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Unit information: Special Physical & Theoretical Chemistry in 2018/19

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing and student choice.

Unit name Special Physical & Theoretical Chemistry
Unit code CHEMM0004
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Chris Russell
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Chemistry
Faculty Faculty of Science


This unit builds on the intermediate and advanced physical and theoretical chemistry given in CHEM20190 and CHEM30006 to expand into a discussion of special topics related to physical and theoretical chemistry. The unit, covers a range of ‘frontier’ topics relating to physical chemistry of molecular systems as well as extended systems (nanoscience and soft matter). Specifically, the unit will discuss aspects of biophysical chemistry, of photoinduced chemistry, of the properties of aerosols, of advanced electrochemistry and catalysis for energy, of colloids and materials, and of soft condensed matter.

This unit aims to provide an overview of a selection of ‘Special Topics’ aspects of modern physical and theoretical chemistry, so as to equip students with an understanding of the current challenges and practices in the field. The level is appropriate for final-year MSci students and will equip them for work in the chemical sector or for undertaking a research career through a higher degree. The implications of the various topics covered are illustrated with contemporaneous research examples and real world applications. Aspects interdisciplinary to physical and theoretical chemistry and other sub-fields of chemistry and other fields are covered.

Intended learning outcomes

  • Appraise biomolecular structure and dynamics
  • Recognise the nature of biocatalysis and the link between structure and activity
  • Explain experimental and theoretical methods for probing the properties of biomolecules;
  • Explain excited-state photophysics and photoinduced reactions – solar energy conversion;
  • Recognise the nature of aerosol particles and their role in the environment, medicine and industry;
  • Describe kinetics at the electrode-electrolyte interface and electrochemical dynamic measurements
  • Explain electrocatalysis, solar cells and artificial photosynthesis;
  • Explain technological applications of colloid and interface science;
  • Evaluate the nature of soft matter, and current challenges in the field.

Teaching details

Lectures, workshops (classes of 20 students with two staff members) and masterclasses (interactive seminar sessions of the whole class) and independent study. The Dynamic Laboratory Manual provides important e-learning resource in advance of workshop sessions. Pre-workshop online material will be provided to assist students with the contact workshop

Assessment Details

Students will be assessed by one 3 hour written exam (summative 100%).

Reading and References

Essential reading will be from the following books:

Atkins’ Physical Chemistry, 10th Edition, P W Atkins and J de Paula, Oxford University Press 2014.

Further reading will be from the following books: Colloid Science, 2nd Edition, Ed. T Cosgrove, Blackwell, 2010 Molecular Driving Forces; Statistical Thermodynamics in Chemistry and Biology, KA Dill and S Bromberg, 2nd Edition, Garland Science; An introduction to soft matter - synthetic and biological self-assembling materials, 2nd Edition, Wiley, 2007, Ian Hamley.