Environmental Chemistry is one of the public and friendly faces of chemistry. Decisions based on research in Environmental Chemistry have enormous consequences for all of us. You may think that Environmental Chemistry is mostly about pollution, but really it is a subject for people who want to understand how the world works. That is, in order to understand macroscopic processes in the environment (eg why are polar bears contaminated with mercury), we have to focus on the molecular level.

Environmental Chemistry is concerned with the behaviour of chemicals (natural or man-made) in air, water, soils and sediments. It is an interdisciplinary field at the cross roads of important scientific subjects centred around advanced analytical chemistry. It requires knowledge of fundamental principles of many subject areas, including organic chemistry, soil science, biochemistry, toxicology and ecology. Students of Environmental Chemistry need to learn about the chemistry of organic and inorganic compounds, whether they are produced on purpose or generated as by-products of industrial processes, and about their reactivity and their interactions with living systems.

What do Environmental Chemists do?

“Why do Scottish salmon have higher concentrations of a group of organic compounds called PCBs than salmon from Chile?” is the sort of question that might have to be answered by an Environmental Chemist. The Environmental Chemist has to know and understand the best methods to use to analyse the salmon for the PCBs, and also be aware of the likely sources of the PCBs in our environment. He/she will derive models to try to explain how the chemicals have been transported and transformed in the environment, and why the salmon in particular has a tendency to accumulate so much of it.

“Why do oysters no longer reproduce and why do female periwinkles become male?” Environmental Chemists will analyse the water and sediment, and predict the source of a chemical called TBT? “Did the people in pre-Columbian villages suffer from high level of arsenic in their drinking water?” There are mummies that reveal the answer if you know how arsenic behaves in the environment and in contact with humans.

The Environmental Chemistry research group is an active interdisciplinary one at the forefront of Environmental Chemistry, led by Prof Jörg Feldmann, a member of the Editorial Boards of two leading international journals Environmental Chemistry and Journal of Environmental Monitoring. The group’s special interests are the interactions of metals with biota, for which they use state-of-the-art advanced analytical equipment.

The skills and training of the Environmental Chemistry programme mean that that graduates have excellent job prospects. For example, a BSc graduate would be well qualified to work for SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency), for a water or energy company to be responsible for environmental monitoring of the quality of water and industrial processes; or alternatively, as a chemist in a forensic laboratory, where well developed interdisciplinary skills and a high level of analytical understanding are required.

Environmental Chemistry students study the full Chemistry course at all levels, with particular emphasis on analytical chemistry, and in addition take courses on ecology, molecular and cell biology, microbiology, and soil science.

These are the subjects that you must pass in order to graduate with the degree of BSc with Honours in Environmental Chemistry:

Level 1

  • Chemistry for the Physical Sciences I
  • Chemistry for the Physical Sciences II
  • Elements of Chemistry 1
  • Elements of Chemistry 2
  • Frontiers in Biological Sciences
  • Ecology and Environmental Science

Level 2

  • Chemical Kinetics and Thermodynamics
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Organic and Biological Chemistry
  • Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy
  • Ecology

Level 3

  • Solid State Chemistry
  • Molecular Structure and Reactivity
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Organic and Biological Chemistry
  • Professional Skills for Physcis and Chemistry
  • Global Soil Geography

Level 4

  • Advanced Chemistry 1
  • Advanced Chemistry 2
  • Honours Chemistry Research Project
  • Advanced Chemistry 3
  • Advanced Chemistry 4
  • Integrated Chemistry
  • Remediation Technology

In your first year of study, you must take courses in addition to those specified, in each half-session. Again, in your second year of study, you must take additional courses. See our pages on Curriculum Reform for more details.