The Making of #ChemisTree 2016

It is again this time of the year, the semester has been very long. One more week of practicals and we are all ready for the Christmas break!!!

This year to honour the tradition we have our ChemisTree in the teaching labs. In this post I’m unveiling the secrets behind the colours of our 2016 ChemisTree.

Blue: A pinch of Copper (II) sulfate pentahydrate in water

Red: a few drops of Ferroin indicator in water

Green:  A pinch of Nickel(II) nitrate hexahydrate in water

Deep purple: A pinch of potassium Permanganate in water

Violet: Literally 1 mg of Crystal Violet per Liter of water. Crystal Violet is a very strong dye.

Pink: A few drops of Phenolphthalein in a slightly basidified solution of NaOH in water. The colour fades away after a few minutes, long enough for a nice picture.

Many thanks to Indigo and Fosca for their help and creativity.

Video games to Promote Science

If this is not an amazing way to promote science I don’t know what it is. The Brazilian science magazine Superinteressante is developing a fighting video game using prominent scientists as the characters. Their abilities and fight skills are based in their scientific discoveries. You can take a look to the description of the characters in the website of his creator Diego Sanches. Imagine a fight between Tesla and and Stephen Hawking, I’m still in shock.

Take a look to this youtube demo:


AD Schools’ Analyst Competition

The last 26th of February we had the pleasure to host the National Schools’ Analyst Competition Regional Heat at our Chemistry Teaching Labs at the School of Chemical and Biological Sciences. 13 teams were competing for a place in the final.

This national competition is for students studying AS level Chemistry or equivalent (ie Year 12). Teams comprise three students (with an accompanying teacher).

Regional heats are administered by the Analytical Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and take place in early spring each year. A National Final consisting of 18 to 20 teams takes place in June each year.

First, Second and Third placed teams in the National Final receive prizes of £1000, £600 and £300 plus individual prizes for students taking part.

Find out more and apply at Analytical division schools’ competition.

Open day at Queen Mary’s chemistry department

On Saturday 13th of February we had an open day at the chemistry department of Queen Mary University of London. Future chemistry students had the opportunity to have a chat with staff and enjoy a taste of chemistry at our teaching labs.

Dr. Tippu Sheriff, one of our lecturers, gave a great exhibition of chemistry concepts to our visitors. Students could learn about the acidic properties of CO2 in an aqueous solution. Using bromothymol blue, students can appreciate the color change from blue to yellow when the concentration of CO2 increases making the solution more acidic.


bromothymol blue

Dr. Tippu Sheriff also showed some “chemistry tricks” with liquid nitrogen. Here you are a sneak peek of what you can see when you come to visit us next time


Fresh Cyclopentadiene for Diels-Alder

During the next two weeks our students are doing at our Teaching Labs one of the classic reactions in Organic Chemistry, the Diels-Alder reaction. So I had some fun distilling cyclopentadiene from dicyclopentadoene for more than 100 students.

I’m including a protocol to obtain  ~150 mL (2-3 horas of distillation)

The reaction apparatus is assembled by attaching a thermometer, Vigreaux distilling column and a long Liebig condenser to a 500 mL two necked flask.  The receiver is cooled with an ice-water bath (00C) . Dicyclopentadiene (~250 mL) is placed in the two necked flask and heated to about 160°C with an electric heating mantle or oil bath. Thermal decomposition begins at about 150°C and distillates at 38 ~ 46°C can be obtained . Heating is applied slowly, because rapid temperature increases cause dicyclopentadiene to distill prior to undergoing thermal decomposition. In such a case, re-distillation allows narrow boiling-point distillates. Distillation took around 3 hours.The cyclopentadiene was collected at 00C and  was stored at -200C for at least one week.

Cyclopentadiene dimerizes rapidly at room temperature and should be used immediately.

Chemistry for NO-MADs

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