09-14 July: Bristol ChemLabS–Trinity College Dublin Chemistry Summer School 2007

18 Year 11 & 12 students from schools and colleges in South West England and South Wales spent a week immersed in a second Chemistry School run jointly by the Schools of Chemistry at the University of Bristol and Trinity College Dublin.

photo of summer school students

The first half of the week was spent in Bristol where the students from 11 schools assembled for the week’s lab work before flying out to Dublin.

The Monday morning started with an investigation of the iodine clock reaction, followed by the determination of the acidity of lemon squash and then synthesised paracetamol, comparing their products with real material extracted from tablets using IR spectroscopy. The day was completed with a lecture demonstration on Atmospheric Chemistry given by Dudley Shallcross and Tim Harrison.

On Tuesday morning the practicals continued on the theme of pharmaceutical chemistry with the extraction of caffeine from tea leaves synthesis of benzocaine anaesthetic. Later in the afternoon the students had a series of talks and lectures. The first demonstrated talk was on electron microscopy given by Zoë Schnepp. Later Zoë Schnepp gave a talk on synthetic bone entitled ‘The Real Spiderman’. This was followed by a talk from Zoë Roberts on the contribution that animals make to climate change. The students were assisted by SEAs Li Yang and Andy Evitt during the Bristol leg of the summer school.

Wednesday morning was spent at AstraZeneca’s Avlon plant at Avonmouth, where chemists showed the students both the product development and analytical laboratories. The students used column chromatography to separate a mixture and even had a chance to have their jewellery analysed for precious metal content!

photo of summer school students and PG demonstrator

The 16 of the group, with Bristol SEAs Linda Sellou and Kate Hanford, then flew to Dublin to begin the second half of the summer school, arriving at the halls of residence at Trinity College in Dublin in the evening.


photo of summer school students with silly green hat onOn Thursday the students were welcomed to the Chemistry Department by Professor David Grayson and Dr Serena Corr. There they met the 10 Irish students, all from the Dublin area, who joined the Chemistry summer school. After brief introductions the students were paired up and started the day’s activities.  The morning session was an analytical competition to determine the best value for money bleaches from a range of commonly available products. The afternoon exercise involved the students analysing the calcium content of a range of local waters by titration. Following a meal in a local Chinese restaurant students were entertained by a lecture on perfume chemistry by Tim Harrison.


On Friday the students spent the morning extracting the two optical isomers of carvone from spearmint and caraway seeds using steam distillation. The products were isolated by solvent extraction and then the solvent was removed by rotary evaporation. To check the samples were dry and optically active they were analysed using diamond IR spectroscopy and polarimetry. The afternoon gave both UK and Irish students the opportunity to indulge in retail therapy. Pizza and a highly competitive quiz rounded off the day together with the presentation of various prizes.

A rail trip to the fishing port of Howth on the outskirts of Dublin on Saturday allowed the students to see a little more of Ireland before returning to Bristol later in the day.

For their work during the week, which included answering questions on the experiments asked by the demonstrators and the academics as well as explaining some for the techniques learnt in Bristol to the Irish students, each student has qualified for the BA Silver Science Communicator’s Award. Additionally each student will be producing a web report for each of their schools’ websites.

Group photo of the summer school

We would like to thank once again Professor David Grayson, Dr Serena Corr, the postgraduate demonstrators Christophe Lincheneau and Gemma Davies and the technical staff Brendan Barry and Mark Keegan and quizmaster Dr Peter Boyle for helping to make the joint summer school visit to Dublin such a success.

This year’s joint summer school followed on from a successful trial in 2006 and was expanded to allow more Year 11 students and to use halls of residence at Bristol for those coming from further afield.

The Summer School will be repeated next year at the beginning of July 2008. For more details please contact Tim Harrison (t.g.harrison@bris.ac.uk).

Click here for the Trinity College Dublin report

More from the Stroud High School Website

I have really enjoyed the summer school as it was an excellent opportunity to use equipment and techniques that we would otherwise not encounter at school. It also provided me with a helpful insight into the world of work available for chemists post degree. I’ve met loads of grand people, both British and Irish. It also gave me an excellent insight into what it is like to be at university. 
Mike Dawkins (UK)

I wish it was longer or more regular like once a week or once per month!”
Zaynab Almosaway (Eire)

It was an unmissable opportunity to do experiments within a more sophisticated environment. The highlight was being given the chance to meet new people from Britain and Ireland with whom we could work through the various chemistry practicals.
Vassil Nikolov (UK)

If I had known this week involved sniffing strange and exotic unknown fragrances I’d have signed up even faster! This week has taught me to fully appreciate the true value of chemistry”.
Tom Darling (UK)

The various practicals have opened up my view of chemistry. There is a lot more to chemistry than I first anticipated. Every practical was different and this was great. The whole week has enabled me to become more confident and more open minded towards chemistry.
Adam Plank (UK)

This trip was an eye opening experience for me. It allowed me a much needed opportunity to improve my practical skills and increased my awe of science.
Bob Workman (UK)

We never get to use thousands of pounds' worth of equipment at school!
Robert German (UK)

Trinity College Dublin is beautiful with grand architecture. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the summer school and the practical work was fun but challenging.
Maryia Zaretskya (UK)

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