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The Material World: Chemistry & Applications - CHE00023I

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  • Department: Chemistry
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Chris Spicer
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

This module builds on the knowledge established in Year 1 of the Chemistry programme. It introduces students to the way in which modern materials have changed our lifestyle beyond recognition, providing an insight into how materials chemistry has shaped many technological developments in the 21st century and continues to be at the cutting edge of innovation today. The module focuses on how molecular structure controls the materials properties and connects with real practical applications. The module starts by introducing some general aspects of materials science, such as structure and physical properties, then goes on to explore specific applications of modern materials such as nanotechnology, liquid crystals, biomedical technologies, and energy storage devices. In particular, the course will illustrate how developing materials with well-defined and precisely designed molecular structure can lead to new types of behaviour and high-tech applications – for example in optical electronics, imaging and nanomedicine.

Module learning outcomes

At the end of this module students will be able to:

  • Explain the link between materials properties and molecular structure
  • Explain how fundamental chemistry rationalises the assembly of nanomaterials and role of synthetic chemists in the ‘nano-revolution’
  • Describe how the structures of molecules can affect the physical properties of a material, in particular being able to explain the relationship between molecular structure and mechanical, magnetic and electrical properties
  • Explain how colloidal materials emerge when interfaces between different phases are stabilised
  • Apply key principles to predict the assembly of molecular systems into micelles, vesicles or gels, and to comment on the unique properties and applications they have.
  • Discuss how the optical and dielectric properties of liquid crystals are controlled for use in modern TVs and computer screens
  • Explain how chirality introduces colour into a liquid crystal and how this can be used for practical applications.
  • Discuss the importance of the chemical approach to nanomaterials and be able to describe the preparation, analysis and applications of metal nanoparticles.
  • Link polymer structure to the structure and properties of hydrogels and fibrous materials for tissue engineering.
  • Correlate the properties of a biomaterial to its interaction with cells and tissues.
  • Discuss how key biomaterial design properties dictate their end application in the treatment of disease.
  • Describe the analytical techniques involved in identifying energy/electron transfer and redox processes from organic molecules
  • Interpret analytical data to extract information about energy levels in organic materials
  • Describe the working design principles and applications of organic materials in modern energy devices (BHJ solar cells, OLEDs and rechargeable batteries)

Module content

Module content:

A physical view of materials science (MAB, 4 lectures, 1×1h workshop)

  • Structure of solids and liquids
  • Defects in materials
  • Elasticity and deformation
  • Surfactants and micelles
  • Electronic properties of materials
  • Magnetism

Self-assembly of colloidal structures (DKS, 4 lectures, 1×1h workshop).

  • An introduction to colloidal materials in the world around us - to understand the origins of nanotechnology in much earlier developments in colloid science.
  • Micelles and Vesicles - Surfactant structure, design and self-assembly.
  • Gels - Gelator structure, design and self-assembly.
  • Unique properties and applications of micelles, vesicles and gels - an introduction.

Nematic Liquid Crystals and Modern Displays (SJC, 5 lectures, 1×1h workshop).

  • Structure of the nematic liquid crystal.
  • Physical properties of anisotropic fluids and understanding how the properties are related to structure of the liquid crystal material.
  • Synthesis of nematic liquid crystals.
  • Formulation of nematic liquid crystals for applications.
  • Applications of chirality in nematic liquid crystals for uses in temperature sensors.

Inorganic Nanoparticles (VC, 5 lectures, 1×1h workshop)

  • Preparation and stabilisation of inorganic nanoparticles.
  • Tools for nanoparticle characterisation.
  • Size and shape-dependant nanoparticle properties.
  • Applications of nanoparticles.

Biomaterials (CDS, 5 lectures, 1×1h workshop)

  • An introduction to biomaterials and their roles in the treatment of disease
  • Hydrogels and fibrous polymers
  • Inorganic and ceramic biomaterials
  • Controlling biological interactions
  • Correlating material processing to structure and activity
  • Cutting-edge applications in biomaterial design

Organic Energy Materials (AJA, 5 lectures, 1×1h workshop)

  • Pi-Conjugation, energy/electron transfer and organic redox processes
  • Aggregation-induced quenching vs aggregation-induced emission
  • Conjugated polymers: Organic thin-film semiconductors, photovoltaics (solar cells),
  • Molecular optoelectronics: organic LEDs and TADF emitters
  • Building a better battery: Rechargeable organic energy storage materials
  • Enhancing material properties with hybrid-molecular and multidimensional interactions

Assessment: inorganic nanoparticles assessed by coursework; closed examination: students answer two compulsory questions.


Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
The Material World: Chemistry & Applications exam
2 hours 80
Continuous assessment - Inorganic nanoparticles
N/A 20

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Continuous assessment on Inorganic Nanoparticles will be a report based on analysis of scientific literature.

Closed exam: 2 questions, answer both questions. All courses except for inorganic nanoparitcles contribute to the close exam.



Module feedback

Students will receive feedback on their coursework within 4 weeks. Oral feedback for the formative workshops will be given during the sessions.

Closed exam results with per-question breakdown are returned to the students via supervisors within 5 weeks (as per special approval by the University Teaching Committee). Outline answers are made available via the Chemistry web page when the students receive their marks, so that they can assess their own detailed progress/achievement. the examiners' reports for each question are made available to the students via the Chemistry web pages.

Indicative reading

To be provided by individual tutors: this is a research-led course so up-to-date scientific publications will form the majority of the reading.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.