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Chemistry in action

Last week Haileyburian chemists in Removes (Year 9), Middles (Year 10) and the Lower Sixth enjoyed lectures and demonstrations of chemistry in action outside of school.

The Lower Sixth chemists went to the Institute of Education in London to a Chemistry in Action day. They were treated to a series of lectures on topics as wide ranging as ‘Understanding Atmospheric Science’, ‘Food Detectives: Some curious cases with a chemical twist’, ‘Using chemistry to make artificial blood for vampires and humans’ and ‘Indestructible Energy’.

The highlight was the final talk on 'Gods, Devils, and Alcohol – their influence on chemical nomenclature' by Dr Peter Wrothers. In this he explored the often-convoluted history behind the names of the chemical ingredients asking questions like: What connects a urinating camel to a spiral fossil? How did Egyptian eyeliner end up making us drunk, but amethyst kept us sober? In which brands of shampoo can you find 'beaver testicles'? Under the surface of what appears as dry, impenetrable code understood only by the initiated, Dr Wrothers showed how the language of chemistry provides an insight into the ideas and achievements of mankind through the ages from astrology to zoology. This lecture guaranteed the pupils will never look at a bottle of shampoo in quite the same way again.

The following day, a small group of Removes and Middles pupils were treated to an afternoon at Sele School run by the Royal Society of Chemistry The children participated in four different workshops on topics such as the effect of mints and chillies, using video-linked microscopes and time delay photography to monitor reactions in the mouth of fizzy sweets. They were also introduced to the 3-D shapes of molecules and the effect the shape has on the ability of pain medication to block pain receptors as well as the chemistry behind hot and cold packs.

The pupils were encouraged to make links between the four topics and spot the themes running through each activity. They also had the opportunity to quiz the chemists on their work and experiences.