UCL helps make chemistry fun
5 May 2004
On 12 May 2004, the Turner Laboratory, in the Department of Chemistry, echoed to the sound of 120 excited children aged 11-13 drawn from 30 schools - some from as far afield as Sherborne in Dorset - taking part in the fun-filled UCL Salters' Festival of Chemistry.
The event, which UCL has hosted annually since 2000, is now one of the largest of the 47 such festivals held across the British Isles.
The Salter's Company - the livery company of the chemical industry which sponsors and coordinates these events - aims to promote teaching and education in chemistry through the Salters' Institute, which also funds curriculum development in chemistry, the establishment of chemistry clubs in schools and summer camps in chemistry.
The festivals give children the opportunity to carry out experiments in a real laboratory for a day. Dr Andrea Sella (Chemistry), the local organiser, says: "Lab activities have become so constrained in schools these days, that teachers leap at the chance to give their kids an opportunity to get their hands dirty."
Each school was represented by a team of four, competing for a series of cash prizes and goodies provided by Salters and by UCL. In the morning, the kids investigated 'The Salterstown Mystery', in which a series of chemical clues led to the identification of a criminal. In the afternoon, UCL's 'University Challenge' required each team to construct a chemical clock and to devise a recipe for a solution that would turn yellow after precisely 60 seconds.
Dr Graham Maunder of GSK, and a former postgraduate student at UCL, says: "Choosing the winners is a pretty tough task. Points are awarded not just for getting the chemistry right, but also for organisation and teamwork, as well as for good laboratory practice".
The day drew to a close with a demonstration lecture by Dr Sella entitled 'When is a Gas not a Gas?', in which the processes of freezing, melting, boiling and sublimation were illustrated using lead, water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The lecture - which included sinking, floating and burning bubbles as well as one very big bang - ended with wild enthusiasm when he made every child's favourite material, ice cream, using liquid nitrogen. Dr Sella says: "There's nothing like using tasty examples to get children fired up to ask questions. And ice cream comes pretty close to top of my list."
To find out more about the festivals or Dr Sella, use the links below.