Topics in Environmental Chemistry

Unit code: CHEM30531
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 3
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by School of Chemistry
Available as a free choice unit?: N





  • To develop an understanding of some topical aspects of environmental chemistry in the context of the physical, organic, inorganic and analytical chemistry material covered in the chemistry core
  • To use this understanding to explore some case studies in environmental chemistry drawn from topics such as chemistry/climate interaction, pollution and land remediation


The module deals with chemical aspects of the geosphere (solid Earth) and the atmosphere. Each part comprises a series of introductory lectures in which the basics of the relevant environmental chemistry, atmospheric chemistry, geochemistry, and analytical chemistry are presented, drawing on existing knowledge of basic physical, organic and inorganic chemistry and extending or augmenting this into specialist areas. The later lectures then apply this material into topical case studies. Skills developed in this module include: analytical skills, problem solving skills, numeracy and mathematical skills, and investigative skills. There are two main sections:

Section 1 (Prof Andrew Horn): Atmospheric chemistry: the structure of the atmosphere, photochemically driven processes, OH, NOx and O3 chemistry, gas-phase organic cycles, particulates. In the final lectures a topical case study drawing these elements together will be presented.

Section 2 (Dr Gareth Law; Unit Coordinator): techniques for analysis of elemental composition, speciation, surface chemistry, radionuclides, and colloids; colloid sizing techniques; colloid chemical properties; pollutant metal reaction with colloids and surfaces and the impact on pollution transport; metal hydrolysis. Understanding the role that microbes and minerals play in geological processes with emphasis on pollution transport. Pollution management strategies available to industry. The lectures will be complemented with a number of case studies concerning the behaviour of metal and radioactive contaminants in the environment and a case study on the UK Government’s multi billion £ plan to dispose of 50+ years of highly toxic radioactive wastes underground and the chemistry challenges therein.

Learning outcomes

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

  • Describe the principal features of the composition of the atmosphere, and explain how and why the local composition changes over time and space;
  • Describe or predict the fate of a range of atmospheric species from a knowledge of the various processes in which they participate;
  • Analyse and deconstruct key atmospheric chemical phenomena on the basis of gas-phase and aerosol-phase processes;
  • Describe the principle experimental / analytical techniques used in environmental analysis;
  • Describe the role that that microbes and minerals play in key geological processes related to pollutants;
  • Explain the physical and chemical processes relevant to a range of key environmental chemistry issues (e.g. colloid formation and stability; transport of pollutants in groundwater)
  • Apply their knowledge to analyse new topics in environmental chemistry in terms of their constituent chemical and physical basis;
  • Assimilate and critically review advanced literature (papers, web-based resources and publications) in the area in a chemical context to expand basic knowledge.

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

  • Other - 10%
  • Written exam - 90%

Assessment Further Information

Written exam: 90 %, on-line tests: 10 % (completed during semester 1)

Recommended reading

  • Andrews JE, Briblecombe P, Jickells TD, Liss PS and Reid R; Introduction to Environmental Chemistry, Second Edition, Blackwell Publishing, 2003. ISBN: 0632059052.
  • Finlayson-Pitts, BJ and Pitts, JN Jnr; Chemistry of the Upper and Lower Atmosphere, Academic Press, San Diego, 2000.
  • Konhauser, K; Introduction to Geomicrobiology. Wiley, London, 2006.

Feedback methods

 Feedback via formative online assessments and in Lectures.

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Andrew Horn - Unit coordinator

Gareth Law - Unit coordinator

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