At this point the course splits a bit. You have to choose with subjects you want to study. There is a choice of Microbes, Plants and Animals. You have to choose two of these to specialise in, and you have to read something about the other subject, bit not in as much detail. This will be reflected in the Exam and some of the later TMAs.
Anyway - this is quite an interesting book, Microbes. It covers:
The study of microbes
Microbes in the environment
Microbes in animal disease
Genes and genomes
Exploiting microbes: biotechnology
It covers quite a bit, from how they work, where they live and their use in genetic and other experimental spheres. It starts off with the simplest forms of microbes, viruses and prions - both of which there is considerable debate on how to categorise them. There is a fair bit on the diseases caused by microbes and the acquisition of resistance. The biotechnology section ends up with genetic manipulation techniques for tuning microbes for production of things like Insulin and so on.
Block 12 is a little different to the rest. A number of people spent a while digging through their S103 collections (or in my case ill assorted piling system) looking for the block 12 book. Well there isn't one. What there is, is a collection of papers and articles about the origin of life and life on other planets. These all relate to the ECA (End of Course Assessment).
So you have to read the study guide, read the relevant papers that are associated with the ECA topic, and choose what are required.
The ECA is a bit like a bigger TMA, though not much bigger than a regular one. It does however have quite a lot riding on it. If you fail the ECA you fail the course.
Question 1 is reasonably straight forward. You are given some data on endangered species and you have to do a bit of maths with it. Work out averages, percentages that sort of thing. Also a histogram plot is required. 10 marks
Question 2 looks like geosciences, its about lava flow rates and things like that. You are given a graph of a lava flow plotted against time for a volcano. However really it is all physics. You have to calculate average speed, make predictions and calculate the mass of lava based on specific heat capacity, which requires some equation rearrangement. 21 Marks here
Question 3 is chemistry, and maths. You have to calculate a relative atomic mass based on a formula. Also balance a chemical equation, and finally rearrange a couple of algebraic equations. 10 marks
Question 4 some more data about rainfall and drainage. It has to be plotted as a graph and a best fit straight line found. The graph is used to work out a bit of information. Then you have to hypothesis about what happened to the missing water. 9 marks.
Question 5 is part II of the ECA and you have to write 1000 words on "What conditions would be required on an Earth-like extrasolar planet for carbon based life to evolve". You have to include in the account:
How the occultation technique can indicate the presence of a large extrasolar planet
Summarize the key chemical and physical factors required for the development of life on an Earth-like extrasolar planet
Discuss the stages of chemical evolution that would need to occur towards the development of life, giving the timescales that were thought to have occurred on Earth
Discuss how comets might have a role to play in life evolving on an Earthlike extrasolar planet in a distant solar system.
With the papers available, there is quite a lot of information to condense. Th advice from the tutor is to follow the points above fairly closely, as its a fair bet the mark scheme will be similarly structured. This is a little bit awkward as the last point fits in a lot better in context somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd points rather than tagged onto the end.
I found this essay quite hard to write. I have read up a lot about the origins of life over the last few years, so I knew a lot about the subject. However I needed to limit myself to the data available rather than go off in raptures about competing theories. Still - eventually it was all wrapped up and printed out, with the graphs drawn. They require 3 copies of this work as it is shipped around to various places to be marked and validated.
With the ECA finished, posted and an indication on my OU home page to say it had been safely received the 9 month epic had come to an end. There was a rather sad feeling on the conference as people said their electronic goodbyes, and we all wished each other well, and maybe see each other on future courses.