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Unit information: Life Chemistry: Life through the chemical lens in 2022/23

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing, student choice and timetabling constraints.

Unit name Life Chemistry: Life through the chemical lens
Unit code CHEM10012
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Bedford
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Chemistry
Faculty Faculty of Science


The aims of the course are tailored in order to start equipping chemistry students with the knowledge and skills to be able to address key societal challenges in life and environmental sciences. These are:

  • To set the scene for life chemistry, with an emphasis on the role of chemistry and chemists in life sciences from the molecules, through organisms to the environment.
  • To introduce the key chemical components of life.
  • To illustrate a broad range of impacts that chemistry has on life and the environment through a series of ‘stories’ that build upon the principles taught within the chemical components section.
  • To develop students’ ability to formulate verbal and written arguments and analyse and critique the work of their peers.

These aims will be addressed by three separate taught components of the course, as detailed below as well as the tutorial and assessment work (outlined in the ‘Intended Learning Outcomes’ and ‘Assessment’ sections, below).

1. An introduction to life chemistry – the ‘big picture’ (3 lectures):
(i) the chemical origins of life
(ii) from the organism to molecular components: the role of chemistry
(iii) life chemistry beyond the organism: environmental impacts

2. An introduction to the chemical components of life (8 lecture equivalents):
(i) amino acids and protein structure
(ii) lipids and containment
(iii) nucleic acids: coding life
(iv) sugars: energy and structure
(v) water, the universal solvent

3. Life chemistry stories (21 lecture equivalents):
(i) ‘omics’: chemical information in biology from genes to organisms
(ii) penicillins: from mould to medical marvel
(iii) carbohydrates, the sweet building blocks of life
(iv) acetylcholinesterase: from the Amazon to Alzheimer’s
(v) poisoning: can good come from harm?
(vi) feeding the world: when nitrogenase isn’t enough
(vii) is there life on Mars?
(viii) ozone: the unhealthy shield
(ix) climate change: past, present and future

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students will be able to:

  1. Describe and identify the structure of the key chemical components of life, and explain their function.
  2. Articulate an understanding of real-world examples of life chemistry.
  3. Formulate, appraise and critique verbal and written arguments about life chemistry.
  4. Synthesise ideas into a written narrative articulating a life chemistry 'story'.

Teaching details

In the components 2 and 3, we have deliberately used the term ‘lecture equivalents’. Chemistry units are often taught using traditional lectures delivered by single academics. This unit will diverge from that format; there will be significantly more team teaching – no one academic will be delivering more than two ‘lecture equivalents’ at a time and the academics will be encouraged to adopt alternative, evidence-based teaching approaches that help facilitate active learning, affording the best possible learning opportunities for the students. The unit will employ a blended learning approach involving a mixture of lecture, online resources, individual student-led enquiry and team-based student led enquiry. In addition to the 32 hours of ‘lecture equivalents’ two further lectures will focus on how to prepare the materials for assessment.

Summary of approximate student workload:

Self-study and continuous assessment: 164 hours

Lectures/lecture equivalents: 34 hours

Tutorials/workshops: 2 x 1 hour

Total: 200 hours

Assessment Details

Assessment for this unit consists of one formative assessment and three summative assessments, outlined below.

Formative assessment: an MCQ test focusing on the ‘chemical components of life’ part of the unit. This activity will support students’ ability to describe and identify the roles of the chemical components on life chemistry. This supports ILO 1.

Summative assessment 1: (20%) small group (4-5) teamwork in which each student will present, for discussion by the group, a brief verbal synopsis of a key concept drawn from the ‘big picture’ lectures. This activity will assess students in appraising and critiquing a verbal argument. This assesses student’s progress against ILOs 2 and 3.

Summative assessment 2: (20%) small group (4-5) teamwork, in which the students will prepare a short (300 word max.) synopsis of the idea developed in Summative assessment 1. This will be submitted ahead of the workshop, and all students will be expected to read and feedback on each other’s work during the workshop. This activity will support students in creating a written argument, assess their ability to explain a concept in a succinct manner and assess the appraisal and critiquing of others written contributions. This assesses student’s progress against ILOs 2 and 3.

Summative assessment 3: (60%) a written assignment, with titles selected from the ‘Life Chemistry Stories’ component of the unit. This assesses student’s progress against ILOs 1, 2 and 4.

Reading and References

No specific resources