Chemistry Lectures for Schools

Photo of students at a UCL Chemistry event

We have a programme of lectures which we can offer to senior school students and their teachers. These would usually take place in your school. The lectures last between 30 and 50 minutes, and are particularly suitable for students in Years 11, 12 and 13. We are also happy to include information about choosing a Chemistry course, and the UCL Chemistry department, with these talks. There is no charge for these lectures and so are usually limited to one per school per year.

Application Forms and more information are available from: 

Sue Campbell, School Events Administrator, Tel: 020 7679 4617

Why Study Chemistry at University?

Dr Dewi Lewis

Why are chemistry graduates some of the most sought after not only by scientific and technology industries but also by city banks, law firms and a host of others? What do chemists do? Find out how a degree in chemistry will provide you with skills applicable to more careers than you've ever thought possible. Find out how you will discover something that no one knew before in your degree. Is it better than studying other sciences? Finally as Admissions Tutor some advice on applying....

Chemistry of Materials: From Traffic Lights to Compact Discs

Prof Claire Carmalt

We encounter materials in all aspects of our everyday life. Some materials are metals; others are ceramics, while others are semiconductors and plastics. Each has its own particular characteristics and use. This talk will focus largely on semiconductors, what they are, how they are made, and what they are used for. The important role of the chemist in developing semiconductors, such as by improving synthetic methods, will also be described.

“What is the secret of man's red fire?”

Dr Daren Caruana

Fire has always captivated the imagination of humans and probably animals too (according to King Louie who wanted to know "the secret of Man's red fire" in Disney's production of "Jungle book" inspired by Rudyard Kipling). Harnessing the by-products of combustion, fire and heat have actually transformed our lives in innumerable ways; from providing light to jet powered flight. In truth, scientists from many disciplines have also been captivated by the challenge of understanding fire. This lecture will explore and present a modern take on flames; in particular the chemistry and the electrical properties of flames.

“How Atoms Fit Together”

Prof. Richard Catlow

The way in which atoms bond together to form complex molecules and solids is the central theme of modern chemistry and of much of biology, physics and materials science. Scientists now have a detailed understanding of the different types of bonding which hold atoms together. Moreover, knowledge of the forces acting between atoms allows us to understand and predict the structures adopted by complex molecules, including proteins and DNA - the molecules of life - and technologically important materials such as semiconductors and catalysts. With this knowledge, we are able to predict and design molecules and materials for specific purposes (e.g. pharmaceutical action) where we are assisted increasingly by the power of computers which can model, and with the aid of molecular graphics can display beautifully, the complexity of molecular structures

“Molecules of Life”

Prof. Richard Catlow

Living 'organic' matter is made up of atoms and molecules in just the same way as non-living 'inorganic' systems. The special features of living matter are the complexity and interrelations of the molecules involved; and above all, their ability to make copies of themselves. The lecture will show how some of the most important molecules of life, including proteins, sugars and DNA are constructed and how they fold around each other to give fascinating shapes which determine how they work as 'living' molecules. We will also show - again with computer graphics - how drug molecules work and how the modern chemist 'designs' new pharmaceuticals.

“Allergies: Wheezes and Sneezes, Itches and Rashes”

Prof. Fred Pearce

Allergic diseases range from asthma and hay fever to inflammatory disorders of the skin and gastrointestinal tract. They are produced by abnormal immunological reactions to common substances such as pollens, moulds, house dust, and foodstuffs. Here we will discuss the factors involved in the induction of allergic responses and the types of drugs that may be used to treat such conditions.

“Taming the Electron”

Prof. Helen Fielding

Is an electron a wave or a particle? At the beginning of the 20th century J.J. Thomson was awarded the Nobel prize for proving that the electron was a particle. About 30 years later his son was awarded the Nobel prize for proving that it was a wave. Of course, they are both right. Nowadays, using ultrafast lasers, it is possible to make electron 'wave packets' which behave like classical particles and like quantum mechanical waves. This presentation will explore the dynamics of electron wave packets at the classical-quantum boundary. It will show how they are created and how they evolve. It will demonstrate the interference of electron wave packets in a Young's double slit experiment and explain how cleverly chosen sequences of laser pulses can define the angular momentum or turn a wave packet into a Schrodinger's cat. Finally it will explore the tantalizing prospect of using lasers to control chemical reactions at the most fundamental level.

“Chemistry and Tuberculosis” 

Dr Helen Hailes

Tuberculosis kills more than 3 million people each year, and the appearance of multi-drug resistant (MDR) strains is of increasing concern. This talk will highlight key developments that have been made to tame this ancient disease and describe how some chemists are contributing to this research field.

“Zeolites - Magic Rocks”

Dr Dewi Lewis

Every single litre of petrol has passed through a zeolite. Most washing powders have zeolites in them. What are zeolites? How do they convert oil to petrol and make your clothes cleaner? The magic of these rocks will be revealed.

“Computer-Aided Chemistry” 

Dr Dewi Lewis

How computers are used in chemistry: to control experiments, to understand the properties of molecules and materials and to design new drugs.

“Chemistry Through the Looking-Glass”

Dr Mike Porter

Many molecules can exist in both a left-handed and a right-handed form. In this demonstration lecture, we look at the properties of these mirror-image molecules, and their importance in chemistry, biology and pharmacology.

“Electrons, Crystals and Chips”

Prof. Sally Price

Computer chips have revolutionised our ability to apply the fundamental laws of quantum and classical mechanics to predict the behaviour of atoms and molecules. This is illustrated by the problem of predicting organic crystal structures as an aid to the development of pharmaceuticals.

“Ozone in the Earth's Atmosphere: Friend and Enemy!” 

Dr David Rowley

Ozone (O3) in the earth's atmosphere is a key trace gas, acting as a filter of harmful solar ultraviolet radiation. However, ozone is also poisonous, and a component of photochemical smog - a blight on many urban areas in summertime. This talk reviews the discovery of ozone, and its formation and destruction in different parts of the atmosphere. The crucial role played by atmospheric chemists in understanding the abundance of atmospheric ozone is also considered, along with a degree of speculation as to what the future might hold.

“Global Warming”

Dr David Rowley

Perhaps one of the most threatening environmental changes facing us at the moment is the likelihood of increased global temperatures resulting from human pollution of the atmosphere. This talk will introduce - from an atmospheric chemists' viewpoint - the concept and causes of global warming, and will look at some of the evidence for global warming and its possible effects on our planet.

“What has Chemistry got to do with Gene Therapy?” 

Dr Alethea Tabor

Instead of conventional drugs, the next generation of “miracle cures” may well consist of DNA, delivered directly to malfunctioning cells. Chemists are now making “artificial viruses” to do exactly that!