Natural Sciences

Macromolecular and Supramolecular Chemistry (2019/0)

Module TitleMacromolecular and Supramolecular Chemistry Credit Value15
Module CodeNSC3007 Module ConvenorDr Ana Neves
Duration: Term 1 2 3
No. of weeks 11
Number students taking module (anticipated) 45
Module description

Macromolecules are very large molecules comprised of small sub-units which are present in our daily lives and even inside our bodies. They include synthetic or naturally-occurring polymers as well as biopolymers, such as proteins, and even DNA. These molecules are held together mainly by covalent bonds, but other types of inter- and intramolecular interactions also play an important part. These interactions beyond the covalent bond are what defines Supramolecular Chemistry, and their understanding allows us to design molecules with specific functions.

This module is divided into two parts:

  1. Macromolecular chemistry (polymers and biomolecules);
  2. Supramolecular chemistry.

In this module you will learn how polymers are synthesised, their properties and applications, and some characterisation methods. You will also learn what supramolecular arrangements are and how important molecular design is to achieve functional materials with a myriad of applications.

Module aims

The aim of this module is to explore the rich chemistry of large molecules and molecular arrangements beyond the covalent bond, how the lessons we learn from biological systems can inspire molecular design targeted at achieving certain functionalities, and the applications that all these molecular systems have in our daily lives.

Examples of historic relevance to polymer chemistry, such as Nylon, polystyrene and Kevlar, will be discussed. Besides the historical examples given, the module content will be updated every year to reflect current research in the areas of macromolecular and supramolecular chemistry. Furthermore, in order to connect the module content to current research at Exeter, several lab visits and guest lectures will be arranged.

You will develop the following graduate attributes:

  • Team work in the tasks given for the group essay and presentation assessment
  • People skills in communicating with peers and discussing scientific ideas
  • Independent research skills related to literature review
  • Applied thinking and problem-solving – applying the knowledge you have gained to solve problems related to macromolecular and supramolecular chemistry
INTENDED LEARNING OUTCOMES (ILOs) (see assessment section below for how ILOs will be assessed)

On successful completion of this module, you should be able to:

Module Specific Skills and Knowledge:

  • 1. Explain the concept of macromolecules, different classes, and other basic concepts in polymer science
  • 2. Describe in detail the physical properties of polymers, how to measure them, and the impact in the applications of each polymer
  • 3. Illustrate the polymerisation reactions and some degradation mechanisms through examples of polymers with historical interest
  • 4. Outline the different types of chemical bonds and molecular interactions that contribute to the structural features of certain materials, and explain how these relate with the functionality of such materials
  • 5. Explain in detail the basic concepts of supramolecular chemistry, how we can use them for the rational design of materials with specific functionalities, and the parallels between supramolecular systems and biological systems to interpret bio-inspired synthetic systems

Discipline Specific Skills and Knowledge:

  • 6. Evaluate and analyse in depth essential facts and theory in the area of chemistry
  • 7. Apply the concepts and methods of macromolecular and supramolecular chemistry to research-relevant problems and questions
  • 8. Evaluate independently and with limited guidance, a range of research and research-informed literature in the area of macromolecular and supramolecular chemistry, and synthesise these ideas into written and oral work

Personal and Key Transferable/Employment Skills and Knowledge:

  • 9. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data with very limited guidance
  • 10. Work as a group towards a common goal
  • 11. Participate effectively and professionally in group discussions of scientific ideas
  • 12. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 13. Communicate effectively and professionally arguments, evidence and conclusions using written and oral means

SYLLABUS PLAN - summary of the structure and academic content of the module

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction, definitions, and history of supramolecular and macromolecular chemistry
  • Macromolecular Chemistry
    • Basic concepts in polymer science
    • Macromolecules in biology
    • Degree of polymerisation and molecular weight distribution
    • Polymerisation reactions: condensation, addition and controlled polymerisation
    • Polymers in the solid state: glass transition and properties of polymers
    • Polymer processing: moulding extrusion, additive and subtractive manufacturing
    • Polymer biodegradation
    • Examples of functional polymers for different applications
  • Supramolecular Chemistry
    • Basic concepts in supramolecular chemistry
    • Host-guest chemistry
    • Self-assembly and non-covalent interactions
    • Synthetic, biological and bio-inspired systems
    • Solid state chemistry and crystal engineering
    • Examples of supramolecular and functional materials for different applications

You will be asked to work in groups to write a mini-review paper and give a group oral presentation on that paper during the workshop sessions. The groups will be given a list of topics to select from, but we will consider alternative topics proposed by the groups; these alternative topics are subject to approval by the module convenor.

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad
CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Lectures (22 x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Workshop sessions (11 x 2 hours)
Guided Independent Study48Guided reading of scientific literature and textbook references, plus revision
Guided Independent Study18Preparation for workshops
Guided Independent Study20Completion of continuous assessments
Guided Independent Study20Preparation of group work and presentation
FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT - for feedback and development purposes; does not count towards module grade
Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Workshop2 hoursAllOral
Feedback via ELE Forumad hocAllWritten
CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams
Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination601 hour 30 minutes1-9, 12-13Written via tutor
Group mini-review paper204000 words (~1000-1500-word contribution per student)1-3 or 4-5, 6-9, 12-13 Written
Group presentation based on the content of the group mini-review paper (you will receive an individual mark for your participation in the presentation)2010-15 minutes 1-3 or 4-5, 6-13Oral and written
DETAILS OF RE-ASSESSMENT (where required by referral or deferral)
Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination1-9, 12-13August Ref/Def
Group mini-review paperIndividual essay (deferral); Examination (referral)1-3 or 4-5, 6-9, 12-13 August Ref/Def or earlier if possible in the case of a deferral
Group presentationIndividual presentation on written essay (deferral); Examination (referral)1-3 or 4-5, 6-13August Ref/Def or earlier if possible in the case of a deferral

Deferral – if you have been deferred for any assessment you will be expected to submit the relevant assessment; in the case of the group mini-review paper and group presentation assessments, these will be replaced by an individual essay and individual presentation. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.

INDICATIVE LEARNING RESOURCES - The following list is offered as an indication of the type & level of information that you are expected to consult. Further guidance will be provided by the Module Convener

Reading list for this module:

  • P. C. Hiemenz, “Polymer Chemistry”, 2nd ed. CRC Press, 2007
  • M. P. Stevens, “Polymer Chemistry, An Introduction”, 3rd ed.  Oxford University Press, 1999
  • L. H. Sperling, “Introduction to Physical Polymer Science”, Wiley, 2006
  • J. W. Steed, J. L. Atwood, “Supramolecular Chemistry”, 2nd Edition, Wiley, 2009
  • J. W. Steed, D. R. Turner, JK. J. Wallace, “Core Concepts in Supramolecular and Nanochemistry”, Wiley, 2007
  • K. Ariga, T. Kunitake, “Supramolecular Chemistry – Fundamentals and Applications”, Springer 2006
Module has an active ELE page?


Web based and electronic resources
Other resources
  • Primary literature



NSC1003 Foundations in Natural Science or BIO1345 Structure and Reactivity of Organic Compounds I












Polymer, macromolecule, supramolecular