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Fields & Applications Liquid Chromatography, Food, Beverage & Agriculture

Bright Young Things

Throughout May and June 2017, high school children across Bristol have been taking part in the University of Bristol’s Festival of Science – part of a wider initiative established by the Salters’ Institute. Tim Harrison (University of Bristol Chemistry School Teacher Fellow) tells us about the fun experiments the students got stuck into and why it’s important to promote analytical science among young people.

What experiments were the students doing, and what analytical skills they were testing?

The competitions are still ongoing around the country so I can only give a general answer! The students were given a crime scenario and made use of both chromatographic techniques and ‘spot tests’ to identify the culprit. The tasks were designed to test measuring, equipment handling, graphing and observation – all skills required by analytical chemists. We also held a competition that was unique to the University of Bristol, based on two tasks. The first required students to create sugar solutions and use gravimetric analysis to create a calibration curve of sugar concentration against mass before determining the concentration of an unknown solution. The second task was based on an old favorite – an iodine clock reaction – where students had to work out how much of each reagent solution was required to make a color change at prescribed times.

All the sessions began with an exciting demonstration by you...

I showed the students some basic experiments from my lecture demonstration “Gases in the Air,” which included experiments with liquid nitrogen and dry ice. I also showed them a comparison between the chemical reactivity of helium and hydrogen, and a catalytic decomposition reaction.

How did students react?

They were nervous at first but quickly settled down to the numerous tasks in hand, working steadily and, for the most part, accurately! Every school worked safely, demonstrated good general laboratory techniques and showed admirable levels of teamwork.

Why is this kind of initiative so important?

Analytical chemistry skills are very important to society in general, from the checking of food and water safety to the branch usually referred to by the general public as “forensic chemistry.” This chemistry competition gave the students chance to demonstrate the skills they had learnt from their own teachers in a school setting. We just provided the opportunities for these students to show off what they can do! 

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About the Author
Tim Harrison

University of Bristol, Chemistry School Teacher Fellow.

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