Chemistry in Action for 6.1s

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Head of Chemistry, Emily Seeber: On Wednesday 23 November, 6.1 chemists headed to UCL for a day of inspiring lectures on various aspects of chemistry which are beyond the scope of the A-level specification. We also had a brief talk on exam technique from a chief examiner, and I was pleased that she echoed all the advice that we give to students on a regular basis: read questions carefully, break them down, annotate them with hints, be specific with the terminology or formulae that you give, etc. The students have written short summaries of each of the topics below…

Ed Adams and Jasper Oltmanns: The first talk was held by John Nicholson from St Mary’s University, Twickenham and was based on the use of poisons. He described a history of murders and serial killers over the last 100 years that used poison, including the forensic case built up against the notorious Harold Shipman. He gave an introduction on how to kill someone with table salt and a demonstration showing which forms of diamorphine would disappear without a trace once the subject reaches their end…

Molly Graham and Alice Lester: We then had a talk by University of Surrey nanochemist, Sujata Kundu, about living in a materials world; it was a lively and gripping lecture that got everyone involved as she was a good presenter who knew how to keep the audience involved. She explained various possibilities for the future, such as a lift into space, whilst showing what is possible now and the advances she is making in her own field.

George Peattie: In ‘The Science of Scent’ Principal Scientist at Proctor and Gamble, Will Andrews, talked about making perfumes. We were shown how to create artificial scents, and also to extract natural scents using gas chromatography. We were given samples of scents to smell during the lecture which overall built up to give us the odour of Coca Cola: orange and lime form the top notes, cinnamon forms the heart of the scent and vanillin is the base.

Izzy Milford and Lauren MacMillan: After that we had a series of lively demonstrations on chemistry you can do with items in your kitchen: from changing water to apple juice then to coke, to rockets firing across the stage. The speaker, Stephen Ashworth from University of East Anglia, also talked to us about our bodies being good electrical conductors and demonstrated this using a human circuit on stage to play Coldplay through the sound system, as well as making square bubbles.

George Ford and Joe Murray: Our final oration was delivered by Peter Wothers from the University of Cambridge on the topic of ‘God, the Devils and Alcohol’. This was a wide-ranging, shampoo-inspired lecture on the origins of chemical names and alchemical symbols, supplemented with Greek and Roman mythology, medieval art, Arabic science and sex and scandal. We learned that the original metals known by the Greeks were named after planets, and that Lavoisier named oxygen and hydrogen the wrong way round. There are also chemicals in shampoo which derive their names from the camel urine they were historically extracted from, or a particularly interesting variety of orchid named the ‘testiculus canis’.

…After all this excitement we ate lots of pizza and discussed the lectures, before heading back to Petersfield…