Chemistry Week November 2016

November 20th-25th saw the University of Sheffield Chemistry department celebrate Chemistry Week. This is a celebration of scientific research through engagement with the public and younger generation of students with demonstrations and fun lectures.

Chemistry Week is an event that happens every two years and is designed to engage young prospective chemists with the wonderful world of chemistry. The event is led by the RSC (Royal Society of Chemistry), who (this year) happen to be celebrating their 175th anniversary. Throughout the week events provide the opportunity for students and faculty to showcase their passion for chemistry to inspire the future generation of chemistry students.

The chemistry department celebrated this week with a series of Outreach events both in the department and at several primary schools in a series of specially organised events.

Monday 21st November: Edible Chemistry

Dr Joanna Buckley visiting Westways Primary School to deliver an Edible Chemistry workshop.Dr Joanna Buckley visited Westways Primary school in Sheffield to deliver an Edible Experiments workshop to 60 Y6 pupils to engage them with Chemistry and Food.

Pupils were able to see if they were supertasters, identify wax coatings on jelly beans and skittles and see if they could answer questions such as: How are fondant centres in after-eight mints created?, How do beetles help to make certain sweets and How does popping candy work?

More information as well as several videos by Dr Joanna Buckley can be found on her Edible Experiments website answering some of the questions regarding the chemistry of food, such as: Why is tempering chocolate important? Why do spicy foods taste hot?

Wednesday 23rd November: The Chemistry of Bubbles

Dr Jonathan Foster visited Ecclesfield primary school to deliver a fun, demonstration-filled presentation on the chemistry of bubbles to 120 Year 3 and 4 students.

Topics covered in the presentation included: Why are bubbles round? What are bubbles made from? How do they pop? What colour are bubbles? As well as a presentation, Dr Foster also had a series of demonstrations such as the formation of giant bubbles, freezing bubbles and setting fire to bubbles.

This event encouraged students to be curious and question everything in the world around them, such as bubbles.

Wednesday 23rd of November: Buckyball building

Sixteen of our students (postgraduate and 4th years) visited 6 local primary schools and over 240 pupils got the chance to make their own buckyball model and learn about chemistry on the nanoscale.

Outreach program building Buckyballs at a parimary school for Chemistry weekThis event was devised by Prof. Sir Harry Kroto several years ago and is typically delivered annually at the University. Sir Harry was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1996 for his discovery of a new form of carbon: buckyballs. Unfortunately Sir Harry passed away earlier this year and Dr Sara Bacon (Widening Participation Activities Officer) arranged this special event to be a tribute to his great work and his ambition to take chemistry into primary schools with hands on chemistry activities.

For background, Buckyballs are shaped like a traditional football and the carbon fullerene molecules are made of pentagons and hexagons. In 2010 the breakthrough was named by fellow academics as one of the 10 most important discoveries made by their peers at UK universities in the past 60 years.

Our postgraduate students delivered a scientific scale workshop that introduced concepts such as algebra and very big and small numbers which prepared the pupils for the ideas around molecular and nanoscale. Pupils then made their very own models of the buckyball using a specially provided kit learning about the buckyball's interesting properties and relating these to the properties of other carbon-based structures, including graphite and diamond.

As well as these specially arranged events, Outreach experiments have also been conducted throughout the week in the department's schools laboratory. Pupils from primary and secondary schools around Sheffield had the opportunity to test their practical skills in a series of experiemnts which included:

  • Year 13 students from Lincolnshire making paracetamol and performing spectroscopy.
  • Two cohorts of 30 year 10 students who performed the extraction of natural products from Nutmeg.

The next major public engagement event will be Science Week In March 2017. This is an annual event where the Faculty of Science showcase research through further events and public lectures.

Written By
Joe Clarke

With thanks and contributions from Dr Sara Bacon, Dr Julie Hyde, Dr. Joanna Buckley, Dr Jonathan Foster and all students and pupils involved in the Outreach events.