A-level Masterclasses in Sustainable Chemistry

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The masterclasses are part of a program for Year 12 students, that was set up by the University’s Widening Participation (WP) Team.  This programme aims at encouraging students who are starting college to take the step into higher education. To apply, the participants must have achieved 7 A*-C grades at GCSE including English and Maths. Additionally, they must be first generation in their family to attend university as well as living in a household with an income under £42,000. The Centre for Doctorial Training in Sustainable Chemistry decided to join the programme in 2016 and deliver The A-Level Masterclass in Sustainable Chemistry for students in the East Midlands. This is, overall, a one week event delivered by the PhD candidates of the Centre in two different periods of the year, 1st and 8th of March and from the 16th to 21st of July.

17-year old A level students, were invited to visit the School of Chemistry and learn a bit more about Sustainable Chemistry and how experiments in the lab can be carefully planned according to the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry. During the summer, they also have the opportunity to live on campus and have a real taste of university life combining daily work in the lab with social activities during the night. This is also a change for them to make new friends and think of university as a place to grow by sharing common experiences far from home.

I decided to volunteer and help these students in the lab by extracting limonene from oranges. It was a very funny experience! The students started off peeling oranges, then they put their skin in a round-bottomed flask and extracted limonene by distillation. A simple experience which gave the students loads of thinking. In fact, limonene is a common starting material to make polymers. It usually comes from crude oil and loads of research has been going on to find alternative feedstock to produce it. However, using food creates several ethical issues, as food availability isn’t quite the same in different areas of the world. Students come up with the idea that using waste could be a potential solution to tackle this problem.

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The Centre for Doctorial Training in Sustainable Chemistry offers these lectures and demonstrations for free as part of its mandatory OutReach commitment whit the School of Chemistry. All the PhD candidates were very happy and enthusiastic to take part to the masterclasses and keen to inspire new generations of students with green chemistry. Hopefully, they will encourage these students in starting their University programme in Sustainable Chemistry.

Given the feedback, the PhD candidates did deliver their message. Year 12 students enjoyed spending time in the lab, thought that the section was well-organised and were happy to engage by asking questions about experiments in the lab. They also felt much more confident to start a university programme, more comfortable about what to expect from university life as the session gave a good insight of studying at university level.

Teresa Ambrosio, PhD student of the Centre for Doctorial Training in Sustainable Chemistry.

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