dexterity, you may find some parts of the course challenging. You can obtain the voice-over on each DVD-ROM as a text file on the screen. The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Written transcripts are available for the audio-visual material. The written study material is available in comb-bound format. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

You will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer and the internet. If you have concerns about taking this course please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service for advice. 

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Services for disabled students website for more information, including:

  • help to determine your study requirements and how to request the support that you need  
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
  • using a computer for OU study
  • equipment and other support services that we offer
  • examination arrangements
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

Course books, a website which delivers additional study materials, online resources and forum, other printed materials, DVD-ROMs and molecular model kit.

You will need

Scientific calculator. Broadband internet access is recommended.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some course software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2007 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device is not suitable for this course – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this course by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information including the details of the support we provide.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. Your tutor will also offer support through email and online tutorials which you are encouraged to participate. The course forum will provide continuous study support and act as a virtual self-help group.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with the OU before you register.


The assessment details for this course can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

The details given here are for the course that starts in October 2013 when it will be available for the last time.

How to register

We regret that we are currently unable to accept registrations for this course. Where the course is to be presented again in the future, relevant registration information will be displayed on this page as soon as it becomes available.

Student Reviews

“Don't underestimate the amount of reading involved with this one. There's 10 main course books but also quite a lot ...”
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“This was an enjoyable course and I am now a significantly better chemist as a result. It covers a wide ...”
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Distance learning

The Open University is the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you’re at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you’ll be supported throughout your studies – your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information read Distance learning explained.

Are you already an OU student ? Go to StudentHome for information on choosing your next module.
Course facts
About this course:
Course code S205
Credits 60
OU Level 2
SCQF level 9
FHEQ level 5
Course work includes:
6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
2 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
No residential school

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