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Category: lab mahem

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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Impractically Impossibly Imperfect ?>

Impractically Impossibly Imperfect

This is post 2 on laboratory practicals, sparked by discussion on Twitter of A-level science reforms to replace practical assessment with an endorsement. In post 1, I considered that the only way to assess practical work directly is to observe students doing practical work. In this post I’m aiming to consider the impact that prior experience of practical work has on 1st year chemistry students. We overtly assume little when it comes to the practical skills of our incoming students….

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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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Repost: Stinker or Smeller? ?>

Repost: Stinker or Smeller?

First published 04/2009 over at EP v2.0. The topic came up in conversation in the last couple of weeks so I thought I’d dig the post out! The images have disappeared but it makes sense without. — One of the advantages of resolving to ‘buy British’ (or vaguely European) is rediscovering the latest trend in culinary adventure: seasonality! With the advent of the asparagus season comes that intriguing question – why does asparagus make some people’s pee smell? It turns…

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Crash, Flash, Splat! ?>

Crash, Flash, Splat!

This week I did two outreach activities. One was making PVA slime and alginate worms with around 50 ten and eleven year olds from a local primary school, and the other was a demo lecture as part of the Salters’ Festival of Chemistry. Keele hosts two festivals, organised by Dr Jane Essex, part of the PGCE team, Education. The demo lecture is quite standard really, based around gases in air but each year I attempt to modify a demonstration to…

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Amazon as a chemical supplier ?>

Amazon as a chemical supplier

Once upon a time I lived in North America and was always amazed at the range of (what I considered to be lab only) chemicals on sale in drug stores (pharmacies) and home depot (DIY store). Cans of toluene and acetone would keep place along side the more familiar meths, and hydrogen peroxide would nestle with the cotton wool. And it didn’t seem quite right because in the UK, many of those substances were not on obvious display. I couldn’t…

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Discipline Disciple ?>

Discipline Disciple

I had another attack of paper inspired frustration last week. One of the project students had made a product that I was expecting to be an oil, but instead had a rather beautiful looking solid so I went in search of a melting point or confirmation that it was in fact solid. Our standard mode of doing this is running a search in Reaxys as we have limited access to Chem Abs or SciFinder so I was reasonably pleased to…

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CLEARS things up ?>

CLEARS things up

One of the things ‘going on’ this academic year is a project investigating safety in the laboratory. We’re not trying to come up with better lab rules, I think that’s one of the biggest differences. We all comment that in the chemistry lab students (and sometimes staff) do very bizarre things, but more lab rules don’t seem to make a different to the number of things like that which occur. In first year, it makes sense to have a clear…

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Spooktacular Chemistry Fun ?>

Spooktacular Chemistry Fun

While the internet was wringing its collective mouse cords over the spectacularly badly thought out this Hallow’een, we were out doing some fairly decent and safe science to impress local families. We had three experiments on the go: flame tests, alien blood and enzyme catalysed decomp of hydrogen peroxide. The flame tests were given a wonderfully spooky twist by naming the salt solutions ‘Vampire blood’, ‘Dead Sea Salt’ etc, and the visitors to the event tested each by way…

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Chemical Treasure Hunt Part II ?>

Chemical Treasure Hunt Part II

I have written previously about our work identifying the contents of Blists Hill Victorian Pharmacy Jars (, and we’ve pretty much solved the riddle of the jars. Briefly this Victorian Pharmacy exhibit has many jars filled with either the original and sometimes labelled contents, but possibly also poorly documented replacements made by well-meaning curators over the years. The last post described some rather Victorian chemistry to confirm the presence of mercury in a sample. Since that work in January, we’ve…

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