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Christmas Chemistry Lecture from RSC

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Bolton School has once again hosted two Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Christmas Lectures. These annual events allow pupils to experience a series of exciting chemistry experiments live on stage. Over 1,050 pupils from schools across Greater Manchester, including Year 9 pupils from the Boys’ and Girls’ Divisions, attended this year.

The experiments were conducted by Dr Steve Rossington, Lecturer in Physical Organic Chemistry at the University of Salford, who guided pupils through the varied wonders of chemistry. The display included many different flashes and bangs, with explanations of the science behind every reaction.

Dr Rossington cooled an inflated balloon using liquid nitrogen and then let it warm up to room temperature again to give a visual demonstration of Charles’s Law, and showed Boyle’s Law by placing a partially-inflated balloon in a vacuum and watching it expand. He went on to demonstrate how sound waves cannot travel through a vacuum by called upon a volunteer from the audience to play some music through a speaker and then placing this inside the vacuum, silencing the music.

Liquid nitrogen was also used to create bright blue liquid oxygen, and pupils were interested to learn some of its unusual properties, such as the fact that it is magnetic. By pouring liquid oxygen on biscuits and then igniting them, the energy contained within the food was released in a huge burst of flame. There was a similarly dramatic reaction when nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, was mixed with carbon disulphide in a long tube and then ignited, producing a bright blue flame and a loud ‘whoosh’, and leaving the tube coated in sulfur. The ‘whoosh bottle’ demonstration using ethanol was also very exciting.

There were numerous opportunities to showcase the explosive powers of hydrogen. Dr Rossington popped hydrogen-filled balloons with a much louder bang than the helium variety. The propulsive powers of this highly reactive element were also revealed: as the experiments drew to a close he fired hydrogen-powered bottle-rockets across the Boys’ Division Great Hall, much to the delight of the audience.

These were just a few of the fascinating chemical reactions which featured in the RSC’s Christmas Lecture and pupils were excited to see what was going to happen next throughout the presentation. They were able to not only see chemistry in action, but also learn about the science behind the spectacle.

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