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Planetary Materials


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 4
  • Convenors and tutors: Eleanor Jennings, Steve Hirons
  • Assessment: six worksheets (10% each) and a two-hour examination (40%)

Module description

In this module we introduce the fundamental building blocks of planets, from atoms to minerals, water and rocks. We will look at two broad subject areas:

  • geochemistry
  • mineralogy.

Geochemistry deals with atoms and how they bond in the natural environment, i.e. the way in which atoms interact with each other to form the fundamental materials that planets are made of. We will consider how we predict chemical reactions, as well as isotope geochemistry (including radiometric dating) and the chemistry of natural waters.

Mineralogy is the study of minerals, which is the solid material that the majority of planetary interiors and surfaces are made of. Minerals are formed of a lattice of atoms and are fundamental to the understanding of geology. We will study the foundations of crystallography and examine the structures and compositions of different rock-forming minerals.

This module includes practical work looking at minerals down the microscope and in hand specimen, and includes calculations and data analysis. No prior experience of chemistry or mineralogy is needed, as we will begin with the basics. Some maths resources and additional study are recommended if you have a limited background in maths.

Indicative syllabus


  • Atoms
  • Chemical bonds
  • Chemical reactions
  • Isotope geochemistry
  • Aqueous geochemistry


  • Crystallography
  • Optical properties of mineral
  • The silicate mineral groups
  • The non-silicate mineral groups

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • have an understanding of atoms, including their structure and how they can bond with one another to make different planetary materials
  • be able to understand and apply basic concepts in chemistry such as the periodic table, writing chemical reactions, moles, pH, introductory chemical equilibria, phase diagrams and chemical kinetics, and radiometric dating
  • be able to describe the structure, composition and properties of minerals that planetary surfaces and interiors are made of
  • recognise various minerals, describe their properties in hand specimen and by petrography (microscope), and appreciate the chemistry, temperatures and pressures at which minerals were formed
  • understand how geochemistry and mineralogy can be used to investigate materials and processes in Earth and planetary sciences
  • have developed transferable skills: quantitative skills; data presentation skills, including using Excel; 3D thinking and geometry.