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New Discovering Chemistry series launches for school students

Keith Jones answers student’s questions at Imperial College, London in 2011 (photo by Sarah Rook)

9 Jul 2013

On 19 June 2013, the University of Manchester's Department of Chemistry hosted the first in a series of inspiring lectures to be held across the country as part of SCI's 'Discovering Chemistry 2013' public and schools lecture series.

Prof Francis Livens, one of the UK's leading researchers in radiochemistry from the University of Manchester's Dalton Nuclear Institute, delivered an exceptional lecture to over 100 students from schools in the Manchester area. He outlined the fundamental principles of radiochemistry and highlighted the importance of this area of chemistry in UK energy production both now and in the future. Attendees discovered the crucial role that chemists play in the development of nuclear energy and how this controversial energy source can be made a safer, more viable option and how we can deal with the waste generated in a responsible manner.

Event organiser Mark Betson said, 'It was great to see Prof Livens bringing chemistry to life with the aid of live demonstrations and audience participation. This included a game of 'spot the D2O ice cubes' (heavy water) amongst the H2O ice cubes, testing to see if they float or sink in water. Radioactive decay was illustrated using a blindfolded volunteer to find and throw mini Mars bars into the audience (the rate of throwing decreases as the Mars bars get harder to find).

'Quite a few students went up after the lecture to ask questions both about the subject matter and about studying chemistry at university. Many were surprised that chemists are so heavily involved in the nuclear industry and were interested to hear that a degree in chemistry could allow them to personally help provide solutions to the inevitable energy shortages.'

Dr Frank Mair, Director of Outreach at the School of Chemistry at The University of Manchester commented: ' We were delighted to collaborate with SCI over schools engagement. The A-level syllabus sometimes doesn't leave a clear picture of the possible careers available in the chemicals industry, so lectures like this are really important in making A-level students aware of the importance of the industry to the UK economy, and the wide variety of roles available within it.

'We were particularly pleased when Dr Betson of SCI suggested Radiochemistry as a possible topic for the lecture, since we host the Centre for Radiochemistry Research, part of the Dalton Nuclear Institute. Its Research Director, Prof Francis Livens, is experienced in addressing school audiences. The 100 or so schoolchildren who attended appreciated the accessible and participative way Francis covered the fundamentals of isotopes, nuclear processes and first-order decay. I think they were quite impressed with the lump of uranium as well!'

Though the audience was a little shy of open questions at the lecture's conclusion, Prof Livens was swamped by a crowd eager to ask a series of their own questions on a one-to-one basis. He was impressed with the thirst for more knowledge that some of these enquiries displayed.

The 'Discovering Chemistry 2013' lecture series, co-run by the Fine Chemicals group and Young Chemists' Panel, follows the successful 2011 'International Year of Chemistry' public lecture series. Our photo shows Keith Jones answering students' questions at Imperial College, London during this series.

This autumn, a series of free talks given by both industrial and academic experts will take place at universities or local schools around the country. The series will illustrate how the diverse field of chemistry has, and will, continue to impact on our everyday lives in Britain and worldwide and will introduce non-scientists and sixth form students to a few of the wide range of applications and cutting-edge technologies which fall under the chemistry umbrella.

Lectures including 'Extreme Drug Discovery', 'Global Warming - How can Green Chemistry Help,' 'Radiochemistry: Real Life CSI' and 'Magic, Folk Medicine, Drugs and Chemistry,' are due to be held in Nottingham, London, Aberdeen, Preston, Reading and York from August to November 2013.

Dr Sarah Rook and Dr Mark Betson.

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