Chemistry is the study of materials and substances, and the transformations they undergo through interactions and the transfer of energy. Chemists can use an understanding of chemical structures and processes to adapt, control and manipulate systems to meet particular economic, environmental and social needs.


Structure of Chemistry

In Chemistry, students develop their understanding of chemical systems, and how models of matter and energy transfers and transformations can be used to describe, explain and predict chemical structures, properties and reactions.


Links to Foundation to Year 10

The Chemistry curriculum continues to develop student understanding and skills from across the three strands of the F-10 Australian Curriculum: Science. In the Science Understanding strand, the Chemistry curriculum draws on knowledge and understanding from across the four sub-strands of Biological, Physical, Chemical and Earth and Space Sciences.


Representation of Cross-curriculum priorities

While the significance of the cross-curriculum priorities for Chemistry varies, there are opportunities for teachers to select contexts that incorporate the key concepts from each priority.


Achievement standards


Unit 4: Structure, synthesis and design

Unit 4: Structure, synthesis and design Description

Current and future applications of chemistry include the development of specialised techniques to create, or synthesise, new substances to meet the specific needs of society, including pharmaceuticals, fuels, polymers and nanomaterials. In this unit, students focus on the principles and application of chemical synthesis, particularly in organic chemistry. This involves considering where and how functional groups can be incorporated into already existing carbon compounds in order to generate new substances with properties that enable them to be used in a range of contexts.

Through the investigation of appropriate contexts, students explore the ways in which models and theories related to chemical synthesis, structure and design, and associated applications, have developed over time and through interactions with social, economic, cultural and ethical considerations. They explore the ways in which chemistry contributes to contemporary debate regarding current and future uses of local, regional and international resources, evaluation of risk and action for sustainability, and they recognise the limitations of science in providing definitive answers in different contexts.

Students use science inquiry skills to investigate the principles and application of chemical structure, synthesis and design. They select and use data from instrumental analysis to determine the identity and structure of a range of organic materials. They make predictions based on knowledge of types of chemical reactions, and investigate chemical reactions qualitatively and quantitatively.

Unit 4: Structure, synthesis and design Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, students:

  • understand how the presence of functional groups and the molecular structure of organic compounds are related to their properties
  • understand addition, condensation and oxidation reactions, and predict the products of these reactions
  • understand how knowledge of chemical systems is used to design synthesis processes, and how data from analytical techniques provides information about chemical structure
  • understand how models and theories have developed over time and the ways in which chemical knowledge interacts with social, economic, cultural and ethical considerations in a range of contexts
  • use science inquiry skills to design, conduct, evaluate and communicate investigations into reactions and the identification of organic compounds, including analysis of secondary data derived from chemical analysis
  • evaluate, with reference to empirical evidence, claims about organic synthesis and chemical design, and justify evaluations
  • communicate, predict and explain chemical phenomena using qualitative and quantitative representations in appropriate modes and genres.

Unit 4: Structure, synthesis and design Content Descriptions

Science Inquiry Skills (Chemistry Unit 4)

Identify, research, construct and refine questions for investigation; propose hypotheses; and predict possible outcomes (ACSCH112)

Design investigations, including the procedure/s to be followed, the materials required, and the type and amount of primary and/or secondary data to be collected; conduct risk assessments; and consider research ethics (ACSCH113)

Conduct investigations, including using organic synthesis methods and collating data from chemical analyses, safely, competently and methodically for the collection of valid and reliable data (ACSCH114)

Represent data in meaningful and useful ways, including using appropriate graphic representations and correct units and symbols; organise and analyse data to identify patterns and relationships; identify and distinguish between random and systematic errors, and estimate their effect on measured results; discuss how the nature of the procedure and the sample size may influence uncertainty and limitations in data; and select, synthesise and use evidence from a range of sources to make and justify conclusions (ACSCH115)

Interpret a range of scientific and media texts, and evaluate processes, claims and conclusions by considering the quality of available evidence; and use reasoning to construct scientific arguments (ACSCH116)

Select, construct and use appropriate representations, including physical, virtual and graphical models of primary, secondary and tertiary structures, structural formulas, chemical equations, systematic nomenclature (using IUPAC conventions) and spectra, to communicate conceptual understanding, solve problems and make predictions (ACSCH117)

Select and use appropriate mathematical representations to solve problems and make predictions, including using the mole concept to calculate quantities in chemical reactions, including multi-step reactions, and the percentage yield of synthesis reactions (ACSCH118)

Communicate to specific audiences and for specific purposes using appropriate language, nomenclature, genres and modes, including scientific reports (ACSCH119)

Science as a Human Endeavour (Units 3 & 4)

ICT and other technologies have dramatically increased the size, accuracy and geographic and temporal scope of data sets with which scientists work (ACSCH120)

Models and theories are contested and refined or replaced when new evidence challenges them, or when a new model or theory has greater explanatory power (ACSCH121)

The acceptance of scientific knowledge can be influenced by the social, economic and cultural context in which it is considered (ACSCH122)

People can use scientific knowledge to inform the monitoring, assessment and evaluation of risk (ACSCH123)

Science can be limited in its ability to provide definitive answers to public debate; there may be insufficient reliable data available, or interpretation of the data may be open to question (ACSCH124)

International collaboration is often required when investing in large-scale science projects or addressing issues for the Asia-Pacific region (ACSCH125)

Scientific knowledge can be used to develop and evaluate projected economic, social and environmental impacts and to design action for sustainability (ACSCH126)

Science Understanding

Properties and structure of organic materials

Examples in context

Support materials only that illustrate some possible contexts for exploring Science as a Human Endeavour concepts in relation to Science Understanding content.

Functional groups and organic chemistry

Over 80 per cent of all known compounds are organic compounds. Initial work in the area of organic chemistry was based on observational chemistry, with nineteenth century attempts to organise the diversity of organic compounds based on grouping them according to their reactions. This theory was primarily based on empirical observations of reactivity, and did not consider the structure of the compounds. The theory of chemical structure was initially evident in work describing the concept of the interatomic bond, as formulated independently and simultaneously by Kekulé and Couper in 1858 (ACSCH121). Further advances in understanding of the chemical structure of carbon-based molecules led to a classification based on functional groups. The chemical behaviour of the molecule can now be predicted based on known chemistry of the functional groups it contains. Developments in computer modelling have enabled more accurate visualisation and prediction of three dimensional organic structures, such as proteins, which is critical in drug design and biotechnology (ASCSH120).

Green polymer chemistry

Polymers are common in daily life due to their extraordinary range of properties, and include natural polymeric materials such as wool, silk and natural rubber, and synthetic polymers such as synthetic rubber, neoprene, nylon, polystyrene and polypropylene. Contemporary applications of polymers include their use in organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) to develop television, computer and mobile phone screens that are lighter, more flexible and more energy efficient than previous materials. Synthetic polymers often have large “ecological footprints” as they are synthesised from fossil fuels and do not biodegrade. There is significant research and development directed towards sustainable polymers, produced from renewable sources such as plants, waste products and waste gases (ACSCH126). While there have been significant advances in this field, issues remain regarding the economic viability of this means of production, and use of food crops for the production of polymer materials rather than food (ACSCH122).

Use of organochlorine compounds as insecticides

Organochlorine compounds, such as DDT, chlordane and lindane, were identified as powerful insecticides in the 1950s and their use was credited with reducing malaria and increasing agricultural productivity. Their structure makes them chemically unreactive, so they are stable in soils and in the fatty tissues of animals. As such, they are persistent organic pollutants (POPs), accumulating in food chains and posing a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment. The detrimental environmental effects of DDT were first hypothesised by scientists in the 1940s; when they were popularised through a best-selling book, Silent Spring, in 1962, public reaction was sufficiently large to prompt a government investigation (ACSCH123). Consequently DDT was banned by the United States in 1972, and in 1995 POPs were identified as an issue requiring global action by the United Nations, resulting in a range of organochlorine compounds being banned for agricultural use worldwide under the Stockholm Convention in 2001 (ACSCH125). However some organochlorine compounds are still licensed for use under strict guidelines. For example, they are used to control fire ants, which are a serious social, economic and environmental threat in Australia, the Philippines, Taiwan and parts of New Zealand (ACSCH125).

Organic molecules have a hydrocarbon skeleton and can contain functional groups, including alcohols, carboxylic acids, esters, amines and amides (ACSCH127)

Each class of organic compounds displays characteristic chemical properties and undergoes specific reactions based on the functional groups present; these reactions, including acid-base and oxidation reactions, can be used to identify the class of the organic compound (ACSCH128)

Organic materials including proteins, carbohydrates and synthetic polymers display properties including strength, density and biodegradability that can be explained by considering the primary, secondary or tertiary structures of the material (ACSCH129)

Data from analytical techniques, including mass spectrometry, x-ray crystallography and infrared spectroscopy, can be used to determine the structure of organic molecules, often using evidence from more than one technique (ACSCH130)

Chemical synthesis and design

Examples in context

Support materials only that illustrate some possible contexts for exploring Science as a Human Endeavour concepts in relation to Science Understanding content.

Green synthesis methods and atom economy

Future challenges in Australia and the Asia region in resource, environmental and economic sustainability demand more efficient chemical processes. The concept of atom economy was proposed by American Barry Trost in the 1990s. It is a way of describing the efficiency of a reaction, by dividing the molecular mass of the desired product by the combined molecular masses of all reactants. Many established large-scale industrial chemical processes in the petrochemical industry have a low atom economy, resulting in unwanted byproducts and waste management issues. Green chemistry aims to increase the atom economy of chemical processes by designing novel reactions that can maximise the desired products and minimise byproducts (ACSCH126). Designing new synthetic schemes that can simplify operations in chemical productions, and seeking greener solvents that are inherently environmentally and ecologically benign, are also important in developing sustainable chemical industries (ACSCH126).

Biofuel synthesis

Dwindling supplies of economically viable sources of fossil fuels and concerns related to carbon emissions have prompted research into the synthesis of biofuels (ACSCH126) from plant feedstocks such as algae, oil seeds and wood waste, or from waste materials such as food industry waste oils (ACSCH126). In the 1990s, a number of plants producing biodiesel were established in Europe and biodiesel is now available at many service stations across Europe. Biofuels are more complex than petroleum-based fuels, many comprising of a range of alcohols or methyl esters. Analysis techniques such as spectroscopy and mass spectrometry can be used to investigate the combustion processes of these ‘oxygenated’ fuels, and predict any potential harmful emissions from their combustion (ACSCH123). While biofuels may address issues of renewable fuel supply, there are concerns that a focus on biomass plantations as feedstocks may result in reduced available land for food production, and an increase in food prices and availability (ACSCH126).

Development of molecular manufacturing processes

Molecular manufacturing (or molecular assembly) is an area of developing science that involves building objects to atomic precision using robotic mechanisms to position and react molecules (ACSCH120). A recent publication in the peer-reviewed international journal Science reported that researchers had developed a new way of developing sequence-specific peptides using a rotaxane as a ‘molecular machine’. Proponents of molecular manufacturing argue that it has the potential to quickly develop products such as stronger materials and smaller, faster and more energy-efficient computers. They claim it will address a range of global issues through provision of vital materials and products at a greatly reduced cost and environmental impact. However other groups caution that cheap, rapid manufacturing capacity could also lead to a range of social, economic and environmental issues, and requires international regulations and policies to be in place before the technology becomes widely available. Some scientists predict that a ‘molecular manufacturing revolution’ will occur within the next 20 to 50 years, while others are sceptical that the methods used will ever become economically viable (ACSCH124).

Chemical synthesis involves the selection of particular reagents to form a product with specific properties (for example, pharmaceuticals, fuels, cosmetics, cleaning products) (ACSCH131)

Designing chemical synthesis processes involves constructing reaction pathways that may include more than one chemical reaction (ACSCH132)

Designing chemical synthesis processes includes identifying reagents and reaction conditions in order to maximise yield and purity of product (ACSCH133)

The yield of a chemical synthesis reaction can be calculated by comparing stoichiometric quantities with actual quantities (ACSCH134)

Green chemistry principles include the design of chemical synthesis processes that use renewable raw materials, limit the use of potentially harmful solvents and minimise the amount of unwanted products (ACSCH135)

Organic molecules, including polymers, can be synthesised using addition and condensation reactions (ACSCH136)

Fuels (for example, biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen) can be synthesised from organic or inorganic sources using a range of chemical reactions including addition, oxidation and esterification (ACSCH137)

Molecular manufacturing processes, including protein synthesis, involve the positioning of molecules to facilitate a specific chemical reaction; such methods have the potential to synthesise specialised products (for example, carbon nanotubes, nanorobots, chemical sensors used in medicine) (ACSCH138)