Chemistry

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The Independent Online

What does it involve? The study of substances: eg why graphite is soft but diamonds are hard. You look at the make-up of substances, the molecules and atoms, and what happens when you combine them. You also examine chemistry's relevance to everyday life: eg in making detergents and fibres, and the optimum temperature for washing clothes so as to minimise energy wastage.

What does it involve? The study of substances: eg why graphite is soft but diamonds are hard. You look at the make-up of substances, the molecules and atoms, and what happens when you combine them. You also examine chemistry's relevance to everyday life: eg in making detergents and fibres, and the optimum temperature for washing clothes so as to minimise energy wastage.

Why do it? Because it's a heavyweight subject. The universities like it, though not many students take the subject to degree level. It is good preparation for those who want to be doctors, vets or physiotherapists, but you can also use it to get into accountancy or law.

What skills do you need? You need to be fairly numerate but not as numerate as a mathematician. You also need to be logical, according to Helen Eccles, chairman of science at OCR exam board. And it helps to have a C or above at GCSE in science. Memory is not as important as in biology.

How much practical work is there? It is central to chemistry. Some exam boards offer more practical work than others. AQA board devotes 12.5 per cent to practical work which is assessed; OCR, by contrast, has one syllabus that is one-third practical.

Is it hard? It has a reputation for being difficult, but the boards are hoping that the reform of the sixth-form curriculum and the new AS- level have made it more accessible.

Is it enjoyable? Some of the experiments can be good fun.

Who takes it? The more academic pupils. Boys and girls take it in equal numbers.

How cool is it? Becoming more popular because of the new AS-level, apparently. Numbers are increasing, says Helen Eccles. Salter's Chemistry, one of OCR's two chemistry syllabuses, is particularly popular. Everything is put in context: eg you study the elements of life rather than gases.

Added value: Field trips to local industry, hospital or forensic laboratories.

What subjects go with it? Physics and maths for those wanting to study medicine; biology for health care; geography for the environmental scientists; English or history for those wanting a contrasting subject.

What degrees does it lead to? Chemistry, medicine, health care, environmental science, business studies and law. It even goes with economics, says Colin Chambers of AQA, because it requires similar skills - analysing data and applying it to new situations.

Will it set you up for a brilliant career? Yes. Chemistry opens doors to a wide range of jobs. You could be an accountant, an actuary, a lawyer, as well, of course, as a researcher in a chemical company. In fact, the chemical industry is currently crying out for research chemists and you could find yourself earning megabucks.

What do students say? "I chose it because I was interested in physiotherapy as a career. It's hard but I'm enjoying it because quite a lot of it relates to everyday life." Louise Barrow, 16, Hills Road Sixth Form Centre, Cambridge.

Which awarding bodies offer it? All do.

How widely available around the country? Very.

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