Lancing chemists in action

Back in December, 23 Lower Sixth chemists attended the Chemistry in Action event at the Emmanuel Centre in London. It was an amazing experience, with over 500 students from all over England coming together for a day full of Chemistry-related activities. The highlight of the event was the five guest speakers who gave lectures on their fields of work, each lecture covering a completely different side of chemistry.

The first speaker was Kit Chapman, an award-winning journalist who currently writes for Chemistry World (the Royal Society of Chemistry’s magazine). His lecture How to discover an Element included a very interesting (and humorous) visual explanation about the formation of new elements: he used marshmallows and involved some of the audience - special mention to Isaac P who got to go on stage!

Claire Murray introduced us to the extraordinary world of crystals and crystallography. Claire works at the Diamond Light Source – the UK’s national synchrotron science facility – having taken a year abroad to learn about crystal diffraction in Spain. Claire also talked us through her most recent research on the making of calcium carbonate and its polymorphs. It was a very engaging talk which gave us a sneak insight into the career of a chemist.

Next was Dr Jamie Gallagher, who spoke about a very relevant topic: plastic. He talked us through the history of materials, as well as plastic’s many positive attributes, but also touched on how its durability is at the heart of today’s major pollution issues. The chemistry of making plastics was unraveled, and at the end we joined in a Kahoot! quiz on recycling, which showed us that a little common sense goes a long way when recycling. 

Dr Jonathan Hare talked about the essence of life on Earth, carbon - but not just any form of carbon. He spoke about the discovery, shape and use of the buckminsterfullerene. The talk encouraged thought about possible future uses of fullerene, and also new undiscovered carbon nanoparticles.

The last lecture was given by Dr Peter Wothers, who talked us through the history and science of the periodic table. The periodic table seems like a piece of cake today – nothing more than a well-organised table. But Dr Wothers gave examples of the failed work of many scientists, who attempted to group elements before Mendeleev finally did. In fact, even Mendeleev had major misses in his original periodic table of elements.

Chemistry in Action was a very valuable experience; we learned more about science and saw that there are as many sides to it as we want there to be, whilst also getting a glimpse of a career in science.