Contemporary Themes in Chemistry

Unit code: CHEM20711
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 2
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by School of Chemistry
Available as a free choice unit?: N




  • To give students an insight into current challenges in chemistry research, pitched at a level based on prior learning up to the end of Y1
  • To enable students to appreciate the role chemistry plays in tackling societal problems relating to sustainability, energy, manufacturing and healthcare.


Engineering with Chemistry (Prof. Steve Yeates)

  • Discussion of the trends in micro and nano-fabrication and how these are underpinned and enabled by the organic, physical  and polymer chemistry.
  • Applications and case studies related to the design and fabrication of integrated circuits.
  • Applications and case studied in digital displays: e-books; organic light emitting diodes (OLED) TV’s.
  • Future technologies.

Periodic Porous Inorganic Materials (Dr. Martin Attfield)

  • General introduction to periodic porous inorganic materials and their properties
  • Microporous materials: Zeolites – synthesis, structure and properties, Newer families of inorganic microporous materials
  • Applications & case studies relating to sustainability, energy & manufacturing including: ion-exchange, gas separation/ adsorption & heterogeneous catalysis;
  • Mesoporous materials: Silica materials: synthesis, structure and properties

Industrial Biotechnology (Dr. Nick Weise)

  • Industrial biotechnology in the chemical industry. The need to develop sustainable manufacturing processes based on renewable resources.
  • The chemistry of enzymes and enzyme mechanisms
  • Introductory molecular biology and biochemical engineering
  • Cases studies from the pharmaceutical, materials and fine chemical industries exemplifying the advantages and disadvantages of enzymatic transformations.

Teaching and learning methods

Each topic has nominally 8 sessions (a variable combination of lectures, workshops and examples)

Knowledge and understanding

Students successfully completing this unit should have developed the ability to:

  • Describe how the role of chemistry in the development of next generation silicon chips is driving the next generation display media.
  • Discuss how chemists are responding to the challenges of developing new and improved materials in response to the new forms of social media and the proliferation of information technology.
  • Describe the framework chemistry of periodic porous inorganic materials using considerations of structure, chemical composition and charge balancing.
  • Use considerations of chemical species, concentration, temperature and time to suggest methods for the synthesis of periodic porous inorganic materials.
  • Explain the methods used to functionalise periodic porous inorganic materials, and combine these with the influence of framework structure to illustrate their use in areas of sustainability, energy & manufacturing
  • Apply basic, introductory understanding of molecular biology and biochemical engineering to unseen examples
  • Apply core knowledge of organic chemistry, chemical reactivity and mechanism to enzymatic transformations and biotechnology processes
  • Compare and contrast classical chemical routes to pharmaceuticals and other chemicals with newer enzymatic strategies
  • Describe the environmental and sustainability issues surrounding current methods of chemical manufacture

Intellectual skills

The aim of this course is to:

  • Develop a critical appreciation of the challenges facing society today and the importance of chemistry in responding to these.
  • Begin to develop linkages between the core syllabus and how these concepts are used to find chemical solutions to societal challenges.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Concept assimilation
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Numeracy (including data handling)
  • Analytical skills
  • Investigative skills

Assessment methods

  • Written exam - 100%

Recommended reading

  • ‘An Introduction to Zeolite Molecular Sieves’, A. Dyer, Wiley, Chichester, 1988.
  • ‘Introduction to Zeolite Science and Practice’, 2nd edition, Van Bekkum, Flanigen, Jacobs, Jansen (eds), Elsevier, 2001.
  • ‘Solid State Chemistry – An Introduction’ - L. Smart & E. Moore, Chapman and Hall, 2nd Ed.
  • For the Engineering with Chemistry course there is no recommended text but key review articles will be posted on Blackboard.
  • For the industrial biotechnology course there is no recommended text but the lectures will include pointers to relevant primary literature.

Feedback methods

There will be self-test material and/or short video lectures supporting the course material on Blackboard. There will also be a variety of workshops where students can attempt questions and receive instant feedback. The three academics delivering the material are also available to see students during office hours or after lectures.

Study hours

  • Assessment written exam - 2 hours
  • Lectures - 24 hours
  • Independent study hours - 74 hours

Teaching staff

Martin Attfield - Unit coordinator

Stephen Yeates - Unit coordinator

Andrew Horn - Unit coordinator

Nicholas Weise - Unit coordinator

▲ Up to the top