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VCE Science

Chemistry Unit 1: How Can the Diversity of Materials be Explained?


Students are advised to complete the Year 10 Chemistry course before undertaking Chemistry Unit 1. Mathematical Methods is strongly recommended.

Course Description

The story of chemistry begins with the building of the Periodic Table from speculation, debate and experimental evidence. The electron configuration of an element, its tendency to form a particular bond type and its ability to behave as an oxidant or reductant can all be linked to its position in the Periodic Table. Students study the models for metallic, ionic and covalent bonding. They consider the widespread use of polymers as an example of the importance of chemistry to their everyday lives. Students investigate the uses of materials and how these have changed.

Students are introduced to the development and application of ‘smart’ materials. Developing new materials has escalated with the use of synchrotron science that explores particle behaviour at an ever decreasing size. Some examples of new materials are alloys, fibres and compounds incorporating polymers, ceramics, biopolymers, films and coatings.

Areas of Study

How Can the Knowledge of Elements Explain the Properties of Matter?

In this area of study students focus on the nature of chemical elements, their atomic structure and their place in the periodic table. They review the historical development of, and the relationship between, the Periodic Table and atomic theory. Spectral evidence which led to the Bohr model and subsequently the Schrodinger model for Atomic Structure is also considered. Students examine the Periodic Table as a unifying framework into which elements are placed based upon similarities in their electronic configuration. They explore the link between the electronic configuration of an element and the type of bonding in which it participates. Students are introduced to many of the major qualitative and quantitative ideas fundamental to chemistry including empirical formulas of ionic compounds and the mole concept. They undertake practical activities that build their understanding of the Periodic Table.

Key Knowledge:

  • Elements and the Periodic Table.
  • Metals.
  • Quantifying atoms and compounds.
  • Ionic compounds.

How Can the Versatility of Non-Metals be Explained?

In this area of study students explore a wide range of materials and substances, made from non-metals including molecular substances, covalent lattices, carbon nanomaterials, organic compounds and polymers. Students investigate the relationship between the electronic configurations of non-metallic atoms and the resultant structures and properties of a range of molecular substances and covalent lattices. They compare how these structures for non-metallic substances are represented and explore the limitations of such models. Students study a variety of organic compounds and how they are grouped into distinct chemical families. They apply the rules of systematic nomenclature to each of these chemical families. Students investigate useful materials that are made from non-metals, and relate their properties and uses to their structures. They explore the modification of polymers and the use of carbon based nanoparticles for specific applications.

Key Knowledge

  • Models of bonding to explain observed properties including melting temperature, electrical conductivity, chemical reactivity, shape, polarity of bonds, intermolecular forces.
  • Limitations of the bonding models.
  • Properties and systematic naming of alkanes, alkenes and alkynes up to C10.
  • Structural isomers up to C7.
  • Carbon lattices and carbon nanomaterials.
  • Addition polymers and their monomers. Classification, advantages and disadvantages of the use of polymer materials.

Research Investigation 

Knowledge of the origin, structure and properties of matter has built up over time through scientific and technological research, including medical research, space research and research into alternative energy sources. As a result, patterns and relationships in structures and properties of substances have been identified, applied and modified, and a vast range of useful materials and chemicals has been produced. Students extend their knowledge and skills developed in completing both Area of Study 1 and 2 through a research investigation in one of the following ten options, by selecting a selected question and using gathered evidence and ongoing analysis.


  • Origin of the elements.
  • Development of the periodic table.
  • Lanthanoids and actinoids.
  • Using light to solve chemical puzzles.
  • Glass.
  • Crude oil.
  • Surfactants.
  • Polymers and composite materials.
  • Nanomaterials.
  • The life cycle of a selected material or chemical.


Assessment Tasks
(school-assessed coursework)
How can the knowledge of elements explain the properties of matter?

Tasks are selected by the teacher from the following:

  • Annotations of a practical portfolio of activities or investigations.
  • A report of a practical activity or investigation.
  • A modelling activity.
  • Media response.
  • Problem-solving involving chemical concepts, skills and /or issues.
  • A reflective learning journal/blog related to selected activities or in response to an issue.
  • Data analysis.
  • A test comprising multiple choice and/or short answer and/or extended response. 
How can the versatility of non-metals be explained?
Research Investigation. A report of an independent investigation of a selected topic from area of study 1 or 2, using an appropriate format, for example digital presentation, oral communication or written report.

Overall Final Assessment

End of Semester Examination – 1.5 hours.

Information can be obtained from the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Victoria, Australia: