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Subject Summary: Part IA Chemistry

In this course we begin to explore the complex and subtle relationship between the structure of a molecule and its chemical properties; an understanding of this relationship is central to making sense of the physical and biological worlds. The ideas and concepts introduced in the course are relevant to all areas of molecular science, from biochemistry to materials science, and also form a foundation for more advanced study in chemistry in subsequent years. The course emphasises the underlying concepts in chemistry and how these can be used to rationalise and understand the behaviour of chemical systems and molecular interactions. 

The course begins by looking at how chemists use spectroscopy to determine the shape and structures of molecules, and then goes on to consider how modern theories of chemical bonding give us an understanding of why molecules adopt the shapes and structures they do. We will also look at how these theories point to the type of chemical reactivity that a particular molecule will have. The consequences of these shapes and electronic structures are then explored in a number of ways. We will consider how the molecules react and how mechanistic ideas can be used to rationalise and predict the outcome of a chemical reaction. The way in which a qualitative study of the rates of chemical reactions sheds light on mechanisms will be discussed, and the way in which chemical equilibrium can be understood in a quantitative way will be introduced and illustrated. The course closes by drawing together all of these concepts and using them to make sense of the widely different chemistry shown by some key non-metallic and metallic elements. 

Practical classes, which are synchronised closely with the lectures, form an essential part of the course. In them students will have the opportunity to try out and experience at first hand the consequences of the ideas introduced in the lectures. Some of the practicals involve "wet chemistry", and some involve making and interpreting quantitative measurements. Students are expected to attend one practical session every two weeks. 

Knowledge of A Level Chemistry or an equivalent course, is assumed. However, with extra support from their supervisors it is possible for students to follow the course without A Level Chemistry. A knowledge of elementary calculus is also required.

Programme Specification: Part IA Chemistry

This course is taught by the Department of Chemistry.


  1. to provide an introduction to university level chemistry, building on ideas and topics previously studied in typical pre-university courses such as GCE A level;
  2. to introduce topics in chemistry which are relevant to the further study of chemistry and other molecular sciences within the Natural Sciences Tripos;
  3. to introduce the key ideas and concepts which are used to understand and rationalize chemical structures and reactions, and to show how these are applied;
  4. to introduce quantitative theories, such as thermodynamics and kinetics, and show how these are applicable to understanding chemical reactivity;
  5. to develop practical skills in both preparative chemistry and in making relevant measurements, and interpreting these experiments in the light of the ideas and theories presented in the course.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. have an enhanced understanding of the chemical principles introduced in the course;
  2. be able to apply these principles to solve problems, make calculations, make predictions and rationalize trends;
  3. have enhanced practical skills.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, supervisions and practical classes.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • one unseen written examination (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1-2);
  • continually assessed practical work (for aim 5 and learning outcome 3).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: A Level Chemistry or equivalent (A Level Mathematics is essential for Chemistry A in Part IB).

Highly desirable: AS or A Level Mathematics.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.