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2019/20 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

CHEM3246 Soft Matter: Self-Assembling and Polymeric Materials

10 creditsClass Size: 120

Module manager: Dr P Beales

Taught: Semester 2 View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

Pre-requisite qualifications

Level 2 in Chemistry or Level 2 in Natural Sciences or Joint Honours (Science) with Chemistry or equivalent.

Some background in organic synthesis (e.g. CHEM2141) and thermodynamics (e.g. CHEM2224 or CHEM2290) would be beneficial but not essential.

Module replaces

CHEM3241 Self-organising molecular systems

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Soft matter is highly interdisciplinary area of chemistry, overlapping with topics in physics, biology and chemical engineering. It describes the science of “complex fluids”, multiphase states of matter that do not always fit within the traditional definitions of solids, liquids and gases. Soft matter science covers the behaviour of colloids, emulsions, liquid crystals, foams and aerosols as well as the solution phase behaviour of macromolecules (e.g. polymers) and self-assembled mesophases. Soft matter has wide applicability and importance in the chemical industries, including traditional and novel pharmaceutical formulations, consumer products, food and cosmetics. It also provides new insights into the behaviour of biological systems as well as essential concepts for emerging fields of nanotechnology and synthetic biology. Fitting the interdisciplinarity of this topic, this module will cover organic and physical chemistry aspects of soft matter. You will learn methods of polymer synthesis, characterisation and their applications. You will also understand the role of non-covalent interactions in the behaviour of soft, responsive materials, the thermodynamics of self-assembling systems, the solution phase structure of polymers and the role of phase separation in texturing of soft matter. Context will be provided by examples of novel soft materials from the recent scientific literature, with a particular emphasis on ongoing research in this field being conducted in Leeds.


On completion of the first half of this module, the students will have a comprehensive understanding of polymer synthesis. In particular, emphasis will be afforded to controlled polymerisation techniques that are used to produce macromolecular architectures that are frequently utilised in the soft matter field. Information of common characterisation techniques relevant to polymer chemistry will be given to ensure that an understanding of analytical polymer chemistry is acquired. The students will gain an appreciation of the significance of polymer self-assembly within the contemporary academic literature to ensure that the content is partially research-led. Finally, an understanding of the commercial significance of using polymers within biomaterials will be obtained.

The second half of the module will give the students a basic understanding of some of the important interactions in soft materials and determination of the stability of colloidal suspensions undergoing sedimentation. They will also be familiar with physical models for 1D self-assembly of supramolecular polymers and amphiphile self-assembly. Students will understand and apply models for the solution-phase structure of polymers and understand the mixing properties, equilibrium phase diagrams and phase separation mechanisms in polymer solutions. Ultimately the students will understand how these physical models relate to the design of smart soft materials for applications in a range of industries ranging from healthcare to consumer products.

Learning outcomes
(1) A comprehensive understanding of the fundamental principles of both theoretical and synthetic polymer chemistry.
(2) Familiarity of the polymeric properties, and the methods utilised to assess these properties that are of significance for the generation of soft materials.
(3) Knowledge of key contemporary methods of polymerisation, and their wide-ranging applicability within soft matter.
(4) An understanding of the importance of non-covalent interactions in soft matter.
(5) Understanding and application of self-assembly models for amphiphiles and 1D self-assembly of supramolecular polymers.
(6) Understand and apply models for solution phase structures of linear homopolymers.
(7) Understand the assumptions and results of Flory-Huggins Theory (regular solution theory generalised to polymeric systems) and understand how two mechanisms of phase separation arise from the underlying free energy of mixing curves.


General Polymer Synthesis
Free Radical Polymerisations
Controlled Free-Radical Polymerisations
Ring-Opening Polymerisations
Polymer Self Assembly
Industrial Applications of Polymers
Polymer Analysis
Non-covalent interactions in soft matter
The hydrophobic effect
Amphiphile self-assembly
Thermodynamics of self-assembly and the critical micelle concentration
Mechanisms of 1D self-assembly
Models of solution phase polymer conformations
Flory-Huggins Theory (regular solution theory generalised for polymers)
Phase diagrams, free energy of mixing and mechanisms of phase separation: nucleation and growth; spinodal decomposition

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Class tests, exams and assessment12.002.00
Independent online learning hours8.00
Private study hours70.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)100.00

Private study

The students will have two assessed problem sheets (3 hr each) to complete and hand in for assessment. (6 hrs)

A further 3 problem sheets will be provided for the students to complete (3 hr each) with solutions made available to the students at a later time online. (9 hrs)

Solutions to the assessed and practise problem sheets will be made available online, accompanied by video commentary of the solutions by the lectures (desktop capture). The students will also be given some online videos and website resources to explore from the VLE (8 hrs independent online learning)

Further study of lecture material, including reading relevant accompanying material in books on the module reading list as directed by the lecturers. (2 hr per lecture = 40 hr)

Exam revision, including practise of past papers. (15 hr)

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Problem SheetProblem sheet 110.00
Problem SheetProblem sheet 210.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)20.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc)2 hr 00 mins80.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)80.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 21/02/2020


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