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    An undergraduate course.

Practical science: chemistry and analysis

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The activities in this practical science course explore a range of topics in chemistry and analytical science from fundamental synthesis and analysis to the vital themes of water and biochemistry. It will give you the opportunity to use a range of laboratory equipment, much of it via the internet from the comfort of your own home, in various combinations of observation and experiment. Or you can choose to go to a three-day residential school – the cost of accommodation and travel is not included in the course fee. The course ends with an exciting team project, where you will work with students from other courses in this Practical science series.

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.

Register for the course

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No current presentation - see Future availability

This course is expected to start for the last time in February 2014.

What you will study

Scientific enquiry, whether in the field or in the laboratory, proceeds through objective observation and experimentation: the questions ’why?’ and ’how?’ are explored through interactions and tests inspired by ’what if ....?’. Skilled practical scientists reveal underlying relationships by devising questions that can be addressed safely; they report effectively and critically evaluate their findings. By studying this course you will develop these skills that are essential for practical work.

You will carry out four practical activities that you can do online and in and around your own home. 

  • NMR: molecules and imaging
  • water quality monitoring
  • drug metabolism and genetic variation
  • formation and habitability of planets.

Alternatively when you register, you could choose the following four activities which include a residential school based at a university chemistry laboratory. Please note that there are limited spaces available; additional costs involved; and the residential school activity may not be suitable for all students

  • NMR: molecules and imaging
  • water quality monitoring
  • drug metabolism and genetic variation
  • laboratory chemistry (residential school – subject to available places).

1. NMR: molecules and imaging – In this activity you will explore the fundamentals of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. After learning the basics of the technique, by measuring frequency-intensity data, you will investigate the 1H NMR spectroscopy of simple organic molecules, spin-spin coupling and correlation charts. You will complete this activity by exploring the fundamental relationship between proton resonance frequency and magnetic field strength and investigating key features of MR imaging. In a remote control experiment, you will be able to establish the key principles of spatial localisation in one dimension. In an interactive screen experiment, you will discover how to measure a spin-lattice relaxation time. As a result, you will be able to appreciate key features (localisation and contrast) of a MR medical image. This activity is interdisciplinary and combines aspects of chemistry and physics.

2. Water quality monitoring – At the start of this activity you will carry out a water survey at a local pond or river, based on a subjective assessment and an analysis of the aquatic invertebrates present. You will then complete a series of online investigations and interactive screen experiments to:

  • measure the total hardness of water samples by performing titrations
  • determine the nitrate levels in samples of river water in which you prepare a calibration curve using a spectrophotometric method
  • work out which pesticides are present in a given water sample using a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry system
  • look at the microbiological safety of drinking water using a variety of standard methods.

You’ll also collect data over a week-long period, via a webcam, to determine the biological oxygen demand and the rate constant for the uptake of oxygen used in the breakdown of organic material by microorganisms present in water. This topic is interdisciplinary and combines aspects of environmental science, chemistry and biology.

3. Drug metabolism and genetic variation – A person’s genotype determines how quickly a drug is metabolised, influencing its effectiveness. In this activity you’ll complete a series of online experiments and interactive screen experiments to identify the structure and concentrations of drug metabolites for nortriptyline, an antidepressant drug. You will relate this to the frequency of the population with different genotypes, determined by using biological analytical techniques. To discover the concentration, you will carry out an online experiment using UV-Vis spectroscopy. Using an online polymerase chain reaction experiment, you’ll determine the frequency of gene variants within a population of 100 people. You will select suitable primers, controls and concentrations. Next you will use NMR spectroscopy to determine the metabolic pathway for nortriptyline by exploring its structures and major metabolite. Finally, you will conduct an online investigation of a subset of the 100 samples. Using liquid chromatography, you’ll identify which genotypes are rapid, normal, slow or superslow metabolisers. This topic is interdisciplinary and combines aspects of chemistry and biology.

4. For the final practical activity you will have a choice from the following options when you register.

Non-residential activity – Formation and habitability of planets – How do planets form? What makes a planet capable of hosting life? How we can tell? These are the exciting questions that science is now beginning to answer. You can get a feel for the challenges, pleasures and pitfalls of planetary science in this activity. After completing the necessary background, you will examine meteorites to extract evidence for how planets began to grow, and study detailed images of parts of Mars (obtained from orbit) to design a strategy for a lander mission intended to search for signs of life. This activity is interdisciplinary and combines aspects of geology, planetary science, astronomy, physics, environmental science, and biology.

Residential activity – Laboratory chemistry – This activity is centred on an optional three-day residential school at a university chemistry laboratory. You will carry out a range of pre-laboratory activities exploring the different techniques that you will encounter, in order to maximise your time in the laboratory. You will also be expected to complete risk assessments for the chemical substances to be used. Experiments will include:

  • preparation of a copper-glycinate complex and subsequent spectrophotometric analysis using UV-Vis spectroscopy to determine the number of glycine ligands in the complex
  • preparation of N-benzylbenzamide involving the initial reaction of benzylamine with benzoyl chloride, recrystallisation melting-point determination and preparation of a Nujol mull for IR spectroscopy
  • study of acid/base equilibria involving the standardisation of a sodium hydroxide solution, a strong acid-base titration and determination of the pKa of acetic acid
  • preparation of triphenylmethanol involving the initial preparation of phenylmagnesium bromide (under reflux) then the preparation, separation and extraction of the triphenylmethanol and its subsequent analysis using TLC and melting-point determination
  • preparation of tin bromide.

We recommend that you register early if you wish to study this activity as the number of places is limited. See the Residential school section below for more details.

Method of study

During the course you will be required to use your own personal computer to access experiments and data, and to analyse and report results for the non-residential activities. You should be prepared to set aside several periods of up to half a day for completing some of the tasks. Therefore, to study this course successfully, you must be able to study regularly (for 8-10 hours per week) and have broadband access to the internet (for up to 4 hours per week) throughout the duration of the course.

Some tasks within the course will require scheduled interactions either with equipment or with your tutor group. Therefore this course may not be suitable for you if you are often unavailable for study for more than a week at a time. The end-of-module assessment (team project) will require working online in a group during the month of September, and if you are unavailable for study, or do not have regular access to a broadband internet connection, for more than a week during this time you may not be able to complete the course satisfactorily.

Team project

At the end of the course you will join a multidisciplinary team to complete a short project on contemporary practical science. You’ll work collaboratively with students from other courses in this Practical science series, using a variety of communication methods, including scheduled online forums.  Experience of this kind of professional teamwork is highly regarded by many employers.

Other practical science courses in this series

You must study one of the courses in this series as the practical element of our BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences and Diploma of Higher Education in Natural Sciences.

You will learn

The practical skills developed in this course include:

  • planning and conducting observations and experiments
  • data handling
  • data presentation
  • report writing
  • safe working
  • professional team-working.

You will catalogue evidence of your achievement of these in a Skills Portfolio that forms part of the assessment.

Vocational relevance

While studying a variety of interesting topics, this course will develop your problem-solving abilities, team working and use of computers for learning and communication. All these skills are likely to be useful in a work context, particularly for jobs requiring a precise and quantitative approach.

Residential school

The optional laboratory-based residential school on this course, Laboratory chemistry, is run by Bristol University on behalf of The Open University. The three-day programme will be offered on a single date in late July/early August. Places are limited and available on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis, so we recommend that you register as early as you can.

There is no accommodation provided for this residential school. You may stay wherever you choose. You will also need to provide your own breakfast and evening meals. The costs of your accommodation and your travel to the venue are not included in the course fee, even if you are eligible for financial support or funding your study with a Tuition Fee Loan.

More information is available from our residential schools website.


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

To complete this course successfully you do need some basic mathematical skills and experience of practical observations and measurements in a scientific context. An appropriate level of mathematical and scientific knowledge can be obtained by studying Exploring science (S104) and either Investigative and mathematical skills in science (S141) or Scientific investigations (S155) plus appropriate Level 2 courses.

You should have completed at least 60 credits of Level 2 study in the chemical and analytical sciences before starting this course. We recommend that you study SXC288 as the final Level 2 module of your degree.

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

Outside the UK

This course is open to students based outside the UK.


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

Study material will be delivered entirely online and will include printable versions of web pages for students to use should they wish. Some Adobe PDF components may not be fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical and scientific materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Students with hearing impairments may have difficulty participating in the audio conferences but should be able to participate fully in online forum discussions. Written transcripts of audio- and audio-visual clips will be included in the study materials. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

Some aspects of this course are not fully accessible to all visually impaired students and studying them will require extra time and possibly use of a sighted helper. Students with manual dexterity problems may need assistance to complete some experiments. 

As the course is primarily web-based, you will need to make extensive use of a computer and the internet. If you use mobile technology, or specialist hardware or software to assist you in operating a computer or with the types of material outlined above you are advised to talk to the Student Registration & Enquiry Service about the support available to meet your needs.

The residential school Laboratory chemistry may be challenging if your sight is severely impaired because of the essentially visual nature of the investigations and the observational skills required. Students with manual dexterity impairment may also find the residential school challenging. The laboratories are accessible to wheelchair users, but wheelchair users or those who are blind or partially sighted will need an assistant. Teaching sessions run from 08:30 each day and finish at 17:00 on the final day of your school.

The venue will make every effort to accommodate additional requirements if they have sufficient notice but please note that it might not always be possible to fully meet your needs. It is therefore essential that you read the venue information on the residential schools website, and make contact with the residential venue before selecting this activity.

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
  • residential school arrangements, including the support and equipment available
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

Study and assessment materials will be delivered online.

The costs of the residential school accommodation, and your travel to the venue, are not included in the course fee, even if you are eligible for financial support or funding your study with a Tuition Fee Loan. See the Residential school section above for details.

You will need

Broadband internet access is required for the non-residential activities and a digital camera is also highly desirable to record images of your work.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course as it includes online activities, for use with a web browser. There is also software to download and install on your computer.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2007 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device you may have difficulties with some software, 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 your general progress, and whom you can ask for academic advice and guidance. In addition, each practical activity will be supported by specialist tutors.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University 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 February 2014 when it will be available for the last time.

A new 60-credit course is planned from October 2014, Chemistry: essential concepts (S215), which integrates practical activities with theory. These activities will involve online interactive exercises but may also offer a residential option during which you can take part in laboratory-based activities.

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.

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 SXC288
Credits 30
OU Level 2
SCQF level 9
FHEQ level 5
Course work includes:
5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
4 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment
Includes residential school

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