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Chemistry Week – Media Team Report

Category: Media Team, News, Students write

Last week was Chemistry Week and there were so many exciting things going on, with an artwork competition, a few talks from people from outside of school, and a really interesting activity led by Dr Yong.

“Understanding Uranium – Applications to Nuclear Waste Disposal”

One of the talks which I was able to attend was by Ms Laura Lopez Odriozola, who gave a presentation on “Understanding Uranium and its applications to Nuclear Waste Disposal”. The presentation was based on her current project that she is doing research on at Manchester University, and it was really a unique insight into the current research on the solutions of disposing of nuclear waste and their effects.

Nuclear waste is produced by the fission reactions in nuclear power plants, which, due to global warming, are becoming a more preferred option. This is because they have no carbon dioxide emissions, and a high-power output. However, the nuclear waste that is produced as a result is dangerous to human beings due to its radioactivity, so it must be disposed of safely to ensure there are no long-lasting impacts because of it. The most viable solution which has been found is to store the high-level radioactive waste in a geological disposal facility, this involving binding it to a rock volume and basically burying it deep underground. Nuclear waste is primarily made up of uranium, around 95 percent, the rest being other substances such as plutonium, thorium and spent fuel.

Laura’s work involves testing how uranium binds to different materials, such as clay and cement, and she does this by studying the uranium using photoluminescence, where UV light is shone, and it glows green as a result. Her research and work at the university was really fascinating to hear about, particularly the sort of work she does in the lab, and it was also useful to the Y12s and Y13s in terms of thinking about future careers.

Bio-degradable Polymers – Potato to Plastic!

Another thing I was able to attend was this really fun activity led by Dr Yong, where we made potato into plastic!

Firstly, we started off with grating the potato and then adding water to it, grinding it with a pestle and mortar to extract the starch. We drained the potato with a sieve and repeated this process 2 or 3 more times by adding more water and grinding it again. After we had obtained our mixture, we left it to settle for 5 minutes, allowing the starch to sink to the bottom. Decanting it was the next step, where the excess water is removed, and we also did these one or 2 times until we had finally extracted our starch.

The first stage of obtaining the starch was complete, and we then added this starch slurry to some water, hydrochloric acid, and propane. Using the Bunsen Burner, we gently boiled it for around 15 mins, and then added sodium hydroxide to the mixture to neutralise it – as well as a drop of food colouring for a splash of colour. We finally poured them into our petri dishes and left them to dry on the windowsills over the next couple of days, and we returned to see the results which really did make a plastic-like film!

Other activities

As well as these 2 activities during the week, there was also a talk by Dr Olly Knowles in which he demonstrated a series of different chemical reactions, which I could not unfortunately attend, but was fantastic from what I have heard! There is also a Chemistry artwork competition running currently, with an opportunity for your art to be published in the Sixth Form Science Magazine.

Thank you to our visitors from outside of school, both the talk and the demonstrations were interesting, and a thank you to Dr Yong for a really fun activity!

Written by Preet G, Y10

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