Introduction to Physical Chemistry

University of Manchester

Gain a rigorous introduction to physical chemistry suitable for undergraduates starting university. The course provides a unique, in-depth introduction to the three main pillars of physical chemistry: thermodynamics, kinetics and quantum mechanics.

Chemical reactions underpin the production of pretty much everything in our modern world.  But, what is the driving force behind reactions?  Why do some reactions occur over geological time scales whilst others are so fast that we need femtosecond-pulsed lasers to study them?  Ultimately, what is going on at the atomic level?  Discover the answers to such fundamental questions and more on this course in introductory physical chemistry.  

The course covers the key concepts of three of the principal topics in first-year undergraduate physical chemistry: thermodynamics, kinetics and quantum mechanics. These three topics cover whether or not reactions occur, how fast they go and what is actually going on at the sub-atomic scale.


  • Thermodynamic definitions
  • The zeroeth law of thermodynamics and temperature
  • The first law of thermodynamics and enthalpy
  • The second law of thermodynamics and entropy
  • The third law of thermodynamics and absolute entropy
  • Heat capacity 
  • Reversible change
  • Hess’ Law 
  • Gibbs energy and spontaneous change
Chemical Kinetics
  • Reaction rate
  • Effect of stoichiometry 
  • Order of reaction
  • Half-life
  • Determining reaction order
  • Molecularity
  • The Arrhenius equation
  • Collsion theory 
  • Transition state theory
  • Complex reactions
  • Rate-determining step
  • Steady state approximation
  • Catalysis

Quantum Chemistry
  • Introduction
  • Planck’s constant 
  • The photoelectric effect 
  • de Broglie’s particle waves 
  • Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle
  • Schroedinger’s wave equation 
  • The free particle 
  • The particle in a box and application to linear polyenes 
  • Hydrogenic atoms 
  • Born’s interpretation of the wavefunction
  • Interpretation of radial and angular wavefunctions for hydrogenic atoms

Recommended Background

In order to get the most out of the course a good knowledge of general chemistry and familiarity with algebra and basic calculus (simple differentiation and integration) is recommended.

Suggested Readings

No textbook is required for this course, but for further supplementary reading we are happy to advise on suitable textbooks and online resources at the start of the course.


Course Format

The course is divided into three sections: thermodynamics; kinetics and quantum mechanics. In addition to an introduction and video lecture segments lasting no more than 30 minutes at a time, each section will provide an interactive laboratory activity, designed to elucidate the material covered, and finally a short multiple choice assessment all supported by an online forum.


  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

    Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • What resources will I need for this class?

    For this course, all you need is an Internet connection and the time to think about the material presented.

  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?

    You will learn that disorder is every bit as important as energy in chemical reactions, that you should never judge a reaction by its stoichiometry and that electrons exhibit wave-particle duality, seemingly enabling them to be in two places at once!

  • 2 February 2015, 6 weeks
  • 2 June 2014, 6 weeks
Course properties:
  • Free:
  • Paid:
  • Certificate:
  • MOOC:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Email-course:
  • Language: English Gb


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