Top of the Bench 2017 – East Midlands regional final
In January teams of four 13- to 16-year-olds competed for the East Midlands Top of the Bench trophy, the annual school chemistry competition aimed at fuelling curiosity and excitement about chemistry. Simon Evans, Regional Business Manager at Lubrizol Limited, reports.
Top of the Bench is run by the Royal Society of Chemistry in collaboration with Lubrizol, and sits within Lubrizol’s community engagement programme, Creating Shared Value (CSV). It provides an opportunity for us to help in enthusing and exciting children, whilst encouraging them to consider further education and careers with chemistry, which is key to securing the next generation of talented chemical scientists.
The competition starts with regional heats, organised by the RSC’s local sections. The regional winners then have a chance to compete in the UK final in the spring.
On Saturday 21 January 2017, the Lubrizol team, Mike Sutton, Tom Grazier, Lawrie Peck, Claire Hollingshurst and I, met with the finalists for the East Midlands.
A total of 15 schools came in from five different counties across the country and were handed a challenging task by the RSC: a chemistry quiz which would take them through the depths of despair to joy, all within the space of an hour.
During this time Claire and Lawrie, led by Tom and aided by others from the university, set up the second task for the pupils, an exciting and challenging combination of an oil viscosity blending experiment, coupled with some financial acumen for good measure. The task itself was one of great ingenuity and was developed by Tom to be safe yet thought provoking.
Buoyed by their completion of the quiz, the 60 students entered into the laboratory with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Each of the teams were met with 10 bottles, 12 test tubes, four liquids, two stop watches, rolls of kitchen paper, a calculator and Tom. The purpose of the experiment was explained, namely to develop a fluid of a viscosity in which a bubble would take six seconds to rise from the bottom to the top of the fluid.
Along the journey of the activity, we saw many innovative ways in which to solve the challenge: a particular one that stood out was a tube containing only a very low amount of fluid. Why? Well a bubble in that fluid took only six seconds to rise up to the top. Innovation, exuberance, youth, or bending of the rules, you decide, but what this showed us all is there is always more than one way to solve a challenge!
With the score sheets in, from both the competition and the experiment, the tension built, the certificates were prepared, the trophy dusted down, and the winners were announced.
Onwards into the UK final, representing the East Midlands, will be Nottingham High School, an award that they deserved for their efforts.
The event was enjoyable and beneficial for all the schools involved. One of the teachers commented:
"Thank you so much for a fab day on Saturday at the competition. My team thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were buzzing in the car on the way home. I can imagine how much time and effort it requires to host such an event so I want you to know how much it was appreciated; even down to the lovely lunch"