1 Introduction

Module 1 – The Building Blocks of Life


Biology is the study of life and, in this course, we begin our journey toward understanding some of the basic concepts within the study of life. Cells are the basic unit of life and we will explore the cell in full in a few weeks, but to understand the life of the cell, we must begin by taking a close look at the basic building blocks of matter. Most of you are probably familiar with the term matter , which is defined as anything that has mass and takes up space. It is easy to memorize definitions like matter, elements, atoms, etc., but you want to really dissect the terms and think about how atoms which are the building blocks of matter come together to form important molecules within the cell like water, lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins (terms that you are probably more comfortable with than matter, elements, and subatomic particles).

For many of you, this module may be the hardest, but think of this as the “chemistry of life.” It is important that you understand the chemical nature of the important molecules that make up the cell, the basic unit of life, to really understand the inner-workings of the cell. To that end, we begin this module by looking at the chemical nature of atoms, molecules, and matter and take a closer look at the chemical nature of these molecules that make up the air you breathe, the water you drink, as well as the important organic and inorganic molecules that make up your cells. One important concept to take away from this chapter is the chemical nature of the water molecule, which makes up 60-70% of the cell and has some rather unique properties that allow for it’s role in the cell and environment on the whole.

Please consider this a building course – each module introduces new concepts that build on the previous one. We will move at a fast pace and it is important that you have a strong understanding of the content covered in each module before you move on to the next. Be sure to give each of these modules the time they deserve as each one covers quite a bit of information. 1

Learning Outcomes

This module addresses the following Course Learning Outcomes listed in the Syllabus for this course:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of biological principles.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of scientific method.
  • Communicate scientific ideas through oral or written assignments.
  • Interpret scientific models such as formulas, graphs and tables.
  • Demonstrate problem solving methods in situations that are encountered outside of the classroom. 1

Module Objectives

Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

  • Define the following terms: matter element atoms atomic number atomic mass subatomic particles protons neutrons ,electrons isotopes valence shells valence electrons inert polar nonpolar hydrophilic , and hydrophobic
  • Describe the properties of the subatomic particles and state the way in which electrons are organized in energy levels around the nucleus of an atom
  • Use the atomic mass and atomic number from the periodic table of elements to determine the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons an element will have when electrically neutral.
  • State the 4 elements that make up 96% of human body weight
  • Discuss examples of elements that are essential for body function but required in smaller amounts
  • State some uses of isotopes in science
  • Describe the properties of covalent, ionic, and hydrogen bonds and review the examples in the text for each type of chemical bond covered in this module, .
  • Describe the chemical properties of water
    • Name the type of chemical bond found within one water molecule between the oxygen and each hydrogen atom.
    • Name the type of chemical bond found between two adjacent water molecules.
  • Define pH, be familiar with the terms: acid, base, and neutral solution and review the examples within the text. 1


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Life in its Biological Environment Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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