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The University of Southampton

BIOL1026 Chemistry of Life

Module Overview

This module seeks to provide students with the fundamentals of the chemistry that underpins the biological sciences. Educational 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 reaction mechanisms that are found in biological systems. It will provide an introduction to the role of metal ions in biology and an to the principles and application of spectroscopy. Outline Syllabus: The topics will be taught in two parallel strands with one hour lectures in each strand each week. Strand 1 could be broadly identified as organic chemistry while strand 2 deals with physical Chemistry. Semester 1: 1) Understand the principles underlying atomic and molecular structure (Strand 1) 2) Identification of functional groups and understand their reactivity (Strand 1) 3) Understand the properties of acids and bases and their use in buffers (Strand 1) 4) Basic concepts underpinning the thermodynamics of biological systems (Strand 2) 5) Ligand binding to macromolecules (Strand 2) 6) Radioactivity (Strand 2) Semester 2: 7) Reactions that underpin biological chemistry and reaction mechanisms (Strand 1) 8) Metal ions in Biology (Strand 1) 9) The thermodynamic properties of gases and solutions, including the concept of chemical potential (Strand 2) 10) The properties of ions in solution, osmosis and the Donnan effect (Strand 2) 11) Reaction kinetics (Strand 2) 12) Application of spectroscopy to biomolecules (Strand 2) Teaching and Learning Methods: The module will be delivered through a combination of lectures supported by a series of weekly computer-based worksheets and a series of workshops. A help desk will support students completing the computer-based worksheets

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Understand the concepts underpinning thermodynamics and be able use these concepts including a) enthalpy, entropy and free energy b) chemical potential and its relevance in biology c) Determine how ions behave in solution (ideal solutions, ionic strength) d) Understand thermodynamics of ligand binding and how it can be used.
  • 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 including isomers and chirality
  • 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.
  • Understand the principles underlying spectroscopy and be familiar their uses.
  • 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.
  • Explain the main reaction mechanisms found in Biological Chemistry
  • Understand the properties of free radicals and their reactions
  • Role of metal ions in biology


Thermodynamics Molecular Structure Types of reactions and mechanisms Acids, bases and buffers Reaction kinetics Metals in Biology Introduction to spectropcopy

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures Workshops Computer assisted learning

Total study time60



MethodPercentage contribution
Written assessment 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Written assessment 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


there are no additional costs associated with this module

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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