Kroto Day 2017

Year 7 students from Chaucer Academy in Sheffield visited the University of Sheffield this week to take part in an exciting workshop in memory of the internationally renowned Nobel Prize winning chemist and University of Sheffield Alumnus Prof. Sir Harry Kroto.

Prof. Sir Harry Kroto sadly passed away in 2016. However, he maintained close links with the University of Sheffield, where he studied as an undergraduate and postgraduate student in the 1960s. The Kroto workshop is a tribute to the research for which Sir Harry was awarded his Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996: the discovery of a new form of carbon, the buckminsterfullerene, also known as buckyballs.

Buckminsterfullerene is an allotrope of carbon, and stands alongside the other traditional forms of carbon, graphite and diamond. Buckyballs are formed from 60 carbon vertices made entirely out of pentagonal and hexagonal faces and as its nickname suggests, is shaped like a traditional football. 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.

Making Buckyballs

PhD students Matt Watson and Beth Crowston at the Kroto Day 2017The workshop started with a discussion of the scientific scale by Ph.D. students Matt Watson and Beth Crowston. Students had to think about the relative sizes of objects and how they all fit onto a single scale, spanning nanometres and smaller, for the sizes of molecules and atoms, to gigametres and beyond, reaching the sizes of planets.

Students from Chaucer Academy with their buckyballsThe highlight of the workshop was for pupils to build their own buckyball using a specially provided kit. This hands-on approach gave students the opportunity to visualise the symmetrical arrangement of carbon atoms in the buckyball.

The purpose of both activities was for students to learn more about the interesting properties of the buckyballs and how properties relate to other carbon based structures such as graphite, layered carbon sheets used in pencils, and diamond. Concepts in mathematics and chemistry were discussed, laying the foundations for future inspiration and enthusiasm in studying science.

Practical Chemistry Workshops

Later in the day students participated in a range of experiments in the Department of Chemistry for an afternoon of fun practical chemistry.

Students perfoming the polymer slime workshopStudents performed three different practical experiments. First, the Polymer Slime workshop saw students creating brightly coloured polymer slime, demonstrating how joining molecules together can form long chain polymers.

Students watching demonstration of pH scaleSecondly, the bathbomb workshop informed students about the pH scale using indicators to identify acidity or alkalinity. The concepts were then applied to creating bath bombs through combining acidic and alkaline materials.

Finally, students also took part in a smell test, identifying the smells from common household products.

Dr Sara Bacon from the University's Faculty of Science Widening Participation Team said: "The day was a unique opportunity for local pupils to become scientists. Working with our staff and students at the University will hopefully raise their aspirations and extend their interest in science. The pupils prepared fragrant bath bombs, investigated the properties of slime and generally had great fun at carrying out the experiments.

Additional information

Further information on the outreach opportunities available at the University of Sheffield Department of Chemistry can be found at www.sheffield.ac.uk/chemistry/schools.
For more on Sir Harry Kroto’s inspiring outreach programs, visit the Kroto Research Inspiration.

Written By:
Joe Clarke

With thanks and contributions to Dr Sara Bacon, Matt Watson, Beth Crowston and the various student ambassadors who volunteered their time.