Soft Matter Chemistry

Unit code: CHEM30212
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 3
Teaching period(s): Semester 2
Offered by School of Chemistry
Available as a free choice unit?: N




To provide the students with a detailed understanding of surface chemistry and modern polymer chemistry. Students will learn about the colloidal state, electrified interfaces and electrochemical energy storage. They will also learn about the relationship between polymer structure and properties. Students will develop an appreciation of the importance of polymer chemistry, electrochemistry and surface chemistry in a range of applications.


Surfaces & Interfaces

Prof Andrew Horn

  • Basic structure and properties of solid surfaces (solid structures, unit cells, Miller indices, surfaces of compounds and surface coordination numbers)
  • Surface reactivity (electronic structure of surfaces, bonding to surfaces, physisorption and chemisorption, mechanisms of surface reactions, thermodynamics at surfaces)
  • Surface kinetics (rates of adsorption and desorption, equilibrium coverage, simple isotherms, competing reactions)
  • Liquid surfaces: surface tension, adsorption & surface activity
  • Gibbs adsorption isotherm & surface pressure

Colloids & Electrochemistry

Prof Robert Dryfe

  • Micelles
  • Colloids examples & stabilisation
  • DLVO & Gouy-Chapman theories
  • The double layer at electrode surfaces
  • Dynamic electrochemistry and electrode kinetics
  • Energy conversion & storage fuel cells, supercapacitors, batteries.

Physical properties of Polymers

Prof Peter Budd

  • History of polymers; natural polymers; synthetic polymers.
  • Physical states of polymers; glass transition temperature; rubber elasticity; high free volume glassy polymers.
  • Crystalline melting point; crystal structure; polymer stereochemistry; polymer single crystals; morphology of semi-crystalline polymers.
  • Distributions of molar mass; average molar masses.
  • Gel permeation chromatography (GPC).
  • Dilute solution viscometry; Mark-Houwink relationship; universal calibration for GPC.
  • Radical chain polymerization: dependence of rate of polymerization and of degree of polymerization on initiator concentration.

Learning outcomes

 Students should be able to:

Knowledge and understanding

  • Explain the basis of chemical bonding of atoms and molecules to solid surfaces
  • Describe the thermodynamics and kinetics of gas/surface interactions
  • Understand the basis of surface tension and surface pressure
  • Explain the mechanisms of stabilization of colloidal systems.
  • Understand the importance of electrified interfaces in surface stabilization and energy conversion
  • Understand the distinction between the glass, rubber and crystalline states of polymers.
  • Understand that polymers are normally encountered as mixtures of molecules of different sizes.
  • Describe some applications of polymers and understand which polymers are suitable for which applications and why.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

 Skills developed in this module include: analytical skills, problem solving skills, numeracy and mathematical skills, and investigative (literature) skills.

Assessment methods

  • Written exam - 100%

Recommended reading


  • Surface Science: Foundations of Catalysis and Nanoscience by Kurt W. Kolasinski, John Wiley and Sons, Ltd, ISBN 9781119990352
  • Surfaces by Gary Attard and Colin Barnes, Oxford Chemistry Primers, ISBN 9780198556862
  • R.J. Hunter, Introduction to Modern Colloid Science, 1993, OUP
  • D.J Shaw, Introduction to Colloid and Surface Chemistry, 4th Edn., 1992, Butterworth-Heinemann
  • Girault, H.H. Analytical and Physical Electrochemistry, Marcel Dekker
  • R.J. Young and P.A. Lovell, Introduction to Polymers, Third Edition, 2011, CRC Press..

Further references will be given to more advanced material.

Feedback methods

Scheduled examples classes/workshops to discuss problems; Online (Blackboard) support materials include frequently asked questions (FAQ), numerical examples and test exercises (formative assessments) that allow students to engage in problem-solving activities with the provision of answers and feedback.

Study hours

  • Assessment written exam - 2 hours
  • Lectures - 22 hours
  • Practical classes & workshops - 2 hours
  • Tutorials - 3 hours
  • Independent study hours - 71 hours

Teaching staff

Robert Dryfe - Unit coordinator

Peter Budd - Unit coordinator

Andrew Horn - Unit coordinator

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