Royal Society of Chemistry – Schools Analyst Chemistry Competition – 20/21 June, 2018.
On a warm summer’s morning, perfect conditions for a 4-hour drive (in sports mode in the school car), we departed from Brazenose carpark equipped with the finest school lunches money (£3) could buy. Our western adventure started well leaping through the county boundaries of: Rutland, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, and then we met the formidable border of Wales. We were quick to learn that Welsh was very much a real language. With the most fun of car games (pronounce the Welsh town) the hours flew by. It was a shame we didn’t meet any dragons; however, we did eventually arrive in Bangor.
Staying in the University of Bangor, Prifysgol Bangor, was nothing less than a treat for all partaking. We were so privileged to have the penthouse apartment in our Hall of Residence, but even more blown away by the view from the outstanding self-catering services. The first day ended with raft building in the picturesque valleys of Snowdonia, facing off against a school from Wales collaborating with Melissa. Of course, this nation posed no obstacle for Stamford School, who swiftly saw off the competition. Jonty, by the end of the evening’s proceedings had obtained nothing short of a million midge bites as we tucked into a well-earned curry. Meanwhile, Dr Jones was tucking into a delicious three-course meal along with the other teachers back at the university.
Alarms buzzed around the penthouse at 6.30 am, as we woke to the very best Welsh breakfast, i.e. a full English. We felt as if our nation was behind us as we drove (in sports mode) through Bangor. The competition started with a briefing in the lecture hall, where the gauntlet was thrown down and the task was set. We had to analyse some sea samples from the hull of a sunken ship and its surrounding water. After the briefing, we donned lab coats and prepared for a long day of intense analytical chemistry. We titrated the morning away and using the magnetic tic-tac stirrer, we prepared our sand samples.
Our task was split into five sections. Firstly, we had to use gas chromatography (GLC) and mass spectrometry (MS) to identify and calculate the concentration of a deadly impurity (sunflower oil). Secondly, we calculated the concentration of iron in the sand using colorimetry and calibration curves. Next we discovered the concentration of chloride ions in brackish water using silver nitrate and chromate indicator. The fourth and final practical section was a treat for Stamford’s favourite underage homebrewer – we calculated the specific gravity of the brackish water, turns out it’s less dense than beer! The final section took the form of a written quiz, which of course we excelled at (we hoped).
After the competition, Emeritus Professor Deri Tomos gave a thrilling lecture on the ins and outs of biochemistry and space exploration. Once we had come down from this academic high, the results were announced. Turns out the Welsh don’t like the English after all, and we were robbed of a podium position. With our tails between our legs we began the trip home, accompanied by a disappointed Dr Jones.
Thank you very much to Dr Jones for transporting us to and from the trip. Thanks also to the RSC for their generous funding of the event.
Jonty Melissa Jacob