Brighton students win place in national final of chemistry competition

Posted On 27 Apr 2015 at 4:05 pm

A team of students from a Brighton sixth form college has won a place in the national final of a chemistry competition.

The team of three AS level chemistry students from Varndean College beat teams from 16 other schools in the Royal Society of Chemistry Schools Analyst Competition regional final.

Their rivals included teams from BHASVIC, Roedean, Brighton College, Hurstpierpoint and Lancing College.

The triumphant trio – Raef Darwish, Nathan Head and Yimeng Jiao – will be going to Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University for the national finals in June.

Varndean College chemistry students Raef Darwish, Nathan Head and Yimeng Jiao with Eliza McHugh, part of last year’s Royal Society of Chemistry competition team

Varndean College chemistry students Raef Darwish, Nathan Head and Yimeng Jiao with Eliza McHugh, part of last year’s Royal Society of Chemistry competition team

Last year a team from Varndean College won the regional final. They came third in the national finals – a feat this year’s team hopes to better.

The regional finals took place at the Sussex University campus in Falmer. The students competed with experiments on chemicals used in medicine, industry and food manufacture in the university’s chemistry laboratories.

In one experiment the pupils used silver nitrate and aqueous ammonia to identify potassium chloride, potassium iodide and potassium bromide. All are used in medicines and benzaldehyde which is used to give food an almond flavour.

In another experiment the pupils were asked to work out the concentration of brilliant blue and sunset yellow dyes in energy drinks.

They used infrared spectrometers, which are often used in forensic science, and ultraviolet visible spectrometers which are used in the electronics industry.

Finally the teams had to work out the purity of sodium hydroxide solution which is caustic soda used for unblocking drains.

They did this by measuring it against hydrochloric acid, which has many uses in pharmaceuticals, industry and food manufacture.

After working out the concentration of the sodium hydroxide the pupils then calculated the mass of a range of chemicals used for cleaning and bleaching and of tartaric acid which is in salt tablets and citric acid using as food flavouring and preservative.

The young scientists were assessed on their understanding and the accuracy of their experiments by two judges. They were also watched for their team work and lab safety.

After the lab work the contestants were given a presentation about how to identify sex-changing chemicals in the environment by Elizabeth Hill, professor of environmental toxicology.

Shane Lo Fan Hin, a chemistry teaching fellow at Sussex was asked by the Royal Society of Chemistry to devise the experiments after the success of last year’s regional heat.

Dr Lo said: “The standard of these young chemists was very high. All the pupils have enjoyed themselves and one pupil told his teacher that the experiments were better than the ones they do at school.”

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