MEnvSci Environmental Science with a Research Placement

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Natural Scientist's Toolkit

Course unit fact file
Unit code EART11200
Credit rating 40
Unit level Level 4
Teaching period(s) Full year
Available as a free choice unit? No


In the Natural Scientists Toolkit you will increase your confidence in mathematics and physical sciences. There are three parts to the unit, covering: (1) maths and physics problem solving, to analyse real world problems like the burning of fossil fuels, and to learn to handle geological and environmental data; (2) chemistry of the earth and environment, addressing basic chemical concepts and how they apply to topics such as water chemistry and geological processes; (3) how to program a computer to solve problems in earth and environmental sciences. The Toolkit supplements the other first year lecture and practical units, and equips you with the skills you will need for 2nd year and beyond. 


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Understanding the Earth EART11100 Co-Requisite Compulsory
Practical and Professional Skills Development EART11300 Co-Requisite Compulsory


The aim of the Natural Scientists Toolkit is to increase your confidence in numerical problem solving and the use of the physical sciences in the study of earth and environmental sciences.  


Learning outcomes

On the successful completion of the course, students will be able to:  

ILO1 - practice the application of key concepts in maths, physics and chemistry, including manipulating logarithms, rearranging equations, algebra, statistics, basic calculus, geometry, and atomic and molecular structure.

ILO2 - apply mathematical theory to describe real-world example problems. 

ILO3 - use calculus to solve ordinary and partial differential equations by separation of variables, and to arrive at approximate solutions using finite-difference. 

ILO4 - interpret the geochemical behaviour of elements based on their place in the Periodic Table. 

ILO5 - explain how radiogenic and stable isotopes are used to interpret the age of rocks and geochemical processes.

ILO6 - show how chemical reactions between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere combine to form geochemical cycles. 

ILO7 - explain how frequentist statistical thinking is applied in the context of hypothesis testing. 

ILO8 - identify predictor and response variables and major data types (categorical and numerical, including continuous, discrete and binary), and with access to references select appropriate statistical tests for analysing each type of data. 

ILO9 - apply basic statistical tests (t-tests, ANOVA, chi-squared tests, linear regression, logistic regression, mixed regression) to data. 

ILO10 - apply modern computer programming concepts to deal with data, and model fundamental problems in science.

ILO11 - Synthesise results, visualise data and critically evaluate different methods for solving real-world problems.


Semester 1

L1/P1 – Chemistry; L2/P2 Maths and Physics


Semester 2

L2/P2 Maths and Physics; L3/P3 Programming

Teaching and learning methods

Semester 1: 

Each week there will be two 1-hour lectures and two 2-hour practicals.  Lectures are recorded and made available as Podcasts through the University podcast service, with PowerPoint slides. Pre-recorded material is also available to support your learning and can be watched before the relevant practicals each week. Practical sessions include problem-solving exercises, and the second part of the semester will be held in a computer cluster for statistics.  For the maths and physics module, assessment comprises of a summative mid-semester test and an end of semester (January) report submission. For the chemistry module, there is a formative test mid-semester, with the assessment consisting of an exam in January. 

Semester 2: 

In most weeks there will be two 1-hour lectures and two 2-hour practicals.  Lectures are recorded and made available as Podcasts through the University podcast service, with PowerPoint slides. Pre-recorded material is also available to support your learning and can be watched before the relevant practicals each week. For the Maths & Physics module, assessment consists of an exam in the end-of-semester exam period. Formative assessment will be provided on Blackboard. The programming module will be delivered through a 1-hour lecture and a 2-hour practical in weeks 1-10, followed by just the 2-hour practical in weeks 10-12 where students can work on their chosen assignment. On that, we will provide continuous formative assessments before a combined programming exercise and written report is submitted at the end of semester based on examples from weeks 4-8. 


Assessment methods

Assessment type

% Weighting within unit

Hand out and hand in dates



How, when and what feedback is provided

ILO tested




Semester 1

Week 6

1 hour

Feedback in class and on Blackboard


Report (individual) (M&P)




Semester 1, week 12 hand out, hand in during January exam period 

Approx. 10 short answer questions, plus approx. 3 analysis- based questions 

Exam feedback session

2, 7-11



0 Semester 1 Week 6 1 hour

In class and on Blackboard 

(formative assessment) 

1 and 4




Semester 1

January exam period

2 hours

Exam feedback session

1, 4-6

Exam (M&P) 25 Semester 2 exam period 2 hours Written feedback given  1,2,3

Code submission



Semester 2, week 12

Submission of code to solve problem [check works]

Written feedback given

10, 11

Report Individual



Semester 2, week 12

Report associated with related code

Written feedback given



Recommended reading

Foundation Maths, Anthony Croft and Robert Davison, Pearson / Prentice Hall, Fourth Edition. 

Engineering Mathematics  K.A. Stroud and Dexter J. Booth 

Conceptual Integrated Science, Hewitt, Lyons, Suchocki and Yeh, Pearson / Prentice Hall. 

Consider a spherical cow: A course in environmental problem solving, John Harte. University science books, 1988. 

Engineering Mathematics Paperback by K. a Stroud, Palgrave Macmillan; 4th ed edition (1995) 

Geochemistry. White, W. W. (2013) Wiley-Blackwell, p. 668 

Introduction to geochemistry: principles and application. Misra K. C. (2012) Wiley-Blackwell, p 452 

Geochemistry: Pathways and Processes, McSween H. Y. and Richardson S. M. (2003) Columbia University Press, 2nd Edition, p 432. 

Python Crash Course: A Hands-On, Project-Based Introduction to Programming. No Starch Press 


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 40
Practical classes & workshops 86
Independent study hours
Independent study 274

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Neave Unit coordinator
Ann Webb Unit coordinator
David Topping Unit coordinator
Robert Gilman Unit coordinator
Mike Burton Unit coordinator

Return to course details