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Introduction to the course

Andy Parsons welcomes learners to exploring everyday chemistry

Welcome to the course! During each week of the course, we will use real-life examples to show you how an understanding of the structure and shape of organic compounds can be used to explain their reactivity and properties. An organic compound is a molecule containing a carbon atom or atoms covalently bonded to other atoms.

Week 1: The chemical attraction of perfumes and pheromones

We’ll identify a range of natural and synthetic attractants; understand current theories that help to explain how chemical structure is related to smell; and make a molecular model.

Week 2: The race for new antibiotics

We’ll describe the mode of action of antibiotics; understand bacterial resistance; identify promising new areas of research to design smarter drugs; and explore pattern recognition in structure-activity relationships.

Week 3: The chemistry of brewing

We’ll describe the process of brewing; identify key flavouring compounds in beer, tea and coffee; understand the role of modern analytical methods; and analyse spectroscopic data.

Week 4: The chemistry of sport

We’ll explore innovations that are changing the game; identify modern materials that improve performance and aid protection; and model the structures of polymers.

Each week, there will be hands-on kitchen experiments for you to complete, aiming to help bring the subjects to life and introduce scientific practical skills. Some experiments involve hot temperatures so younger learners may need supervision. As per FutureLearn’s terms and conditions – if you are under 13, you must ask an adult to create an account using their own name and communicate in discussions on your behalf. All of the experiments can be carried out with items you would find in a typical kitchen. In step 1.1 you will have seen a shopping list for the course and, each week, we remind you of what is needed before you start. Each week, one of the activities will be linked to a competition, so you have the opportunity to win an exciting prize!

At times, you will see reference to some recent high profile research, which is included to help emphasise the importance of the topics we will cover. We also have the opportunity to discuss current research at the end of each week in ‘Andy’s weekly cafe’ – you can suggest topics (each week, before noon on Thursday) for a short video that we will compile at the end of each week.

In places, you may find the content is challenging, as it is aimed to stretch those of you studying a pre-university chemistry course (look out for extension activities). To help you get to grips with the underlying chemistry, we have included ‘tools of the trade’ sections. However, please don’t worry if you struggle with these sections – you will still be able to make good progress with the course as a whole. Our course aims to provide something for everyone! The key thing we are looking for is motivation and an enthusiasm to explore, experiment and contribute.

We hope this quote from the chemist Rosalind Franklin (one of the key figures behind unlocking the structure of human DNA) will inspire you:
science, for me, gives a partial explanation for life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience and experiment.

Everyday Chemistry Collage – A unique end-of-course keepsake

Distinctively, at the end of each week, and related to the theme of the week, we will be asking if you would like to upload a photo of the ingredients list on your favourite household product(s). We will then collate the photos to make a unique eeDc course collage, to celebrate the importance of chemistry in our everyday lives, with contributions from (hopefully) all of our learners!

Can we work together to create the world’s biggest compilation of everyday product labels?

Favourite organic compound?

I wonder if any of you have a favourite organic compound? If so, post the name below, together with why you like it so much. For example, those with a sweet tooth may favour sucrose, ice-cream fans may prefer vanillin, while serotonin (sometimes called the ‘happy chemical’) could be a popular choice as it contributes to our feelings of wellbeing and happiness. By the way, my favourite is aspirin, a wonder medicine; so versatile that not only can it relieve a headache, ease aching limbs and lower body temperature, but it can prevent heart attacks and strokes. The world consumption of aspirin is around 40,000 tonnes or 120 billion tablets per year. If you don’t have a favourite, I hope that by the end of the course you will have selected one – you will have lots to pick from!

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Exploring Everyday Chemistry

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