Last week, I and three other Abbey students had the incredible experience of participating in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s “Top of the Bench” challenge. The competition took place in one of Oxford University’s chemistry labs: an impressive, brightly-lit room full of modern equipment and with one wall lined entirely by fume cupboards.
The challenge consisted of a few experiments which we had to complete in our school groups, introducing us to new equipment whilst drawing on prior knowledge. To start with, we used thin-layer chromatography to identify an unknown sample. The results of the chromatogram could only be viewed under UV light, which called for a special piece of machinery! We matched up the sample with the chemical eugenol, and calculated the sample’s concentration using further chromatograms.
The second task involved using a piece of software to measure the light absorption of different concentrations of a substance X. I plotted a graph with the results, and we read off the graph to find the concentration of a sample of X (after first finding its light absorption by using the software).
To finish off, we received a virtual talk from Professor Tom Welton about his journey to being a Professor of Sustainable Chemistry at Imperial College London, focusing in particular on the extraction of cellulose and its many potential uses, especially in green energy.
We did not come in the top three schools, but the experience of working in a professional lab with new equipment was invaluable and highly enjoyable.
Maria, Lower V (Year 10)