A Random Day… Part II

This is the second part of my account of the 28th of April, a good example of why you can rarely say you’re bored as a lecturer!

At a little after 2 pm we had finally set up for our lecture demonstration.  The only minor panic was that our dry ice, produced from a cylinder of CO2 was subliming very quickly.  The stuff freshly frozen never has the same density as the pellets.  The lecture demo was on ‘gases in the air’ and I think the children were 12 – 13 years old.  They were wonderfully smart with no hesitation in sticking their arms up to answer questions. We started by talking about the inert gases, with balloons of helium, nitrogen (not one of group 18, I know) and argon.  The idea that we mined helium out of the ground caused a ripple of excitement around the room.  We moved onto liquid nitrogen, going for the classic frozen banana hammer and crunching up flowers demos (with volunteers, of course!).  By the time we got to CO2 there was still a little dry ice left so we were able to show sublimation quite nicely.  We also managed to show that breath (with its 4% CO2 was capable of turning water a little acidic).  Unfortunately R looked like he was about to pass out with the exertion of blowing into the tubing immersed in water (although he said later that it was his ‘comedy routine’ – clearly he didn’t see the colour of his face during the demo!).  Of course we then headed into oxygen and went for a rather nice elephants toothpaste demo.  After that we finished off on a lighter note with hydrogen balloons (and nearly set the carpet on fire…ooopps!). I think the highlight was pouring liquid nitrogen down the lecture theatre steps at the very end.

At 3pm I ran from the lecture theatre to the lab to take part in another schools event that was going on – the RSC young analyst competition.  My job was to give a 15 minute talk on studying chemistry at Keele, the second half of the studying at Keele talk.  One of our teaching fellows gave the first half on Forensic Science to let me catch my breath a little.  This event was for 16/17 year olds and gave them a very challenging problem to solve using various analytical chemistry techniques.  It was organised by our teaching technicians and ran very smoothly, particularly given that the Salters’ Festival (organised by Education) was happening on the same day.  The department was wonderfully busy with lots of people milling around and obviously having a very good time.

After the talk, at 3.30pm I met with one of my research students to discuss an idea that his main supervisor had come up with.  It was a very nice idea indeed and I’m looking forward to helping the student figure out a suitable route to the target.  Very nifty (but top secret) science indeed.  After that, I had to start cleaning up the lab.  R cleaned up the demonstration in the lecture theatre, I cleaned up the lab demos.  The worst bit was probably the absolutely disgusting bottle of sulfuric acid that I had to get to dissolve the remaining zinc powder (which has an interesting tendency to catch fire if it gets dry – not exactly going to put that in the bin now, was I?).

All that remained of the day was taken up with a few conversations with various colleagues, some exhausted after a day of schools activities, and then a trip to the pub for a well earned pint!  I suspect there’s a pile of things that I didn’t get done, particularly as I spent the day before sorting out stuff for the various activities, but that will keep until later on in the weekend, especially if it rains!

So if anyone ever wondered what lecturers do when the students are away, and if we just get it all as holidays, here’s an example of what we get up to!