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    2023 start September 

    Chemistry and Sustainability

    Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science

    Develop the specialist chemistry skills that industry, academia and society need for a sustainable world. You'll learn about environmental and green chemistry, key industrial processes and the latest sustainability technologies.
    A researcher in the Ultrafast Laser Spectroscopy Laboratory

    Course description

    This course is for graduates who want to use and enhance their chemistry skills to contribute to creating a sustainable world.

    It will give you specialist knowledge of how different organisations, and society at large, can manufacture products in a more sustainable way, adopt green technologies, and use and produce energy more efficiently. You'll develop a real understanding of the impact that human activities have on the environment and how to mitigate these effects.

    You'll complete a programme of specialist modules that cover environmental and green chemistry, key industrial processes and the latest sustainability technologies to minimise our energy consumption. There are optional modules on major topics in modern chemistry including nanochemistry, photochemistry and advanced materials.

    As part of the course, you'll learn how to communicate sustainability issues to specialists and non-specialists, to inform them of the sustainability challenges that our planet is facing and to drive change for a sustainable world.

    Researchers will teach you advanced research skills and you'll spend around one-third of your course working on your own research project, either individually or as a part of a team. You'll choose the topic and be based in one of our world-class research groups, developing skills and expertise that can help you stand out in the graduate job market.

    The course includes contributions from the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, a leading interdisciplinary research centre.


    A selection of modules are available each year - some examples are below. There may be changes before you start your course. From May of the year of entry, formal programme regulations will be available in our Programme Regulations Finder.

    Core modules:

    Environmental and Green Chemistry

    This module will provide an overview on the principles at the heart of obtaining sustainable chemical processes, how these can be assessed and quantified, and their impact to their environment, with particular emphasis on the anthropogenic generation of elements or molecules and how these are affecting the environment and how to mitigate this impact.

    Critical thinking will be encouraged throughout the whole module, both by means of qualitative and quantitative examples of real-world sustainable chemical processes, and the impact that these have on the environment. Students will have to independently develop and formulate suggestions on how to mitigate the environmental impact of currently non-green or non-sustainable processes, by judging, evaluating and selecting current state-of-the-art literature. This will also give them skills of writing reports of scientific value, but also to prepare infographics to be able to communicate to a public body, and as such contributing to the dissemination of science applied to sustainability issues.

    15 credits
    Modern Industrial Catalysis

    Reactions catalysed by metals are hugely important in the chemical industry, where they are used to produce bulk chemicals at large scales and fine chemicals at smaller ones. This module explains the heterogeneous and homogeneous catalytic processes behind some of the most economically important chemical reactions. It covers the chemical basis of these process, and their advantages and disadvantages of heterogeneous and homogeneous systems. There is a focus on reaction mechanisms and the role of the metal centre, and fundamental physical processes such as adsorption and reaction kinetics. Concepts are illustrated by analysing, in detail, catalytic reactions including hydrogenation, oxidation, carbonylation and polymerisation.

    Module Aims:

    A1. Describe and explain the physical and chemical basis of homogeneous and heterogeneous metal-catalysed processes

    A2. Illustrate the importance of metal-catalysed reactions in industrial chemical production

    A3. Discuss the mechanisms of catalytic processes, and the experimental evidence upon which these are based

    A4. Demonstrate recent developments in the field with state-of-the-art examples from the literature

    15 credits
    Sustainability in Polymer Science

    Plastics have revolutionised modern life. However, plastic waste is a growing problem, with estimates that the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050. We need to make better use of both fossil-based and renewable resources, and move towards a zero-waste, circular economy. Should we do this by recycling durable petrochemical-based materials that are made to be reused, or legitimise the single-use of products made from degradable polymers? This course will discuss the problems with current plastics, what the alternatives are and whether they'll work. Topics include the current status of the plastics industry, life-cycle analysis, degradable polymers, non-fossil fuel feedstocks, and reuse, reforming and recycling.

    15 credits
    Sustainable Energy Generation and Storage

    The generation of energy is the driver in the economic development of any country. Our society still heavily relies on the use of oil and gas resources, which may be depleted by the end of the 21st century. Furthermore there is more and more environmental concern about the impact that these sources of energy have on the planet. In this context, the use of methanol, hydrogen and biomass for the generation of fuels for the generation of energy or high value platform chemicals is a research area of extreme interest, as it would truly help to address the monumental challenge to make society free from fossil fuels for energy generation. This, however, will lead to challenges on how to store energy when moving from a fossil fuel economy to a renewable based economy.This module will provide an overview on the processes at the base of methanol and hydrogen synthesis, and the use of biomass as a resource to obtain fuels and high value chemicals. Furthermore it will explain the working principles at the base of different photovoltaic devices, fuel cells and energy storage devices. Particular emphasis will be given to a systematic assessment of the advantages by using these renewable fuels compared to fossil fuels, as well as to the infrastructures that would be needed to make these new routes truly exploitable.Critical thinking will be encouraged throughout the whole module, by evaluating not just how alternative sources of energy like how hydrogen and methanol can be synthesized, but also by appraising their environmental impact. This will also include: how to formulate suggestions on how biomass can be used to generate fuels; which new materials can allow to store these new forms or energy safely; and how to make the current infrastructures for the delivery of these fuels and chemicals safer, by studying current state-of-the-art literature. This will also give students the skills to disseminate science both with scientific rigorousness as well as to be able to communicate to a public body.

    15 credits
    Communication for Sustainability Researchers

    The recent growth of knowledge and debates about sustainable development led to research in sustainability, however and to some extent paradoxically, there is often a lack of consensus on what sustainability really means. For example, in the context of Sustainable Energetic Resources, this could either mean: (i) renewables, (ii) minimization of usage, (iii) source reduction (like the redesign of manufacturing processes). Another example could be in the implementation of recycling policies, when these are actually referring to reuse and repair, which are all distinct concepts.

    Furthermore a full account on what makes a process or development sustainable, should consider multiple factors like: technical and scientific advances in the area, ecological, economic and societal principles, and ethical investments as a whole.

    This module will provide students with the tools that are needed to argue, judge and select a chemical or physical process or even the effect of a policy in terms of life cycle assessment. That is: by investigating specific case studies, students will evaluate all stages and the lifetime of products, their environmental impacts as well as services, manufacturing processes, to create and formulate decision-making aimed to determine if the implementation of a sustainable process or not.

    This unit aims to allow students to work as a part of a team to investigate a relevant and debated topic in sustainability, and to be able to present their findings to a general audience by means of a magazine-like article and a video. The scope is to assemble and create a piece of work soundly rooted in matter of facts, for which the students will need to carry out a detailed and updated literature involving data gathering, with the goal to address research questions in sustainability and be able to write publishable material of interest for the general public.

    15 credits
    Research and Presentation Skills

    This unit aims to introduce students to a range of transferable skills important for successful communication in science, research and in other professional areas. The students will develop a wider understanding of the context in which research takes place through critical reading and evaluation of a wide range of literature. The students will be required to read and assimilate, and will produce a critical report of the literature in a specific research area. In addition, the course will develop oral and poster presentation skills.

    15 credits
    Sustainable Chemistry Research Project

    This module is the major research project associated with the Master of Science in Chemistry and Sustainability, where students undertake an extended and original research by working to solve a topical problem in the field of sustainable chemistry.

    Students will be trained in research methodology using state-of-the-art facilities to help them develop the advanced technical skills they need for their projects.

    They will also put their previous research training and transferable skills into practice through literature searches, communicating their work and presenting their findings.

    60 credits

    Optional modules – two from:

    Advanced Materials Chemistry

    This module explains how structural, electronic, thermal, chemical and other properties of materials can be harnessed to help solve technological and environmental challenges. The functional materials covered are based on supramolecular assembly, leading predominantly to crystalline materials. Students learn about design strategies, molecular properties, and material function, using concepts from coordination and solid-state chemistry, organic chemistry and thermodynamics. The role of materials properties in applications such as sensing, molecular separations, gas adsorption, catalysis, drug delivery, propulsion, gas generation and blasting will be discussed in the context of energy, health care, transport, engineering and the environment.

    Module Aims:

    A1. introduce a variety of materials developed and used in state-of-the-art research and technology with a focus reflecting current research interests at the University of Sheffield such as supramolecular materials, metal-organic frameworks and energetic materials.

    A2. explain the chemical principles behind the design and synthesis of these different classes of materials.

    A3. explain how the chemical structure of these materials enables their function and properties.

    A4. describe how the properties lead to the materials' applications in various areas such as sensing, molecular separations, gas adsorption, catalysis, drug delivery, propulsion, gas generation and blasting.  

    A5. relate the importance of materials chemistry in tackling modern technological and environmental challenges.

    15 credits
    Catalysis and Asymmetric Synthesis

    Chemists' ability to synthesise organic molecules with defined stereochemistry is the backbone of many useful applications, from medicines to new materials. Modern methods of organic synthesis rely on sophisticated and efficient chemical reactions that create exquisite levels of functional group selectivity and stereochemical control. This module will explain the cutting edge processes that achieve these objectives, in the context of catalysis and stereoselective synthesis. There is a focus on transformations that are promoted by a sub-stoichiometric amount of catalyst. Concepts behind controlling stereochemistry in important synthetic chemical reactions will also be explained.

    Module Aims:

    A1. Provide students with knowledge and appreciation of advanced organic chemical reactions involving main group and transition metal catalyst systems, as well as organocatalysts.

    A2. Provide students with the knowledge and skills to understand how organic reactions can be designed to generate desired products selectively.

    A3. Make students aware of the uses of these reactions in the context of modern organic synthesis.

    15 credits
    Chemistry of Light

    Understanding processes caused by light is key in chemistry, physics, biology and engineering, and has recently led to many major scientific breakthroughs. This course explains how light and matter interact in molecules, nanostructures and materials. It will explain photoinduced electron and energy transfer - essential processes in nature and everyday life - using examples of natural and artificial photosynthesis. Modern techniques for studying light-induced processes, on time-scales from seconds to femtoseconds, are also covered. The theory is taught in the context of applications in photocatalysis, photonics and optoelectronics, solar energy conversion, and light-induced processes in medicine.

    15 credits

    Thanks to their small size, nanomaterials have many unique properties that lead to lots of interesting applications in technology and medicine. Chemists have the skills to design and synthesise nanoscale materials using top-down and bottom-up nanofabrication methods, plus the tools to visualise, characterise and process them. This module covers the synthesis and properties of nanomaterial, and how they can be used to develop technologies for use in computing, medicine and in building our understanding of the world.

    Module Aims:

    A1. examine the development of nanoscience and its place in today's science and technology;

    A2. provide a theoretical background for understanding the optical and electronic properties of nanomaterials and their characterisation methods;

    A3. introduce the methods of synthesis, visualisation and quantitative characterisation of nanomaterials;

    A4. review some of the current applications of nanomaterials in technology and medicine and give an outlook of possible future applications;

    A5. develop students' skills in researching and presenting a scientific topic.

    15 credits

    The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption. We are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.

    Open days

    An open day gives you the best opportunity to hear first-hand from our current students and staff about our courses. You'll find out what makes us special.

    Upcoming open days and campus tours


    1 year full-time


    • Lectures
    • Workshops
    • Laboratory training
    • Research projects


    • Coursework (eg, essays, videos, articles, policy briefings)
    • Dissertation and viva

    Your career

    This course is great preparation for a PhD or roles in the chemical industry that are focused on sustainability issues.

    In academia, there's demand for scientists who can tackle sustainability challenges and undertake large, innovative research programmes to address them.

    In industry, there's demand for chemists who can help make industrial processes more sustainable, and University of Sheffield chemistry graduates have secured roles at major companies including AstraZeneca, Croda, GSK, Lonza and Unilever.


    We're home to several multimillion pound research facilities that are used to characterise advanced materials and develop chemical and synthetic processes.

    This is backed up by our expertise in catalysis, energy, materials and sustainability, solid state and inorganic synthetic chemistry.


    The Soft Matter Analytical Laboratory

    The Department of Chemistry was one of the University's first departments when it was founded in 1905. Since then, four Nobel Prize winners have been Sheffield chemistry researchers or students. Several of our academics have been named Fellows of the Royal Society or been awarded prizes from other prestigious organisations such as the Royal Society of Chemistry.

    Our chemistry researchers work on many of society’s biggest challenges, from antimicrobial resistance to environmental sustainability, and they work closely with industry to solve problems and develop innovative new technologies.

    In the Research Excellence Framework 2021, 95 per cent of our research was rated in the highest two categories as world-leading or internationally excellent.

    We’re home to state-of-the-art chemistry laboratories and several multi-million pound materials science facilities.

    These include the Lord Porter Ultrafast Laser Spectroscopy Laboratory, which is used in studies ranging from energy transport in molecules and materials to artificial photosynthesis, the Soft Matter Analytical Laboratory, where scientists can study samples that are 100 times smaller than a human hair, and an array of state-of-the-art instrumentation in Sheffield Surface Analysis Centre.

    Entry requirements

    Minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in chemistry or a related subject.

    We also consider a wide range of international qualifications:

    Entry requirements for international students

    Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

    If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.


    You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

    Apply now


    +44 114 222 9500

    Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

    Our student protection plan

    Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.

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