Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Introductory Environmental Chemistry

LEVEL 02 - Years 2, 3 in Modular Undergraduate Course



DESCRIPTION The study-unit introduces principles of environmental chemistry and also includes a section pertaining to radiochemistry. The main physical and chemical processes which determine the fate of chemical species in the different environmental reservoirs will be described and explained with reference to the major elements.

The notion of environmental pollution will be explained using lead pollution as exemplar.

The study-unit will also introduce students to the nature of natural radioactivity, nuclear reactions and radioactive decay series and half life of radioisotopes. Nuclear environmental chemical analyses using isotope dilution and neutron activation analysis will also be discussed as well as nuclear energy, nuclear waste and the effect of radiation on human health.

Students will also be exposed to laboratory classes relating to environmental analysis.

Study-Unit Aims:

The study-unit aims to familiarise students with concepts that allow them to appreciate the issues which govern the flow of chemicals between different environmental reservoirs; another aim is to put in a chemical perspective the interplay happening between forms of matter and human and biological activities on the planet.

The study-unit will also seek to familiarise students with nuclear changes and radiochemistry and the importance and risks presented by the atomic nucleus as a source of energy. Furthermore, students will also be trained to perform analytical experiments on environmental samples and interpret results.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Describe the concept of cycling of chemical elements through environmental reservoirs, draw a geochemical cycle and calculate retention time and account for differences in retention time in terms of chemical and physical properties of species in the environment;
- Account for the effect of biotic influences on the environmental chemistry of chemical species;
- Differentiate between earth materials including minerals and rocks and describe the relationship between these materials in terms of geological, biological and chemical processes;
- Explain the geochemical cycles of the elements oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, sulfur, silicon magnesium and calcium in terms of the major species and their interconversions;
- Describe the use of Eh-pH diagrams in predicting environmental fate of elements;
- Describe the concept of environmental pollutant and compare essentiality and toxicity of elements;
- Explain terms associated with the evaluation of toxicity using the geochemical cycling of lead as example;
- Classify nuclides in terms of isotopes, isotones and isobars;
- Identify different types of radiation resulting from nuclear processes and describe their relative penetrating power and speed;
- Calculate the mass defect for a nuclide and use it to calculate the binding energy per nucleon;
- Assess nuclear stability and predict nuclear change from knowledge of the binding energy per nucleon and the proton and neutron content of the nuclide;
- Interconvert the half-life of a nuclear process and the decay constant of the process;
- Apply kinetic data for nuclear reactions to determine the age of archaeological and geological samples and events;
- Apply isotope dilution techniques and neutron activation analysis in chemical analysis;
- Describe the process of producing electricity from nuclear fission reactions;
- Describe processes being investigated for the production of electrical energy from nuclear fusion processes;
- Describe the detection of radiation using Geiger Muller tube or dosimeters;
- Discuss the harmful effects of radiation and problems caused by radioisotopes in the environment;
- Apply the biological half-life of radio-nuclides to the kinetics of removal of such an isotope from the body.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Apply basic knowledge in diverse branches of chemistry including inorganic, analytical, physical and radiochemistry to address problems of chemicals in the environment;
- Perform analytical chemistry experiments safely;
- Check the correctness and reliability of analytical data and results;
- Interpret correctly and verify the results of analytical measurements;
- Discuss results of experimental work in relation to established knowledge.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Text:

Introduction to Environmental Chemistry, Peter O'Neill, 3rd ed. 1999.

Supplementary Readings:

Environmental Chemistry, Stanely E. Manahan, 7th Ed, 2000.

Environmental Chemistry, Gary W. VanLoon and Stephen J. Duffy, 3rd ed. 2017.

Nuclear and Radiochemistry, Gerhart Friedlander, Joseph W. Kennedy, Edward S. Macias and Julian Malcolm, 3rd ed., 1981.

ADDITIONAL NOTES Please note that a pass in the Practical component is obligatory for an overall pass mark to be awarded.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture, Independent Study, Practicum & Tutorial

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Progress Test SEM2 No 10%
Practical [See Add. Notes] SEM2 No 20%
Online Examination (2 Hours) SEM2 Yes 70%

LECTURER/S Emmanuel Sinagra
Alfred J. Vella

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.