On the 17th of May, our Year 12 Chemistry students went on a trip to Bristol University, where they performed an interesting experiment in the university’s Chemistry department.
Joseph Wakefield, one of the students who took part in the trip, told us all about this experience:
” When I cycled to school on a pleasant spring morning I was not expecting the explosive day that was in store. Upon arrival at the University of Bristol’s Chemistry Department we were immediately met by one of the department’s senior professors, Tim Harrison, who led us to the labs where we would spend our morning cooking up drugs (not literally, we were extracting caffeine from regular tea!). Once briefed on the lab safety rules and armed with protective gloves, safety specs, lab coats and all of the fancy equipment needed, we embarked on our practical work. Our procedure was monitored and aided by some of the postgraduate students.
After two hours of solid, precise practical work we ended up with our desired product, a white powder (as appears to be the outcome of any organic extraction…!). We proceeded to test our product for purity using an analytical technique called Infrared spectroscopy, the theory behind which we had covered as part of our first year of A level chemistry. The results of this proved that our experiment was a resounding success and left us in need of a well-earned break.
After lunch we embarked on the more theoretical part of the day, with a presentation by a PhD student who was researching chemical uses of Nano-molecules of polysaccharides, an interesting topic linking chemistry and biology. The afternoon then proceeded with many unexpected demonstrations, linking chemistry, physics and the real world. The final demonstration of chemical exploration was conducted by two of our cohort who apparently “would not affect the grades of the class too much if any harm came to them”. Naturally, I volunteered myself. Faced with two balloons containing unknown gases we were to ignite the gases using lit splints, which were crudely fastened onto the end of a meter ruler. Caboom! … the fireball that followed filled the room with significant heat and a pressure wave.
A fiery and explosive day was enjoyed by all!”