VCE Chemistry

The chemistry course challenges students to consider the relationship between materials and energy through four unit-based themes. The course is contemporary in its connection to real world concerns about materials and their fit for purpose, the scarcity of fresh usable water, the efficient production of energy and materials, and carbon as a key element in both organic and inorganic matter.

How can the diversity of materials be explained?

In Unit 1, students explore how different materials are made and why they have different properties. The chemical structures and properties of a range of materials are examined, including covalent compounds, metals, ionic compounds and polymers. Students also learn about how chemical quantities are measured, and how manufacturing innovations can lead to more sustainable products being produced for society.

Throughout the unit, students conduct practical investigations including exploring the reactivity series of metals, separating mixtures by chromatography, identifying ionic compounds using precipitation reactions, determining empirical formulas, and synthesising polymers. This includes the use of chemistry terminology, symbols, formulas, chemical nomenclature and equations to represent and explain observations and data from investigations and to evaluate the chemistry-based claims of others.

In Area of Study 3, a student-directed research investigation is undertaken into the sustainable production or use of a selected material. The investigation explores how sustainability factors, such as green chemistry principles and the transition to a circular economy, are considered in the production of materials to ensure minimum toxicity and impacts on human health and the environment.

How do chemical reactions shape the natural world?

In Unit 2, students learn about the role of chemistry in analysing the materials and products we use every day. This includes the analysis and comparison of different substances dissolved in water, and the gases that may be produced in chemical reactions. Applications of acid-base and redox reactions in society are also investigated.

Practical investigations within this unit include exploring the specific heat capacity of water, acid-base and redox reactions, solubility, molar volume of a gas, volumetric analysis, and the use of a calibration curve.

In Area of Study 3, students undertake a student-adapted or student-designed scientific investigation related to the production of gases, acid-base or redox reactions, or the analysis of substances in water. The investigation involves the generation of primary data and draws on the key science skills and key knowledge from Unit 2 Area of Study 1 and/or Area of Study 2.

How can design and innovation help to optimise chemical processes?

In Unit 3 students investigate the chemical production of energy and materials, and explore how innovation, design, and sustainability principles and concepts can be applied to produce energy and materials while minimizing possible harmful effects of production on human health and the environment. Students analyse and compare different fuels as energy sources for society, with reference to the energy transformations and chemical reactions involved, energy efficiencies, environmental impacts, and potential applications. Practical investigations include exploring thermochemistry, redox reactions, electrochemical cells, reaction rates, and equilibrium systems.

In Area of Study 3, students undertake a student-designed scientific investigation related to the production of energy and/or chemicals and/or the analysis or synthesis of organic compounds. The investigation involves the generation of primary data and is undertaken in either Unit 3 or Unit 4, or across both Units 3 and 4, and is assessed in Unit 4 Outcome 3.

How are carbon-based compounds designed for purpose?

Unit 4 has a focus on organic compounds, which are made up of carbon atoms. Since these compounds are found in all living things, students learn about how they make up the structures of living tissues. The unit explores how they’re also used to make things such as plastics, fibres, and other materials.

Students learn how these organic compounds react with each other to form new compounds, and about the different functional groups that are present in organic molecules. The application of green chemistry principles to make the production of synthetic organic compounds more sustainable and environmentally friendly is investigated.

In addition to learning about the chemistry of organic compounds, students also look at how these compounds are metabolised in our bodies. This includes learning about the different types of food that we eat and how they’re broken down into the organic compounds that our bodies use for energy. This extends into how medicines work in our bodies and how they’re metabolised.

To apply what students have learned, various practical investigations are conducted in the laboratory relating to reaction pathways, organic synthesis, and how to identify functional groups in organic compounds. Students learn about different analytical techniques such as redox titrations, solvent extraction and distillation, and how they can be used to analyse organic compounds.

Finally, students put all of their knowledge and skills together to design and carry out their own scientific investigations related to the production of energy and/or chemicals and/or the analysis or synthesis of organic compounds. This provides and opportunity to apply what has been learned, and to develop students’ own ideas about how organic compounds can be used in the world around us.

Selection advice

What kind of learner is best suited to study this subject? 

Self- motivated, synthesisers, problem solvers 

What key skills are required for success? 

Good mathematical skills, problem solving, reasoning, interpreting worded questions 

What are three most engaging topics studied? 

Applying concepts to real life problems, the study of atoms, determining chemical content of items 

What are the learning activities in this subject like? 

Laboratory work, practical work, problem solving 

What advice would you give to a student about to embark on this subject? 

You will need to do a lot of practice outside of class time, you will need to practice working on difficult questions and use your skills to help understand them 

Studies in VCE CHEMISTRY can lead to study and career options in the following areas:

Medicine, Biochemist, Dietician, Environmental Scientist, Geneticist, Geophysicist, Industrial Engineer, Oceanographer, Sports Science.