CHEM 110 : Chemistry of the Living World


2024 Semester One (1243) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

A foundation for understanding the chemistry of life is laid by exploring the diversity and reactivity of organic compounds. A systematic study of reactivity focuses on the site and mechanism of reaction including application of chemical kinetics. A quantitative study of proton transfer reactions features control of pH of fluids in both living systems and the environment. It is recommended that students with a limited background in chemistry take CHEM 150 prior to CHEM 110.

Course Overview

In this course, you will be introduced to the chemical language and concepts underpinning all studies in the life sciences.  The focus of the course is on developing a chemical vocabulary and chemical reasoning that can be applied to a range of scientific disciplines, especially biology, pharmacology, physiology, medicine, and pharmacy.  We will discuss how chemical language is used and misused in the public sphere, equipping you to use your chemistry knowledge outside the class setting. Deeper coverage of organic reaction mechanisms, principles of chemical kinetics, and acid/base chemistry will support students wishing to progress in the chemical sciences. In the laboratory component of this course, you will be introduced to a number of techniques relevant to synthetic chemistry. You will also develop data analysis and report writing skills that are easily transferable into other disciplines within science and technology. Teaching in CHEM110 comprises lectures and laboratories, alongside a range of self-paced online learning modules and activities.

This course assumes knowledge of the NCEA3 chemistry syllabus (or equivalent), particularly the external credits. Students who have completed less than 2/3 of the external credits, or did not take chemistry in their final year (IB, Cambridge) should take CHEM150 prior to enrolling in CHEM110. Where this is not possible due to program requirements students may wish to consider a preparatory course, for example, BestChoice Prep Chem Online, prior to starting CHEM110. Students majoring in chemistry, medicinal chemistry, green chemistry or food science are recommended to take CHEM120 in their first semester of study and CHEM110 in their second semester of study.

CHEM110 is a required course for students studying chemistry, medicinal chemistry, food science, nutrition, pharmacology, biomedical sciences, and some biological science pathways. Biological Sciences majors in particular are encouraged to talk to the Biology Stage 1 advisors to ensure they are enrolled in the appropriate level of chemistry for their programme.

Course Requirements

No pre-requisites or restrictions

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: People and Place
Capability 3: Knowledge and Practice
Capability 4: Critical Thinking
Capability 5: Solution Seeking
Capability 6: Communication
Capability 7: Collaboration
Capability 8: Ethics and Professionalism
Graduate Profile: Bachelor of Science

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Identify and describe the chemical reactivity and physical properties of organic compounds using scientific vocabulary and drawing conventions. (Capability 3, 4, 5 and 6)
  2. Predict physical properties and chemical behaviour of organic molecules based on their physical and/or electronic structure. (Capability 3, 4 and 5)
  3. Use spectrophotometric information to identify organic molecules. (Capability 3, 4 and 5)
  4. Recall principles of chemical kinetics, and relate these to concepts of reaction mechanisms. (Capability 3, 4 and 5)
  5. Describe and explain principles of acid-base behaviour. (Capability 3 and 5)
  6. Perform appropriate mathematical manipulations on data to solve problems. (Capability 3 and 5)
  7. Follow experimental protocols, including safety procedures, to prepare and analyse organic compounds. (Capability 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8)
  8. Critically analyse chemistry reporting in the news, and discuss issues in science reporting with a non-scientific audience. (Capability 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Test 15% Individual Test
Quiz 5% Individual Coursework
Laboratories 15% Individual Coursework
Assignment 15% Group & Individual Coursework
Final Exam 50% Individual Examination
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Final Exam

A student must pass both the theory component and the practical component to gain an overall pass. The theory component is composed of quiz, term test, and final exam. The practical component is composed of laboratory experiments and assignment.

Regular attendance at scheduled workshops will allow students to qualify for plussage. Plussage allows students to reweight the test/exam contribution of their final grade from 15:50 to 0:65 if their exam mark is higher than their mid-term test mark.


Tuākana Science is a multi-faceted programme for Māori and Pacific students providing topic specific tutorials, one-on-one sessions, test and exam preparation and more. Explore your options at

As part of the University-wide Tuākana community, The School of chemical sciences aims to provide a welcoming learning environment for and enhance the success of, all of our Māori and Pacific students. We are led by the principles of tautoko (support) and whanaungatanga (connection) and hope you find a home here at the School. Students who have identified as Māori and/or Pacific will receive an invitation to our online portal introducing the Programme, the resources we have available, and how you can get involved.

Tuākana Chemistry runs a range of activities for students enrolled in this class. This includes weekly workshops, social activities, and opportunities to engage with senior students and researchers within the School of Chemical Sciences. Tuākana-eligible students will be added automatically to the Tuākana Chemistry program when they enroll in this course. For more information, please see the Tuākana program website or email

Key Topics

  • Foundations: Bonding, drawing structures, functional groups, nomenclature, isomerism, reaction classification, and electron movement.
  • Spectroscopy and Structure Determination: Mass spectrometry. Ultraviolet-­ visible, infrared, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.
  • Kinetics: Rate laws, integrated rate laws, Arrhenius Equation, rate laws and mechanism, applications of chemical kinetics. 
  • Functional Group Chemistry: Alkenes, alkynes, aromatics, alkyl halides, alcohols, aldehydes and ketones, carboxylic acids & derivatives, amines and peptides & proteins, carbohydrates, and radicals.
  • Acids and Bases: Speciation, pH, Ka and pKa, titrations.

Special Requirements

Attendance at laboratories is a compulsory part of this course. Students who miss more than one lab (without a formal excusal) or two labs (with formal excusals) will not be eligible to pass the course. Wearing a laboratory coat, covered footwear, and suitable eye protection (e.g. safety glasses) is compulsory at all times when present in the laboratory. If a student does not wear adequate eye protection, appropriate footwear, or a laboratory coat at all times, the student will be asked to leave the laboratory and will receive a fail for that laboratory.

Workload Expectations

This course is a standard 15-point course and students are expected to spend 10 hours per week involved in each 15-point course that they are enrolled in.

For this course, you can expect 6 hours of lectures, 2 hours of workshops, a 3-hour laboratory, 5 hours of reading and thinking about the content and 4 hours of work on assignments and/or test preparation per fortnight, and additional preparation during the exam period.

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience

This course uses a blend of online and in-person delivery. Students can expect approximately 2h of self-paced online lecture material, 1h of in-person/on-campus lectures and a 1 h workshop each week.

Attendance is required at scheduled activities.

  • Laboratories (3h, once per fortnight) are compulsory and graded.
  • Workshops (1h per week) are compulsory.

Lectures and the teacher-led elements of workshops will be available as recordings. Other learning activities including labs will not be available as recordings.
Attendance on campus is required for the test and exam.
The activities for the course are scheduled as a standard weekly timetable.

Learning Resources

Course materials are made available in a learning and collaboration tool called Canvas which also includes reading lists and lecture recordings (where available).

Please remember that the recording of any class on a personal device requires the permission of the instructor.

The CHEM110 course folder is required for all students and can be purchased from the University bookstore (UBIQ). This contains the shell of the lecture notes as well as the workshop problem sets. A pdf copy is available for students who use a tablet with annotation capabilities. Students need to bring a copy of the course folder to lectures that they can annotate both with drawings and writing.
The CHEM110 lab manual is required for all students and can be purchased from the University bookstore (UBIQ). All students must have a hard-copy of the lab manual as you are not permitted to bring tablets or computers into the laboratory. Printable versions are also made available on Canvas.
The recommended textbook for the course is Blackman's Chemistry (3rd, 4th or 5th Ed.). This is supplementary reading (not required reading) and is particularly encouraged for students without a strong background in chemistry at NCEA3 (or equivalent).
All other resources, including a CHEM110-specific site subscription to the best choice, will be provided free of charge to students via Canvas. 

Health & Safety

Wearing a laboratory coat, covered footwear, and suitable eye protection (e.g. safety glasses) is compulsory at all times when present in the laboratory. Students are expected to bring these to each laboratory session. If a student does not wear adequate eye protection, appropriate footwear, or a laboratory coat at all times, the student will be asked to leave the laboratory and will receive a fail for that laboratory.

Student Feedback

During the course Class Representatives in each class can take feedback to the staff responsible for the course and staff-student consultative committees.

At the end of the course students will be invited to give feedback on the course and teaching through a tool called SET or Qualtrics. The lecturers and course co-ordinators will consider all feedback.

Your feedback helps to improve the course and its delivery for all students.

We will be working on increasing opportunities for face-to-face learning for students who need this additional structure and support.

Other Information

Detailed Course Description:
Organic compounds of interest to chemists, biologists, and those studying and researching in all areas of medicine and health sciences range from the structurally simple to the very complex. Fortunately, organic compounds can be classified into a relatively small number of structurally similar groups. The similarity in structure means similarity in physical properties and often reactivity. Thus a reasonable approach to providing a sound basis for an understanding of organic molecules is to commence with the simplest organic molecules, identify their common features, and gradually progress to more complex molecules.
1.1 INTRODUCTION and FOUNDATIONS (7-8 hours) Structure and bonding in organic molecules. Functional groups and their nomenclature. Isomerism: Constitutional and conformational. Configurational isomerism in relation to alkenes (E-Z nomenclature) and cycloalkenes. Chirality and optical activity. R and S convention. Bonding and reactions: Electronegativity, bond polarity, and physical properties. Chromatography. Homolytic and heterolytic bond breaking and bond making. Intermediates and reaction classifications.

1.2 FUNCTIONAL GROUP CHEMISTRY (14 hours) Alkenes: Synthesis from alkyl halides and alcohols; catalytic hydrogenation. Additions initiated by the addition of proton, stability of alkyl substituted carbocations; bromine, stereochemistry, and the bromonium ion. Alkynes: Synthesis from vinyl halides and by nucleophilic substitution using acetylide anions. Catalytic hydrogenation, complete and partial. Electrophilic additions. Aromatics: The structure of benzene and resonance energy. Electrophilic aromatic substitutions; bromination, chlorination, nitration, alkylation, and acylation of benzene; activation and deactivation; ortho‐ para- and meta-directors. Phenols: From benzenediazonium salts. Acidity. Alkyl halides: Bromides and chlorides by HX addition to alkenes and HX substitution of alcohols. SN1 and SN2 reaction mechanisms; stereochemistry. E1 and E2 compete with SN; stereochemistry. Preparation of organometallic halides. Ethers: From alkyl halides and alcohols or phenols. Alcohols: From alkenes, alkyl halides, aldehydes, ketones, and esters. Amphoteric nature of alcohols. Substitution and elimination reactions. Grignard synthesis. Aldehydes and ketones: Properties of the C=O bond. Synthesis by acylation of aromatic rings, oxidation of alcohols. Nucleophilic addition of NaBH4, RMgX, ROH, H2O. Hemiacetals and acetals. Carboxylic acids: Preparations by oxidation of alcohols, aldehydes, and aliphatic side-­‐chains; by carboxylation of organometallic halides and by nitrile hydrolysis including cyanohydrins. Relative acidities of carboxylic acids. Carboxylic acid derivatives: Acyl halides, anhydrides, esters, amides, and nitriles, their hydrolysis and interconversions. Nucleophilic acyl substitution. Ester reactions with RMgX, LiAlH4. Amines: Synthesis from alkyl halides and ammonia; from imines, amides, nitrile, and nitro compounds. Base strength and reactions as nucleophiles. Quaternary ammonium salts. Aromatic amines; synthesis by reduction of ArNO2 and benzene diazonium ions. Amino acids: structures, structure in acidic, neutral,  and basic solutions, configuration, reactions to form peptides including the use of protecting groups, structure and function of proteins using enzymes as examples. Carbohydrates: Configuration of monosaccharides, cyclic structures of monosaccharides, monosaccharide anomers, and mutarotation. Reactions of monosaccharides.

1.3 SPECTROSCOPY (5 hours) Mass spectrometry and the molecular ion. Ultraviolet-visible, its use in detecting π bonds and conjugated systems, and Beer’s Law. Infrared and 13C and 1H nuclear magnetic resonance. Use of spectroscopic methods to identify specific structural units present in molecules, and structure determination of molecules.

1.4 KINETICS (4-5 hours) Definition and measurement of reaction rates; qualitative effects of concentration, temperature, and catalysts on reaction rates; reaction order and rate laws; integrated rate laws in simple systems; Arrhenius equation and activation energy, interpretation in terms of collision theory; reaction mechanisms, rate‐limiting steps, intermediates, and transition states; common organic reaction mechanisms and rate laws; catalysis and enzymes; design of reaction conditions for the desired outcome based on kinetic concepts.

1.5 ACIDS AND BASES (5 hours) Definition of acids and bases, proton transfer reactions; strengths of acids, Ka and pKa; relation of acid strength to structure; pH and species present in acid/base/salt solutions; titration curves and indicators; buffer solutions and applications; the role of very strong acids and bases in organic chemistry; effect of pH on charged species (especially biological molecules), electrophoresis; acid rain, soil chemistry, and pH, pH, and color in biological systems.

Academic Integrity

The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting their learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the internet. A student's assessed work may be reviewed for potential plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct, using computerised detection mechanisms.

Class Representatives

Class representatives are students tasked with representing student issues to departments, faculties, and the wider university. If you have a complaint about this course, please contact your class rep who will know how to raise it in the right channels. See your departmental noticeboard for contact details for your class reps.


The content and delivery of content in this course are protected by copyright. Material belonging to others may have been used in this course and copied by and solely for the educational purposes of the University under license.

You may copy the course content for the purposes of private study or research, but you may not upload onto any third party site, make a further copy or sell, alter or further reproduce or distribute any part of the course content to another person.

Inclusive Learning

All students are asked to discuss any impairment related requirements privately, face to face and/or in written form with the course coordinator, lecturer or tutor.

Student Disability Services also provides support for students with a wide range of impairments, both visible and invisible, to succeed and excel at the University. For more information and contact details, please visit the Student Disability Services’ website

Special Circumstances

If your ability to complete assessed coursework is affected by illness or other personal circumstances outside of your control, contact a member of teaching staff as soon as possible before the assessment is due.

If your personal circumstances significantly affect your performance, or preparation, for an exam or eligible written test, refer to the University’s aegrotat or compassionate consideration page

This should be done as soon as possible and no later than seven days after the affected test or exam date.

Learning Continuity

In the event of an unexpected disruption, we undertake to maintain the continuity and standard of teaching and learning in all your courses throughout the year. If there are unexpected disruptions the University has contingency plans to ensure that access to your course continues and course assessment continues to meet the principles of the University’s assessment policy. Some adjustments may need to be made in emergencies. You will be kept fully informed by your course co-ordinator/director, and if disruption occurs you should refer to the university website for information about how to proceed.

The delivery mode may change depending on COVID restrictions. Any changes will be communicated through Canvas.

Student Charter and Responsibilities

The Student Charter assumes and acknowledges that students are active participants in the learning process and that they have responsibilities to the institution and the international community of scholars. The University expects that students will act at all times in a way that demonstrates respect for the rights of other students and staff so that the learning environment is both safe and productive. For further information visit Student Charter


Elements of this outline may be subject to change. The latest information about the course will be available for enrolled students in Canvas.

In this course students may be asked to submit coursework assessments digitally. The University reserves the right to conduct scheduled tests and examinations for this course online or through the use of computers or other electronic devices. Where tests or examinations are conducted online remote invigilation arrangements may be used. In exceptional circumstances changes to elements of this course may be necessary at short notice. Students enrolled in this course will be informed of any such changes and the reasons for them, as soon as possible, through Canvas.