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Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division
Ohio Open Ed Collaborative
Chemical Foundations Life, OSC0032
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Education Standards

The Chemical Foundation of Life Resources

The Chemical Foundation of Life Resources


Elements in various combinations comprise all matter, including living things. Some of the most abundant elements in living organisms include carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorus. These form the nucleic acids, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids that are the fundamental components of living matter. Biologists must understand these important building blocks and the unique structures of the atoms that comprise molecules, allowing for cells, tissues, organ systems, and entire organisms to form.


All biological processes follow the laws of physics and chemistry, so in order to understand how biological systems work, it is important to understand the underlying physics and chemistry. For example, the flow of blood within the circulatory system follows the laws of physics that regulate the modes of fluid flow. The breakdown of the large, complex molecules of food into smaller molecules—and the conversion of these to release energy to be stored in adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—is a series of chemical reactions that follow chemical laws. The properties of water and the formation of hydrogen bonds are key to understanding living processes. Recognizing the properties of acids and bases is important, for example, to our understanding of the digestive process. Therefore, the fundamentals of physics and chemistry are important for gaining insight into biological processes.

Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives (Biology I TAGs)

1. Describe basic atomic structure and how atoms combine to form molecules.

3. Describe the unique properties of the carbon atom, why it is important to life,

and the basic ways in which organic molecules are constructed.

4. Describe the basic chemical and physical properties of water and how they

facilitate processes essential for life.

Recommended Textbook Resources

BIology 2eChapter 2: The Chemical Foundation of Life 

OpenStax: Biology 2e​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Chapter 2, The Chemical Foundations of Life, will describe the chemical and physical fundamental characteristics governing the basic building blocks of life and serves as a vital component to the understanding of how life works at a molecular level.

Student Assessment Activities

Student Assessment Activities are below; instructors can also Download the Chemical Foundation of Life Student Activities Word File or View the Chemical Foundation of Life Student Activity Google Doc.

Project 1:

What is a radioisotope? How can we use radioisotopes to determine the age of once-living organisms?

The periodic table groups elements according to their unique properties and characteristics. Identify as many of these characteristics as possible. For example, elements are grouped according to their chemical properties. 

Name and describe the different types of bonds and interactions at exist between elements/molecules. Rank them according to strength. 

What unique properties allow water to facilitate the processes necessary for life?

Orange juice and hydrochloric acid (HCL) are both acidic. Drinking a cup of OJ will not kill you but a cup of HCL will. Explain in detail, why?

Project 2:

Find the correct answers to the end of the chapter “Review Questions.” Note the page number on which you found the answer. Be prepared to share and explain your answers in a group setting. 

Project 3:

Answer the end of the chapter “Critical Thinking Questions.”