Bristol ChemLabsThe competition was held on 1st February at the University of Bristol’s Chemistry laboratories, which gave us the invaluable opportunity to experiment with equipment and chemicals that we had never used before, as well as to see what students and researchers do and visit one of England’s most prestigious Chemistry Departments.

We were given four tasks to complete, which included one theoretical paper and three experiments. They required organised teamwork, efficiency and accuracy in order to obtain the correct results.

The first experiment we did was a titration reaction. Although we’d done several titrations before, it was not necessarily easy as we were presented with new chemicals and apparatus but, fortunately, it required the same logic.

Another experiment that we were examined on involved finding the proportion of iron in a commercial iron supplement tablet. A highlight of this section was watching the entire solution simultaneously turn from colourless to brown within two or three seconds, indicating that the reaction was complete. The experiment needed a technique unfamiliar to us - using one reaction to trigger a second. Having prepared the solutions for the first reaction, the aim was to see the second reaction finish at exactly ten seconds. This was fascinating science and we learnt a lot about working under time pressure with potentially harmful chemicals.

The final experiment that we were asked to conduct was to extract vanillin, which is the main component of vanilla extract. This experiment was really exciting as it gave us a chance to use new techniques and even work in a fume cupboard! We then had to use an ultraviolet spectrometer to plot a calibration curve, enabling us to work out the concentration of vanillin that we had extracted.

The day concluded with an amusing lecture on the chemistry of perfumes. Tim Harrison (Director of Outreach at Bristol ChemLabS) started by explaining how humans smell particles before emphasising the importance of synthesised fragrance molecules in business and industry. He set hydrogen balloons on fire and demonstrated reactions with liquid nitrogen but our favourite was solid carbon dioxide, which he put in a rubber glove. As the glove was passed around, the carbon dioxide warmed up and because it is one of the few substances to sublime, the solid particles became gaseous, making the glove expand to the size of a football. We had a hugely enjoyable day and felt privileged to have gained an insight into post-school Chemistry.

Amber, Farida and Jessica (LVI)