Earth Sciences
Athena Swan Award
UCL Earth Sciences

GEOL1014: Geochemistry

GEOL1014: Geochemistry

This module aims at introducing the basic principles of chemistry to Earth systems, including bonds in minerals, chemical composition of rocks and aqueous solutions, and isotopes as tracers and clocks.


The course provides an introduction to the principles of chemistry as they apply to the Earth system. Fundamental concepts of geochemistry will be learned in class lectures and in practicals focused on chemical bonding, mineral environments, stable isotopes, acqueous geochemistry and low-temperature chemical reactions.


To provide a sound basis for considering the fundamental chemical processes operating in the Earth system, including bonding and minerals, isotopes and fluid chemistry. The course aims to provide a foundation for further study of mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry and hydrogeology.


The course will provide an introduction to the principles of chemistry required for considering the fundamental geochemical processes operating in the Earth system. Topics will include:

  • Atomic structure and The Periodic Table;
  • Isotopes, isotopic notation, radioactivity and decay mechanisms;
  • Valency and bonding in Earth materials;
  • Elements in the Universe and the Earth;
  • The chemistry and structure of common minerals;
  • An introduction to thermodynamics and mineral stability;
  • Fluids, including silicate melts and aqueous solutions;
  • Chemical reactions in aqueous solutions.
Title Geochemistry
UG Code GEOL1014
Coordinator Dr Dominc Papineau
Other Contributors  
Term 1
Credit 0.5 CU
Written Exam  
Coursework Coursework 100% (2 quizzes 6-7 pages 60/90 minutes) and 10 short graded practical works less than 1000 words each)
Pre-Requisites None
Maths & Stats Content and Requirement General GCSE-level (or equivalent) knowledge of maths
Total Number of Hours of Student Work 188 hours
Hours of Lectures/Seminars 20 hours
Hours of Practicals/Problem Classes 20 hours
Hours of Tutorials 0
Days of Fieldwork 0
Other None
Module Stats
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Moodle page Moodle page
Definitions Excellent performance (1st) Typical performance (2,1 - 2,2) Threshold performance (Pass)

Intellectual skills - knowledge and understanding

(learning assessment performance is evaluated primarily in 2 separate 1-hour tests during practical hours)

Ojective: knowledge acquired by students includes mastery of all main concepts with the level of details covered in the lectures: (i) periodic table; atomic structure and size of atoms; oxidation state and chemical bonds; nucleosynthesis and the origin of the elements; (ii) calculations with moles and oxide percent; geochemical analyses using photons, electrons and ions; electronic orbitals and valence; (iii) element compatibility and substitution; Goldschmidt classification; coordination principle; balancing chemical equations (iv) the geochemistry of Bowen’s reaction series; simple mole/gram calculations in chemical reactions; the main silicate groups of minerals; and major elements in the Earth and Moon;(v) stable isotope fractionation and notation; carbon cycle and d13C values; water cycle and oxygen isotopes in paleoclimatology (vi) first and second laws of thermodynamics; Gibbs free energy calculation; equilibrium constants; Law of mass action; oscillating chemical reactions (vii) mineral stability diagrams; (viii) acids and bases, chemical reactions, dissociation constants; (ix) oxidation-reduction reactions, Eh-pH diagrams, geochemistry of Fe; (x) decay modes, radioactivity, basics of dating, Precambrian-Phanerozoic timescales. Knowledge of the directly taught programme and some evidence of enquiry beyond all the main concepts covered in lectures (see left column). Basic knowledge of the directly taught programme with little evidence of enquiry beyond all the main concepts covered in lectures (see leftmost column).

 Practical Skills

(learning assessment performance is evaluated in 10 graded practical works throughout the term and in the tests, for 50% of the graded points.)

Demonstrated ability to: (i) describe elements in terms of their properties and chemical compatibility and make calculations using moles, weight percent oxides, and molecular masses (ii) use systematics of the periodic table in relation to chemical formulas of major rock-forming minerals and write balanced equations of reactions, iii) describe how estimates of planetary composition are made and applied, iv) describe the principles of modern instruments in geochemistry, v) perform simple calculations of stable isotope compositions and data interpretation, vi) describe examples of equilibrium and non-equilibrium chemical reactions, vii) use the law of mass action to predict chemical reactions, viii) use the scientific method to discuss topics of geochemistry (writing), viii) give a complete and brief oral presentation in front of peer students.

Ability to perform most of the required graded practicals (see left column)

Ability to perform some the graded practicals (see left column)

Communication skills

(learning assessment performance is evaluated in essay-type questions in tests, representing about 10% of the grade, and through two specific graded practical works)

Write a 1000 words essay on a topic of geochemistry critically and efficiently and demonstrating some level of creativity, while also following all instructions given. Give a clear and creative 2-minutes oral presentation of the essay.

Ability to write an essay and present it orally clearly following most instructions.

Ability to write an essay and present it orally following only some instructions.

Numeracy and C & IT skills

(learning assessment performance is evaluated in tests, representing about 30-40% of the points, and through some graded practical works)

Ability to calculate using moles, wt%, % oxides, phase relations using the Gibbs free energy, calculate mineral formulas from major oxides, delta values from isotope ratios, and equilibrium constants in chemical reactions, quantitative problem solving.

Ability to use web browsers and the UCL library to search the scientific literature to obtain information on geochemistry (for the essay), and to find information about elements, minerals, rocks, and the terrestrial planets as requested in graded practical works.

Ability to perform most of the calculations in graded practicals and tests with calculations shown in full with adequate units and significant digits.

Ability to perform some of the calculations graded practical works and in tests.
Self-management Ability to organise to periodically and punctually produce excellent graded practical works with high quality. Ability to organise to produce most of the required graded practical work with good standard and on time.   Ability to organise to produce required work of minimum standard and mostly on time.