Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health Professions


Chemistry of Life

Module titleChemistry of Life
Module codeCSC1009
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Mino Belle (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe. Through its function, and that of the wider nervous system, we can respond to environmental stimuli and, through learning, to construct hypotheses about the world around us. These hypotheses, and many other aspects of our conscious experience, may then be shared through external communication. (!)

To begin your detailed exploration of these processes, this module introduces functional neuroanatomy, considers some key features of molecular cell biology, and describes synaptic transmission. The basic biological concepts will be illustrated using laboratory demonstrations and clinical examples from neurological disorders.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module introduces four main aspects of contemporary Neuroscience:

 1. Neuroanatomy

The structure of nervous systems

An introduction to neurodevelopment

 2. Neuropharmacology

Core concepts in pharmacology

Key receptor systems in neural structures

 3. Signal transduction and processing

Principles of membrane excitability

The physiology of synapses

 4. Learning and memory

Learning and memory in simple systems

Learning and memory in complex systems

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe the basic structure of the mammalian nervous system, including the major anatomical divisions and those of the human brain.
  • 2. Identify how the different structures of the central and peripheral nervous systems connect with one another.
  • 3. Illustrate the different cell types in the central and peripheral divisions of the nervous system; recognise their diverse developmental origins and functions.
  • 4. Describe how the different cell types in the nervous system communicate with one another.
  • 5. Describe the principles of membrane excitability, highlighting the role of ion channels in modulating permeability, and linking this to the generation and propagation of action potentials.
  • 6. Describe the main neurotransmitters in the nervous system and their receptors; focusing on metabotropic and ionotropic receptors, give examples of how they may influence cellular signalling, morphology, homeostasis, and cell behaviour.
  • 7. Describe how synaptic communication occurs and can be modulated at presynaptic terminals, across the synaptic cleft, and at the postsynaptic membrane.
  • 8. Outline non-associative and associative learning.
  • 9. Understand how neural signalling can be modulated by drugs, using identified examples such as alcohol, to influence brain activity, homeostasis, physiology and behaviour.
  • 10. Explain the application of experimental methods for measuring neural membrane properties in the laboratory.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 11. Describe some key modern research techniques commonly used in neuroscience.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 12. Communicate scientific concepts effectively using oral, written and other media.
  • 13. With some guidance, select and interpret information drawn from books, scientific journals, databases and websites and begin to develop the skill of critical appraisal.
  • 14. Interact effectively in a group.
  • 15. Develop the necessary skills for self-directed learning.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module’s precise content will vary from year to year, but the following information gives an detailed description of the typical overall structure:


There is a lecture every week, covering sequentially the topics described above and delivered by a suitably-qualified member of staff. In the first week, there is an additional lecture to describe the module in detail, including the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs), assessment procedures, and other practicalities. The final week of the module has a consolidation workshop, in which students can chose which topic areas they would like to re-visit.

The lectures explore the following topics:

 1. Neuroanatomy

The structure of nervous systems

An introduction to neurodevelopment

 2. Neuropharmacology

Core concepts in pharmacology

Key receptor systems in neural structures

3. Signal transduction and processing                               

Principles of membrane excitability

The physiology of synapses

4. Learning and memory

Learning and memory in simple systems

Learning and memory in complex systems

Laboratory demonstrations

  1. In vitro electrophysiology: Field recordings from Murine sections   
  2. In vivo neuropsychology: The acute effects of alcohol on human cognition

For the 2020/21 Academic Year, as part of Project Enhance, the in-person sessions will be replaced with a series of videos and online discussion classes.



These seminars help to consolidate your learning, integrating what you have encountered in the lectures and practical sessions. Every two weeks you will meet other members of your small group for two hours, with the session facilitated by a member of the Neuroscience staff. Each session will be dedicated to one of the module’s core themes, as identified in the Module Aims section. You will have five sessions for the four main topics. You will be provided with key focus points by the member of staff who delivers the accompanying lectures. You should explore these focus points during your self-directed learning, and produce electronic learning resources that can be shared with other students on the module WIKI.


A further seminar will provide focussed statistical support to help you with the analysis of the data derived from your practical sessions.



Technique Master-Classes

These one-hour sessions will introduce you to how research in neuroscience is actually done using examples of our own work.

The content of these changes frequently to ensure they are up-to-date and relevant. Previous examples include:

  1. Microscopy and animal models

Electrophysiology and computational methods


As part of Project Enhance, we are increasing contact time in this module by approximately 20% for the 2021 Academic Year.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities13Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities2Techniques Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities10Small group learning: Seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities6Practical sessions
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities6Question and answer sessions; synchronous with asynchronous discussion forum
Guided Independent Study10Lecture preparation
Guided Independent Study10Lecture review and reflection
Guided Independent Study20Write-up of Practical sessions
Guided Independent Study25Seminar preparation
Guided Independent Study10Seminar sessions review and reflection
Guided Independent Study20Revision
Guided Independent Study18Wider reading


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Write-up of Practical 11000 words1-12, 14Written
Practice short answer questions5 questions, each worth between three and five marks, accompanied by model answers1-11Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination: Multiple Choice and Short Answer questions. 602 hours 1-13, 15Oral
Write up of practical 2301000 words1-12, 14, 15Written
Seminar contribution10This reflects your contribution across all the seminars, and is assessed using the programme-wide contribution criteria.11-15Oral


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Examination: Multiple Choice and Short Answer questions (60%)Examination: Multiple Choice and Short Answer questions (2 hours)1-13, 15Ref/def period
Write up of practical 2 (30%)Write up of practical 2 (1000 words)1-12, 14, 15Ref/def period
Seminar contribution (10%)Critical evaluation (1000 words)11-15Ref/def period

Re-assessment notes

If you miss 3 or more seminars, you must provide mitigation for your absence to obtain a deferral. In the case of deferral of the seminar contribution assessment, students will be required to a write a 1000 word summary of one of the papers.

Students with Individual Learning Plans referencing difficulties in group participation will be offered the option to do the re-assessment in lieu of a seminar contribution score (i.e. a 1000 word essay). These individuals will be contacted at the start of the module and asked to choose between these two options.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

You do not need to read this material before the module, it is provided here simply to give you a sense of the type of information we will cover.


There is no need to buy the books: all of them are available to you in either the University Library or the Life Sciences Resource Centre.


Additional specific reading will be recommended as part of the module’s delivery.


Basic reading:


1. ‘From Neuron to Brain’ 5th Edition (2012), Nicholls et al, ISBN: 978-0878936090. Encouraged to consult Parts I to IV, VI and VII.


2. Principles of Neural Science, 5th Edition (2012), Eric Kandal and James Schwartz. ISBN: 978-0-07-139011-8. Encouraged to consult Parts I to IV, and VIII.


3. ‘Pharmacology’ 8th Edition (2015), Rang et al, ISBN: 978-0702053627


4. ‘Barr's The Human Nervous System: An Anatomical Viewpoint’ 10th Edition (2013), Kiernan and Rajakumar, ISBN: 978-1451173277

Other resources:


IBM SPSS for introductory statistics : use and interpretation / George Morgan [and three others].

Sixth edition. New York, New York ; London : Routledge, [2020] ISBN: 9781138578210

9781000004915 (Proquest Ebook Central): Available as e-book: IBM SPSS for Introductory Statistics: Use and Interpretation

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

‘Discovering Statistics using IBM SPSS Statistics’ 4th Edition (2013) Field, A; ISBN: 978-1-4462-4918-

Key words search

Neuroscience, neurophysiology, neuropharmacology, neuroanatomy, human behaviour.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date