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CH20151: Principles of physical chemistry

[Page last updated: 21 April 2022]

Academic Year: 2022/3
Owning Department/School: Department of Chemistry
Credits: 12 [equivalent to 24 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 240
Level: Intermediate (FHEQ level 5)
Academic Year
Assessment Summary: EX 100%
Assessment Detail:
  • S2 Exam (EX 100%)
Supplementary Assessment:
CH20151 Supplementary Assessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Requisites: In taking this module you cannot take CH20152
Learning Outcomes: After studying this Unit, students should be able to:
* Describe some experimental methods for investigating reaction rate and mechanism and how kinetic parameters may be calculated.
* Account in kinetic terms for the mechanism of a range of reactions.
* Analyse kinetic data in terms of a number of theoretical models
* Describe methods for measuring rates of fast reactions
* Describe the effect of light on some chemical reactions and account for the rates of photochemical processes.
* Describe and define the types of adsorption at solid surfaces
* Explain the qualitative and quantitative basis of catalysis and physical adsorption
* Define surface tension and solve simple problems involving its application
* Define and interpret the forces between two colloids
* Define the terms 'wavefunction' and 'eigenvalue'.
* Relate physical models to quantisation of molecular and electronic energies.
* Use quantum mechanical methods to generate and rationalise the structure and bonding in organic molecules.
* Demonstrate an understanding of how polymer structure can be influenced by the methods of synthesis and how this affects material properties.
* Describe and explain methods for characterising polymers and their synthesis by step- and chain growth polymerisation.
* Perform a range of numerical problems concerning polymerisation chemistry.
* Describe and explain different dynamic electrochemical techniques, including voltammetry and electrode kinetics.To describe the function of all three electrodes in a electrochemical cell. To be able to manipulate and plot current/voltage data and interpret the graph. To be able to sketch and interpret a variety of voltammograms, relating the shape of the curves to Faradiac and non-Faradiac processes taking place in solution and to identify reversible, quasi reversible and irreversible voltammograms. To describe the differences between surface electron transfer limited and diffusion limited reactions in solution and to understand the role the electrical double layer plays in electrochemical reactions and the importance of a background electrolyte.

Aims: To introduce and expand on advanced physical chemistry methods in electrochemistry, kinetics, surfaces, polymers and quantum mechanics.

Skills: Numeracy (F, A), Problem solving (T, F, A), Scientific writing (F, A), Oral communication (F), Data analysis (T, F, A).

Content: Revision of basics of reaction kinetics - order, molecularity, temperature effects. Kinetic treatment of more complex mechanisms such as chain and oscillating reactions, enzyme kinetics. Theoretical treatments of reaction kinetics and examples of their application. e.g. collision theory, transition state theory. Reactions in solution. Diffusion and activation control, the "cage" effect. Experimental methods for studying reactions: Basic photochemical methods and processes. Applications of photochemistry. Kinetics of photochemical reactions. Introduction to surfaces. chemisorption versus physisorption.
Adsorbed amounts. Types of isotherms: Langmuir Isotherm. determination of heat of adsorption, BET isotherm: Introduction to heterogeneous catalysis. Kinetics of catalysis. Langmuir Hinshelwood mechanism. Eley Rideal mechanism. Catalysis examples Molecular basis and consequences of surface tension. Colloid stability. Micellisation. Gibbs equation.
Basic principles of quantum mechanics; wavefunctions, eigenvalues and operators. Solving the Schrödinger equation and the calculation of energy levels. Development of the variation method applied to diatomic molecules and hydrocarbons. Calculation of electronic and bonding energies. The relationship between molecular orbitals, electron density and reactivity.
Classification and types of polymers. Synthesis of polymers with examples taken from several different classes (addition, step-growth, ring opening, organometallic) with the emphasis on how physicochemical considerations influence the polymer structure. Characterisation of polymers (molecular weight and chain length, spectroscopy, thermal methods). Structure and morphology of polymers and how this influences properties. A survey of recent applications taken from current research and industrial topics.
Applications of electrochemistry, reference electrodes, the electrical double layer, the background electrolyte, redox reactions and their thermodynamics, the differences between two and three electrode measurements, the role of a potentiostat and the rate determining step in electrochemical reactions (kinetics of electrochemical reactions and diffusion limited reactions). We will also look at some common electrochemical analysis techniques such as cyclic voltammetry and interpret the current-voltage responses obtained.

Programme availability:

CH20151 is Compulsory on the following programmes:

Department of Chemistry
  • USCH-AFB01 : BSc(Hons) Chemistry (Year 2)
  • USCH-AAB02 : BSc(Hons) Chemistry with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USCH-AFB07 : BSc(Hons) Chemistry for Drug Discovery (Year 2)
  • USCH-AAB08 : BSc(Hons) Chemistry for Drug Discovery with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USCH-AKB08 : BSc(Hons) Chemistry for Drug Discovery with Industrial Placement (Year 2)
  • USCH-AKB02 : BSc(Hons) Chemistry with Industrial Placement (Year 2)
  • USCH-AFM02 : MChem(Hons) Chemistry (Year 2)
  • USCH-AAM03 : MChem(Hons) Chemistry with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USCH-AFM05 : MChem(Hons) Chemistry for Drug Discovery (Year 2)
  • USCH-AAM06 : MChem(Hons) Chemistry for Drug Discovery with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USCH-AKM03 : MChem(Hons) Chemistry for Drug Discovery with Industrial Placement (Year 2)
  • USCH-AKM02 : MChem(Hons) Chemistry with Industrial Placement (Year 2)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2022/23 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2023/24 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2022/23.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.