Spectroscopy in a suitcase

13 August 2007

The University of Leicester is part of an innovative pilot programme being run in the East Midlands to give schools access to state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation in the study of chemistry.

The first event of the programme, Spectroscopy in a Suitcase, was greeted with great enthusiasm, by both students and staff. 

Schools welcomed the opportunity to use equipment which, due to financial constraints, is usually not available to them, and acknowledged that the session greatly enhanced the teaching of a difficult subject by making the technique real for the students.  

Instrumentation available to schools as part of the Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded project, Chemistry for our Future, includes infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOF), and UV-Visible spectroscopy.

This new project complements widespread spectroscopy days that universities put on for students from local schools and colleges with visits by postgraduate students into schools taking portable instruments and tailored hands-on experiments designed to enrich the GCSE and AS/A2 curricula. 

These important techniques are demonstrated through activities based around engaging and relevant themes such as atmospheric monitoring, flavours and fragrances, forensic analysis and medicinal chemistry quality control. 

In addition to GCSE and AS/A2 students, the project is also developing activities for younger children, building on the phenomenal success of the Cool Chemistry events that were run by Chemistry: The Next Generation in June 2007.

Tracy McGhie who has been leading the project said: "The response from teachers has been fantastic, with many schools already signed up and very keen to participate in this outreach activity."

Southfield School for Girls in Kettering hosted the first ever two-hour session, in which a small group of year 12 students was given the opportunity for hands-on experience of infrared spectroscopy in their own classroom. 

After preparing and running their samples, students were then helped to interpret their spectra by Will Wise, a Chemistry postgraduate student. He helped explain how the peaks in the spectra they had recorded correspond to infrared absorptions of different chemical bond vibrations.

As the pilot project develops in the East Midlands, visits for the next academic year will take place throughout the region from the end of September and be provided by the five partner universities of University of Leicester, Loughborough University, Lincoln University, University of Nottingham, and Nottingham Trent University. 

Based on the development work done in the East Midlands it is anticipated that this project will be extended to the North West and London regions in the coming months, bringing the total number of universities engaged in the project to 15.

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