What is Chemistry about?
Chemistry may seem a very complicated subject at first sight, but the ideas and complexities are actually built on a set of fundamental underlying patterns. Once you have developed a careful understanding for these it becomes accessible and fun to study. Our aim is always to help students to understand these key principles; they can then enjoy the logic that underpins the subject, and use it to explore and make sense for themselves the many factual details and experimental observations.
Our students are stimulated by the exciting pioneering projects. We launched a balloon to the edge of space, to within the ozone layer in the stratosphere.
This balloon carried sensors, and cameras which bought back stunning views. We also build rockets, fireballs, strange materials, and coloured dyes. We have plans to make Aerogel, and send up a multistage rocket. From long experience, we know that our students will work all the harder at the more difficult topics because they associate these topics with the exciting practical demonstrations of the power of chemistry.
What is studied in chemistry?
You are the stuff that stars are made of. Chemistry is the study of all chemical substances and how to change one chemical into another. The food you eat, the air you breath, your own body, your mobile phone, the plants and streets around you are made of chemicals. As you want inexpensive products, chemistry helps to decrease economic costs, and as you want a safe environment, chemistry helps to decrease pollution by detecting the toxins, and by destroying them. Gone are the days that poisonous red lead oxide is used to colour cheese, or to sweeten cider; and now we do not put toxic arsenic in cosmetics; nor do we use lead in white paint, or make CFCs that destroy the ozone layer. These chemicals were used mostly out of ignorance, so with the development of new understanding in chemistry, a safer world is built.
If you like logical problems, and thinking hard – really using your brain – then Chemistry is for you. If you want to know what makes up the world around you, you are a natural chemist.
It is like seeing with new eyes all that is before you, within your food, on product labels, in cosmetics, in fuels, in the atmosphere, in the chemistry of life, and in the chemistry of the newest products.
Mobile phones are small because chemists developed more efficient batteries, and new pigments for the screens. Clothes are more light weight and colourful (or a darker black!) than those of our ancestors. Cars go more kilometres on a litre of fuel due to the study of chemical combustion.
Chemistry is also always helping us to develop new products and processes. In the car industry, for example, companies are working on fuel cells to power your car more efficiently, new fuels from plant material and new alloys to make vehicles lighter.
Whom does the subject suit?
Do you take pleasure in working out difficult ideas? Do you enjoy logic problems, learning ideas that 'click' beautifully together? Then you would enjoy Chemistry. Studying Chemistry is like studying a logical game so that once you know the 'rules of Chemistry' you can 'play' with the chemical ideas. However just as in a game you must know the rules, so you must be prepared to memorise the small number of details.
Chemistry is a concise subject that makes you think. Studying Chemistry would complement A levels which are essay based, or that have a particularly heavy reading load, like Biology, History, Geography, English and Modern Languages.
If you study A level Chemistry then you should be able to ask 'Why?' and get a good answer. You will find AS Chemistry explains chemical ideas mostly using words, while A2 Chemistry explains chemical ideas using Maths, while broadening the topics studied.
What does the AS consist of?
AS Chemistry shows you in more detail how atoms bond, allowing you fully to comprehend group and carbon chemistry, and you will learn to make calculations relating to reactions. AS teaches you to understand, building on your GCSE Chemistry knowledge. During the department trips, you will attend cutting edge lectures at Oxford University, and be shown the latest spectroscopic techniques in the new Oxford University sciencelabs.
Unit 1 focuses on Atoms, Bonds and Groups. It includes:
- Atoms and Reactions
- Bonding and Structure
- Reaction Types
- The Periodic Table
- Chemical calculations
Unit 2 focuses on Chains, Energy and Resources. It includes:
- Basic Concepts and Hydrocarbons
- Alcohols, Haloalkanes and Analysis
- Energy Calculations
- How fast are reactions? How much is made?
- Resources and the environment
Unit 3 focuses on Skills in Chemistry 1. This AS (practical skills) unit is teacher assessed and externally moderated by OCR.
Candidates are assessed on one task from each of the following categories:
- qualitative (qualities like chemical tests and observations),
- quantitative (accurately measuring quantities like temperature, volume and mass)
- and evaluative (which means looking for errors and suggesting improvements).
What does the A2 consist of?
The A2 builds on the AS, enabling you to immerse yourself in carbon chemistry, the subject of the century, and to understand the reactions of carbon molecules: the basis of biochemistry, nanotechnology and materials. You will also study colourful transition metals, and make further calculations relating to speed of reactions.
Unit 4: focuses on Carbon Rings, Polymers and Analysis. This included spectroscopy, powerful ways of detecting chemicals in our bodies, space, and the environment.
Unit 5: Equilibrium, Energetics and Elements. This includes:
- Rates of reaction
- Entropy, disorder and how it enables you to predict any chemical reaction
- Equilibrium and pH
- Energy of reactions
- Transition Elements
Unit 6: Practical Skills in Chemistry 2. This A2 (practical skills) unit is teacher assessed and externally moderated by OCR.
Candidates are assessed on one task from each of the following categories: qualitative, quantitative and evaluative tasks, which are similar to the AS tasks, but more difficult.
Who will teach me?
You will be taught by Max Parsonage, the Head of Department, Dr Stephen Belding and Henry Winney; all of whom are very experienced teachers. You will be taught in small groups. Humour and patience is used to help you understand the ideas. You will be encouraged to ask questions because discussing ideas in class is an effective way of improving understanding.
Max, an A level examiner, has written a number of textbooks, and other projects including most recently a training package for science teachers which included video of accidents! Also an A level Chemistry Course companion for OUP, as well as numerous articles on Chemistry, Physics and Environmental issues. He has produced videos and interactive educational software. As a consultant he has advised the European Space Agency, Wolters-Klewer publishing and Collins Educational, Hodder-Staughton, and Oxford University Press. He produced a Chemistry 'Spells' feature for Jetix magazine (aimed at boys aged 6-11). At the moment he is writing an eBook which is an introduction to chemistry, and building an App.
Stephen is a Doctor of Chemistry, having used mathematics to interpret the results of research in electrochemistry. He has a calm, patient style when teaching. His other interests include cycling, reading, and playing chess.
Henry is an experienced enthusiastic teacher, who trains others in Judo.
What might the subject lead onto?
Each year more students are studying science subjects as they realise that science degrees generally lead on to higher incomes. More students are studying pure chemistry, or chemistry based subjects like medical chemistry, or environmental chemistry. If you want to join them then you must study chemistry at A level, preferably with mathematics. A number of our own students have studies chemistry at university and went to gain PhDs in chemistry.
AS or A level Chemistry is particularly important if you want to study Medicine, Veterinary Science, Dentistry or Biochemistry at university.
It is also appreciated by admissions tutors in many other subjects, including Law, due to its logical discipline.
It is useful if you want to go on and study subjects such as Geology, Physical Geography, Engineering, or Material Science. Many chemistry graduates are also recruited by the financial companies in the City of London, and so start with high starting salaries.
Studying Chemistry would also help you with the pyrotechnics in Theatre Studies and if you want to train in Art Conservation, a knowledge of Chemistry is necessary!
More of our students than ever before are choosing to study pure Chemistry at university.