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The University of Southampton

CHEM2010 Organic Chemistry in the Environment

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain concepts of major biomolecules.
  • Describe methods for extraction, separation, purification and analysis of organic environmental pollutants, using crude oil and pesticides as key examples.
  • Describe the biosynthesis of major biomolecules.
  • Describe the degradation of biomolecules.
  • Apply organic chemistry principles to explain chemistry of biomolecules.
  • Discuss the need for and environmental impact of common pesticides (insecticides and herbicides).
  • Describe the composition and environmental impact of crude oil spills.
  • Describe the biological mechanisms of action of common pesticides.
  • Explain the chemical synthesis of common pesticides, with detailed reaction mechanisms where appropriate.
  • Discuss the mechanisms of chemical and biochemical degradation of common pesticides.


Introduction to Organic Molecules in the Environment. The course begins by describing the chemical structure and properties of several important families of organic compounds that occur in the natural enviroment. These include carbohydrates, proteins (including enzymes), fatty acids, terpenes and lignins. Aspects covered will include the naming and chemical structure, functional groups and biochemical roles and their biosynthesis. The following biosynthetic transformations will be covered: polysaccharides from monosaccharides; D-glucose from carbon dioxide; the plant polymer lignin from cinnamic acids Fate of Organic Molecules in the Environment The second section describes the degradation of organic molecules in the environment. The chemical stability of organic molecules and the chemistry of their breakdown is discussed. The biochemical mechansims that degrade organic molecules and recycle them, including glycosidases, protease and lipases and fatty acid catabolism are discussed. The chemistry of biological oxidations in mammalian and microbial systems is described. The carbon cycle and the formation of coal oil and gas is discussed. Man’s discovery of oil and gas reserves depends on our ability to determine their presence and quality in geological formations. Man-made Materials in the Environment The third section of the course includes a discussion of man-made environmental pollution, including concepts of chemical toxicity, biomagnification and persistence. Six classes of compounds will be studied: organophosphorus and carbamate insecticides, organochlorine insecticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins and herbicides. The chemistry, biological activity and environmental consequences of use of each class will be described including the structures, chemical synthesis, mode of action, enviromental impact and associated problems, mechanisms of dispersal and highlighting some solutions to environmental problems. Pollution in the Environment and Modern Analytical Methods The final section of the course will show how extraction methods and modern trace analysis (gas and liquid chromatography), when used in combination with mass spectrometry, can be employed to investigate the persistence and breakdown of organic pollutants in the environment. Examples and case studies used will draw on the topics covered in the earlier sections of the course.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, problem-solving Seminars with group working and tutor support

Follow-up work70
Preparation for scheduled sessions38
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Clayden, Greeves, Warren and Wothers. Organic Chemistry. 

R P Schwarzenbach, P M Gschwend and D M Imboden (2002). Environmental Organic Chemistry. 

S D Killops and V J Killops (2004). An Introduction to Organic Geochemistry. 

J Mann (1987). Secondary Metabolism. 

G W van Loon and S J Duffy (2000). Environmental Chemistry: A Global Perspective. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Final Assessment  100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Final Assessment  100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Pre-requisites: CHEM1031 AND CHEM1032

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