What you will study
This module consists of 11 topics, most of which are phrased as questions to highlight the key scientific skill of enquiry. The final topic, ‘Bad science’ brings together the principles of good science practice that you will have learnt throughout the module.
Topic 1: Can you make a hole in water?
Water is essential for life as we know it and water has many special properties singling it out from other substances, making it of interest to all scientists. This topic will introduce you to some fascinating science including chemistry, Earth sciences and physics.
Topic 2: How do you know what is alive?
This topic will focus on the biological functions which are used to define 'life'. First you learn about the diversity of living things, and what living organisms are made up of. You will learn about the basic functions of life; growth, reproduction, metabolism, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment.
Topic 3: Why does it snow in winter?
You will gain a basic understanding of what makes the weather on Earth, and its seasonal cycle. The topic starts with forces, then investigates gravity, and the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, and the Moon around the Earth. Finally the topic looks at how these forces combine together to give the Earth its distinctive climatic zones.
Topic 4: Is there life on Mars?
Life can be found all over the Earth, with a huge range of diversity and abundance. Some organisms have developed ways to live and thrive in extreme environments such as hot deserts or deep oceans. Knowing how these organisms survive enables us to consider whether life might exist on Mars
Topic 5: Why do metals corrode?
This topic explores the main characteristic properties of metals. You will look at the chemical interactions of metals with different surrounding environments (in air, soil and water) and how the reactivity of different metals varies greatly. Easy ways of preventing metal deterioration will be also discussed. You will build a battery using galvanized nails and copper wire and carry out simple chemistry experiments with copper coins and iron nails.
Topic 6: How similar am I to a plant?
The diverse array of organisms that exist on Earth seem to have very little in common, apart from being ‘alive’ as described in Topic 2. You will learn about the principles of inheritance and genetics and you will be asked to consider how different humans are from each other and to investigate this yourself.
Topic 7: Does the Earth move under your feet?
The Earth is very diverse, yet we do see similarities between separate parts of world in the geology, and the species living there. How has this come about? Is it the result of moving plants and animals or a moving Earth? This topic discusses the different mechanisms underlying the movement and distribution of organisms around the world, including ocean and wind currents, continental drift and sea-level change, as well as the role of humans and the influence of evolution.
Topic 8: Are waves everywhere?
What are waves and how do they form? This topic is all about conservation of energy and restoring forces. There are waves you can see as well as waves you cannot see. You will develop an understanding of what waves are, and why and how they happen, as well as how we as humans can exploit some of their properties.
Topic 9: Can we lead a chemical-free life?
This topic examines some common misconceptions, responsible for turning the word chemical into a shorthand for “unpleasant additive". Are synthetic chemicals dangerous? Are natural chemicals better for us? We look at chemicals within the Earth and their use as ‘natural resources’; at chemicals in our diet and inside our homes; and at chemicals as treatments for disease. This topic includes a home experiment on toxicity and a field trip to survey the ‘health’ of a local water body.
Topic 10: Why does the Sun shine?
The Sun provides the energy necessary for life on Earth but how does it work? We look at the physical properties of our own star and the physical processes that power it. In the latter part of this topic we examine the Sun in a wider astronomical context, relating it to other stars, examining its evolution and death in the far future and the intimate role played by the death of stars in the birth of life.
Topic 11: What is ‘Bad Science’?
The module concludes with a look at the ethics of scientific experimentation; a discussion of good practice in experimentation to ensure results are unbiased and scientifically sound. This final topic leads to the final piece of assessment which looks back over experiments undertaken throughout the module.
You will learn
Scientists have questioning minds and this fundamental skill is developed by this module. You will learn key scientific concepts, develop your own scientific thinking and, by the end of the module, you will be a confident, independent learner. You will develop skills of scientific investigation through practical experimentation and share your findings with other students. An important part of this module is the development of your key mathematical skills, crucial for scientific analysis and explanation. As this module is entirely online, your skills for learning online will also be developed.
While exploring a variety of interesting topics, this module will develop your problem-solving abilities, and improve your mathematical and communication skills all in an online environment. These skills are very useful in a work context, particularly in jobs requiring a precise and quantitative approach.