RSC - Advancing the Chemical Sciences



Petrochemical / chemical materials

  1. The principles of chromatography are introduced by getting students to conduct their own chromatography experiments to discover the number of different coloured dyes found in ink from a black felt pen.

  2. The use of chemicals to produce flavours for food is demonstrated by the preparation of 3-methylbutyl ethanoate (isoamyl acetate), an ester that smells of pear drops. A couple of volunteers from the group of students assist in the preparation. 

  3. The component parts of laundry detergent are demonstrated by wet chemical displays of surfactancy and suds, soil suspension and bleach. The actions of each component are discussed. 

  4. Catalysts and their role in the chemical industry are discussed along with the applications of catalytic technology and comparisons are made with enzymes in nature. Animations of the catalytic production of methanol are shown and a methanol-powered car demonstrated.

  5. The role of chemists in maintaining safety on oil rigs is demonstrated by looking at two common problems and the preventative or remedial measures that can be taken to alleviate them. 

  6. Students conduct an experiment to investigate the effect that temperature has on the rate of reaction. The relevance of this reaction to the company in question is explained. 

  7. The uses of chemical additives to enhance the properties of fuel and oil are discussed. Examples include additives such as dispersants to suspend insoluble combustion products, detergents to keep engines clean and additives that protect engines from wear and tear. The presentation includes some examples of what can happen if the additives do not do their job.

  8. Various experiments with dyes are demonstrated including the 'flag experiment'. In this experiment a flag made from a number of different materials is dipped in a bath containing several different dyes. The flag emerges with different parts dyed in different colours. Separation of dyes by chromatography and a demonstration of water-fast ink are also shown. 

  9. The use of DNA analysis to identify the highest quality and most disease-resistant cereal plants is outlined and the different grains and doughs produced from them are available for comparison. 

  10. Polymers and their role in everyday life are explained and examples of natural and synthetic polymers provided. Students use paperclips to build their own polymer chains and learn how life without polymers would affect a night out at the disco and a fast-food take-away. 

  11. The properties of oxygen and its varied uses in industry and medicine are looked at, including how it is used in medical breathing masks and oxygen tents. Industrial uses include the oxy-acetylene cutting of steel and steel manufacture. The use of oxygen to help purify polluted rivers is also examined.

  12. Alternative fuel. The use of natural gas as a fuel for motor vehicles is discussed including how it is stored, how vehicles refuel and how the emissions compare with those from diesel fuel.