Students help fix Dr Who’s sonic screwdriver with chemistry

Salters’ Festival of Chemistry, in partnership with The Royal Society of Chemistry, holds day of science and fun for students at Truro and Penrith College.

More than 40 students representing 11 schools from Devon and Cornwall took part in an exciting day of chemistry at the Salters' Festival of Chemistry, where they were challenged to help Dr Who fix his Sonic Screwdriver.

Held at Truro and Penwith College on 7 June, each school was represented by a team of four 11-13 year olds.

During the morning the teams took part in ‘The Salters’ Challenge – ‘Murder comes to Salterstown’’, in which they competed using their chemistry skills. 

In the afternoon they took on the ‘College Challenge’, where they had to help save Dr Who by fixing his Core and Sonic Screwdriver using exothermic (heat producing), and endothermic (cooling) reactions.

Dr Jon Grey, Programme Team Leader for Science at Truro and Penwith College and competition judge, said the aim of the day was to get students “enthused about chemistry”.

“These students are all in Year 8, so showing them something exciting, really challenging them and showing them where their future might be is really important,” he added.

Dr Grey also acknowledged the need for more girls getting into science, particularly physics, adding that chemistry as an industry is still “a little bit underrepresented”.

“The good news is the science teaching at college and at schools is so inclusive it can be studied by anyone, no matter what age or ability,” he explained.

“Today we have students with a full range of abilities, and the activities demonstrate that science is not only a serious subject, but is also a lot of fun to study.”

Grey also praised the development in the standard of resources currently available to students.

“The facilities are incredible as is the increase in digital technology in the classroom,” he explained.

“It really brings elements of science to life that just weren’t visible 10 or 15 years ago so it helps students to understand things like molecular chemistry really well.”

The enthusiasm of the students particularly impressed Dr Grey, a highlight of which was a group of girls from Richard Lander School.

“They carried out some of the neatest chromatography I have ever seen on one of their first attempts, which is absolutely fantastic,” he said.

“To see them all enjoying their day and getting stuck into the challenges is really great.”

The students were also quick to express their delight at the event.

Madeline Whitley of St Ives School said: “I love science because it’s so much fun. Which girl doesn’t like a Bunsen burner?”

Also from St Ives School, Effie Wilson said she found the day “really interesting”, particularly activities linked to the College’s forensic science course.

“We’ve been trying to solve a murder mystery by mixing samples with sodium and distilled water and I’ve already learned a lot,” she added.

The afternoon concluded with a fun lecture given by College staff involving hot and cold reactions as well as exploding sugar, followed by a prize giving ceremony.

All participants were given individual prizes and participation certificates, with the winning teams awarded prizes for their schools.

The Salters' Festivals of Chemistry is an initiative of The Salters' Institute, whose aim is to promote the appreciation of chemistry and related sciences amongst the young, and to encourage careers in the teaching of chemistry and in the UK chemical and allied industries.

The Festival at Truro and Penwith College is one of a series of 49 Festivals which are taking place at Universities and Colleges throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland between March and June.

Laura Seamons, Programme Co-ordinator for The Salters' Institute, said it was great to see “so many schools travelling so far to get here”.

“We’re definitely impressed with the help and support given by lots of very keen teachers. Days like this really help and students get to go out of school and see chemistry in a slightly different way,” she added.

The Institute is working in partnership with the Royal Society of Chemistry throughout 2016.