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Category: Chemistry

Once more into the distance ?>

Once more into the distance

My distance learning modules are about to start. Modules – two of them this year – delivered via computer means fair and foul to an institution in China. Last year I delivered our sustainable chemistry module, this year I’m adding half a module on inorganic chemistry to the mix. Last year the module was delivered through a mixture of lecture recordings, directed reading and lecture notes, forums and Turnitin – all done through BlackBoard. This year the courses have been…

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Chemistry Festivities ?>

Chemistry Festivities

After surviving the 2nd year practical exam at the beginning of last week, the end of the week brought our Salters’ festivals of chemistry. We do two, one is the standard festival with the Salters Challenge then one of our own devising, the second is for SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) students and we do two challenges. The challenge for the SEND festival is to cater to the diverse range of needs the students have while still offering some…

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Safety Compromises ?>

Safety Compromises

Running a practical exam with several staff invigilating highlights, very clearly, the differences in approach to certain lab techniques. For a reaction heated to reflux, do we clamp the flask, the flask and the condenser, or the flask but with a second clamp loose around the condenser for a little stability? Are disposable nitrile gloves good enough for this type of use or that type of use? Can syringes be used, without needles, to measure reasonably accurate quantities? Does the…

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(Im)practical Exams ?>

(Im)practical Exams

On Monday and Tuesday next week our 2nd years will have their practical exam. This consists of 2 x 3 hour sessions, one in a computer lab carrying out data analysis and the other is in the lab carrying out a literature style prep. All of the techniques and methods should be familiar to the students but the specific scenarios are not. This is worth 20% of a 15-credit module and we’ve run mock exams for each to give our…

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Research Labs vs Teaching Labs ?>

Research Labs vs Teaching Labs

One of the biggest shocks for our students when they start projects is the difference between the highly scripted experiments in the undergraduate teaching laboratories and the research project lab. Like many other chemistry programmes, our students spend two years doing lab experiments following a lab script. Doing experiments that are pretty much proven to work and really, will stand a fair amount of carelessness in the prep is a great way to learn techniques, produce products for analysis and…

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What is the ‘Smell of Science’? ?>

What is the ‘Smell of Science’?

Two students have just walked into the building, probably not chemistry, physics, astrophysics or forensic science students. They were discussing the smell of the building and claimed it ‘smells like science’. I’m guessing I’m pretty much immune to the building’s normal odour, far more likely to pick up strongly scented deviations (yes I do want to know who’s using the stuff that smells like skunk – they need to take more care). We’ve got chemistry, astro/physics, forensic science labs in…

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A Stinky Colourful Chemical Mystery ?>

A Stinky Colourful Chemical Mystery

I’m running an outreach activity and we’ll be making alginate worms. I was testing my sodium alginate solutions yesterday as they tend to go off a bit. Usually this is demonstrated by no longer forming beautiful worms or spheres on addition to calcium chloride solution but rather forming slime. I suspect the polymer chains are being clipped. I add food dye as well  – coloured worms are more fun. One bottle yesterday was colourless and was a 2% solution of…

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Chemical Shortcuts ?>

Chemical Shortcuts

I was writing some lecture notes this morning when it occurred to me that I’d probably never told my students of some shortcuts that are really useful. I was trying to draw structures for a synthetic route towards paclitaxel…trying is the operative word unless you are aware of what a SMILES string is and the fact that you can copy-paste that through paste-special in ChemDraw and other programmes and the structure will be drawn for you. In the case of…

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REPOST:The Ritualistic Nature of Literature Searching ?>

REPOST:The Ritualistic Nature of Literature Searching

I’m reposting this today as I’ve got a session with our 2nd years on information literacy this afternoon. We’ll be covering Web of Science searches along with other hints and tips for wrangling the scientific literature. First published February 9th, 2009 on v2.0… It has just gone 8.30am and on this snowy Monday morning I have reached my desk, set my shoes to dry on the office radiator and booted the computer. Before I make my first cup of tea…

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REPOST: All the pretty colours… ?>

REPOST: All the pretty colours…

One of the most spectacular chemistry experiments is flame tests. I think it’s a particularly elegant experiment, and also one that can easily be done in high schools. I remember doing it when I was about 14 or 15, as part of standard grade chemistry. It is very simple; you take some wire, clean it in concentrated acid, dip the wire in acidic solutions of various metal salts and then put the wire in a blue Bunsen flame. It has…

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