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Dr Turner Demonstrates Conkers Chemistry on Countryfile

Monday, 24 October 2016

Chemistry teacher Dr Kristy Turner has appeared on Countryfile’s Autumn Special to explain a fascinating and unusual use for conkers.

During the First World War, the propellant cordite was needed in order to make shells and bullets for use on the front lines, but a lack of the vital ingredient acetone meant there was a shell shortage. Scientists then discovered that acetone could be fermented from the starch within conkers.

“It might be considered unusual that you’re getting chemicals from conkers, but actually we get lots of chemicals from plants and animals so it’s not that strange really,” Dr Turner explained.

She was asked to appear on the show after volunteering when the Countryfile producers approached the University of Manchester, were Dr Turner also lectures. They chose the University because the piece of chemistry was developed by a scientist there during the First World War.

Dr Turner was asked to explain the process of extracting acetone from conkers to presenter Naomi Wilkinson during the World Conker Championships at Southwick near Oundle. Using conkers that had been crushed by Boys’ Division volunteers and equipment found in the school labs, Dr Turner demonstrated the fermentation and distillation of conkers in a woodland laboratory.

Talking about the filming, she said, “It was much more difficult than I thought and took quite a long time to get the shots they needed as it was shot with a single camera. Also being outside we quite often had to pause for planes going overhead which interfered with the sound.”

Her students were really excited to see her on the TV screen on Sunday during the Countryfile Autumn Special.

Dr Turner is a school teacher fellow, combining teaching at Bolton School with lecturing at the University of Manchester.

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Dr Turner and Countryfile presenter Naomi Wilkinson demonstrating the process

Dr Turner and Countryfile presenter Naomi Wilkinson demonstrating the process