Organic and Physical Chemistry

Home Admissions Course Guide Organic and Physical Chemistry

This Course Guide has been taken from the most recent presentation of the course. It would be useful for reference purposes but please note that there may be updates for the following presentation.


Organic and Physical Chemistry

Welcome to CHEM S251 Organic and Physical Chemistry.

CHEM S251 is a ten-credit two semester course at middle level designed for BSc or BSc (Hons) students majoring Environmental Science. You are also most welcome to take it even if your intended progression is not on this pathway.

Although there are no entry requirements for this course, we suggest that you should have background knowledge equivalent to SCI S121 level as well as basic application of calculus.

In this course, the study of chemical impact lies on both physical and organic disciplines. These two branches of chemistry are important keystones of modern development of environmental science.

Physical chemistry is a study of the underlying principles that govern the properties and behaviours of chemical systems. The subject is divided into three main categories: thermodynamics, quantum chemistry and kinetics to investigate respectively (i) the interrelationship of the various equilibrium properties, (ii) structures and shapes of molecules, and (iii) the rate of chemical reactions and the pathways.

Organic chemistry deals with the synthesis, structure and reactivities of those substances containing carbon-carbon skeleton as the major backbone. These organic substances originally extracted from living organisms have been divided into different classes characterized

by their functional groups attached to the backbone. The variety of classes ranges from small molecules as methane from petroleum to giant molecules as nucleic acids and protein that constitute the vital components of the living system.

The aims of this course are to:

  • Provide you with a conceptual framework for studying physical and organic chemistry.
  • Develop your understanding of the basic principles of physical and organic chemistry.
  • Enable you to apply chemical principles to the investigation and solution of environmental problems.

On completion of the course, you should be able to:

  • Describe atomic and molecular structures on the basis of the quantum model, valence bond theory and molecular orbital theory.
  • Predict the tendency of spontaneous reactions based on the laws of thermodynamics.
  • Calculate and apply the chemical equilibrium and kinetics in organic and inorganic systems.
  • Outline the products and mechanisms of organic reactions.
  • Discuss the physical chemistry and toxic effect of organic and inorganic compounds in the environment.
  • Explain the functions and structures of biomolecules and related organic compounds in the living system.

CHEM S251 has five study blocks:

  • Basic concepts in physical and organic chemistry
  • Reactions: which direction?
  • Reactions: how far and how fast?
  • Chemicals in the environment
  • Chemicals in life processes.

Block 1 reviews the general principles of chemistry to be applied to environmental problems. Blocks 2 and 3 look at criteria of stability and the measurement of reaction rates. Block 4 deals with the chemistry

of organic and inorganic substances. Block 5 is concerned with the essential biomolecules, such as enzyme and nucleic acids, which maintain the biological activities of living systems.

Don't worry if you're not sure what all these terms are — you will do once you have studied the blocks!

The following table shows you how many weeks you are expected to spend on each block, and also shows how the assignments are distributed.


Course outline summary
1Basic concepts in physical and organic chemistry
Overview of basic chemical principles
Atomic structure and periodicity
Chemical bonding and molecular shapes
7Assignment 1
2Reactions: which direction?
Thermochemistry and the first law of thermodynamics
Second and third laws of thermodynamics
7Assignment 2
3Reactions: how far and how fast?
Chemical equilibrium
Chemical kinetics
Mechanism of typical reactions
8Assignment 3
4Chemicals in the environment
Chemicals from carbon dioxide
Organic compounds
Inorganic compounds
Environmental toxicology
8Assignment 4
5Chemicals in life processes
Introduction to biochemistry
Enzymes and cofactors

There are four assignments. Assignments 1 to 4 are weighed equally towards the final assessment.

The assignments and the final examination each contribute 50% to the final course mark.


Assessment typeMarks
  Assignment 112.5%
  Assignment 212.5%
  Assignment 312.5%
  Assignment 412.5%

As well as this Course Guide, the materials consist of the following:

  1. Five study blocks
  2. One textbook
    • Chang, Raymond (2016) Chemistry, 12th edn, McGraw Hill Publishers
  3. Two CD-ROMs


Study blocks

The study blocks serve as a study guide of the selected textbook and constitute the major component of the course materials. They clarify, amplify and apply the materials presented in the textbook wherever necessary.



Chang's textbook serves to support the study of chemical principles. This book clearly presents the basic concepts contained in the first block.



The course team produced two CD-ROMs which contain selected movies, animation, and interactive experiments from external sources – The Journal of Chemical Education. As the visual potential of multimedia greatly enhances the presentation of some chemical concepts, the materials in the CD-ROMs will supplement and enhance your learning experience in the course.


This course aims to give you a sound theoretical grounding in the physical principles of chemistry, which should prepare you for practical work in the laboratory. It's therefore important that you do some practical work, and there are four experiments assigned in this course. For more information, please read the Laboratory Manual which will be available on the OLE.


Tutors and tutorials

HKMU tutors give extensive feedback on your assignments, as well as face-to-face tutorials and telephone tutoring, and online support.

There are 10 two-hour tutorials for CHEM S251, two for each block. There are also 4 surgeries, to which you can come to discuss any problems or queries you may have. You don't have to attend these face-to-face sessions, but we do encourage you to, as you should find them very helpful, and they also give you a chance to meet your fellow students. See the Academic Timetable for details.


Online support

The OLE includes a discussion board, and the course will have an open forum in which you can ask your tutor and fellow students questions, and participate in discussions moderated by your tutor. You can also direct enquiries about your study progress to the CHEM S251 Course Coordinator (CC). Your CC will post current issues related to the course contents, supplementary materials and additional exercises on the course website.

Again, you are not required to participate in online discussion, but we encourage you to do so in particular during the exam period in the middle of the course. As well as being a very good source of support in your studies, by the time you have completed the course you should have acquired some new information technology skills! For further details of equipment setup you should consult the most updated information provided by the School and HKMU.

Organizing your course materials

Well begun is half done. Organizing your course materials at the onset is crucial to success in distance-learning study, and CHEM S251 has five blocks of study materials and some supplementary booklets. So it's a good idea to create a filing system in which you can get easy access to each item. You might want to consider a system of box files for your convenience since the boxes stack easily and hold lots of paper and booklets.

Your first package will include several types of printed materials that you will receive regularly throughout the course such as a content checklist, stop presses, errata sheets, as well as texts. A summary list of these materials is given below.

First, always check against the content checklist to ensure you have all the items listed. Then transfer the information from the stop press, errata sheet or Tutorial/Surgery/Lab Schedule to the appropriate places in the Academic Timetable and Study Calendar.


Administrative materialsCourse materials
Student handbookNotes from Course Coordinator/tutor
Material from the UniversityContent checklists
Conditional registration informationStop presses
Academic timetableErrata sheets
Study calendar/lab scheduleStudy text/glossary/lab manual
Tutorial/surgery scheduleNotes from tutorials/study notes
Assignment booklets
Assignment feedback


Once you have set up your filing system, it will be easy to sort each package you receive. It's also a good idea to pin up the academic timetable so you can easily check your schedule and your assignment due dates. This will help you schedule your time of study.


Organizing your study time

Set up a timetable for regular study. We recommend that you spend around eight hours a week. In the first couple of weeks, you may need a bit longer while you're getting used to the course, but after that, if you're spending more than 10 hours, review the way you are working and reduce the time.

Read the introduction and summary sections of the block you intend to work on before you go straight to the actual content. Don't try to read for too long at a stretch — you should take a short break every 30 minutes or so. You may find that it's helpful after the break to do the review questions in the textbook. This approach should help you use your time more effectively.

Tutorials and self-study group will allow you to discuss what you have learned with other people. Discussion and problem-solving will clarify ideas and concepts, strengthening your textual understanding.



Studying part time is a big commitment, especially when you have to juggle it with work and family commitments. There may be times when you feel a bit overburdened — if that's the case, don't hesitate to call on your tutor and fellow students. But above all, remember that chemistry is a very interesting and engaging subject. You need to work hard on CHEM S251, but we hope that you enjoy yourself as well. Good luck!