Sixth Form Chemistry A level students recently visited the Chemistry Department at the University of Bristol and had the opportunity to carry out some lab work and attend a lecture demonstration. Lower Sixth student Nikola gives a summary of the day:
Upon our arrival we spent the first two hours in the department laboratories. During the practical we had to manufacture benzocaine, which acts as a local anaesthetic, and analyse an unknown sample. This was done by carrying out some chemical tests to determine the presence of the phenol functional group. In addition to that we produced a thin layer chromatogram (TLC), which we then analysed and concluded that the unknown compound contained benzocaine, paracetamol and also salicylic acid.
Later we produced a sample of benzocaine, which was then extracted and purified. To ensure that we had indeed made the desired product we obtained an infrared spectrum (which we had studied previously in A level Chemistry) and by looking at the result we concluded that we had produced the desired product by the presence of certain bonds. We were also able to calculate the yield of the benzocaine preparation.
After a break, we attended a lecture demonstration. We observed demonstrations such as elephant’s toothpaste as well as one involving liquid nitrogen. All of the demonstrations could be explained by the topics that we have already covered this year in school. Some examples involved the change in oxidation states resulting in solutions changing colour, the expansion of gases when heated with a light splint and the compression of them when a balloon was placed in liquid nitrogen.
The day ended with a presentation by a PhD student who was researching a polysaccharide that could be injected into foetuses with spina bifida. This is a health condition when a baby’s spine and spinal cord do not develop properly in the womb, causing a gap in the spine. This presentation showed perfectly how advancements in the chemical industry, particularly in materials science, could be used in fields like medicine to treat a condition to which we at the moment do not have a cure. This just emphasises how chemistry is very diverse and how the research being carried out now by PhD students may be involved in the treatment of patients maybe 20 years later.