The University of Southampton

CHEM1039 Biological Chemistry

Module Overview

This module seeks to provide students with the fundamentals of the chemistry that underpins the biological sciences.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

This module provides the student with the fundamental chemical principles necessary to understand the chemistry of biological systems. The module will cover two key areas. Firstly, it will provide an introduction to thermodynamics, electrochemistry and chemical kinetics in relation to biological systems. Secondly, it will provide an introduction to atomic and molecular structure leading to a description of the reactivity of the function groups and a introduction to reaction mechanisms.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand the concepts underpinning thermodynamics including enthalpy, entropy and free energy and be able use these concepts
  • Understand the principles behind spectroscopy (using absorption spectroscopy as an example). Describe how spectroscopy can be used to determine the concentration of an absorbing species (Beers Law).
  • Explain what an acid and base is and understand their use in buffered solutions
  • Electrochemistry. a. Explain the role of electron transfer in oxidation/reduction reactions. b. Understand how the electrode potential is measured. c. Appreciate how the Nernst equation relates the electrode potential to the concentration of the redox components d. Explain how electrochemical reactions can be made under reversible conditions to allow the accurate determination of thermodynamic parameters.
  • Explain key concepts behind atomic and molecular structure
  • Describe molecular structure, isomers and chirality
  • Identify key functional groups present in biological system and understand their chemistry
  • Basic knowledge in organic reactions.
  • Chemical Kinetics. a. Collision Theory/Transition State Theory b. Describe how the rate of a reaction is dependent on the concentration of reactants according to it rate equation. c. Explain why for single step reaction the rate increases with temperature, and how using the Arrhenius equation this allows the determination of the activation energy.
  • Radioactivity. Describe alpha, beta and gamma decay, and use this to predict decay series. Understand the concepts of a radioactive half-life and how it is calculated. Be familiar with the use of these isotopes in biology and the types of protection required for their use.


The syllabus will cover the following areas: 1) Understand the principles underlying atomic and molecular structure 2) Identification of functional groups and understand their reactivity 3) Understand the properties of acids and bases and their use in buffers 4) Basic concepts underpinning the thermodynamics of biological systems 5) Reaction kinetics 6) Radioactivity 7) Basics of spectroscopy

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module will be delivered through a combination of lectures supported with online self-help in which the students have a 'chat room' style environment to share ideas and help each other.

Preparation for scheduled sessions40
Follow-up work58
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Crowe and Bradshaw. Chemistry for the Biosciences. 

Price, Dwek, Ratcliffe and Wormald. Principles and Problems in Physical Chemistry for Biochemists. 

Clayden et al. Organic Chemistry. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (2 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (2 hours) 50%
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