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Students undertake spectroscopy in a suitcase

Students undertake spectroscopy in a suitcase
Tracy McGhie from the University of Leicester with students Rachel Harrison and Simran Garcha.
Students undertake spectroscopy in a suitcase
Sai Stephenson using the portable spectrometer.
Students undertake spectroscopy in a suitcase
Students undertake spectroscopy in a suitcase
Iain Goodall from the University of Leicester.
Thursday 28th August 2014 by C. Freeman

Students took part in a CSI-style forensic investigation where they had to analyse chemical solutions using a portable spectrometer. The project gave them the opportunity to use high-tech equipment usually only found in universities and research laboratories. They were given a scenario where they had to identify ‘who-dunnit’ by analysing chemicals found at the scene of a murder. The project, which takes place at schools around the region, is funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Tracy McGhie and Iain Goodall from the University of Leicester brought along the infra-red spectrometer and showed two groups of year 12 chemistry students how to use it.

Student Ben Tansey said: ‘We are taking different samples of chemicals and using the spectrometer to see what is in it. We put drops on little discs of salt and the infra-red can travel through without being disrupted. There are five different compounds we are looking at.

Jordan Smith said: ‘The process has been explained very well. The machine makes a graph and all of the wave numbers correspond to a certain type of bond that might be a chemical and you have to work out what chemical those bonds come together to create. The first one we did was hard but apparently that was the most complicated one.’

Sai Stephenson said: ‘It is really interesting to see the type of equipment they use at university. It is quite straightforward once you are shown how to use it. You do 16 scans of the sample then you get your graph, it takes less than a minute. Different parts of the graph tell you parts of the chemical. It is something that we learn about but not something that we try out so it is nice to try it out instead of just hearing about it. It gives some idea of what it might be like at university.’

Emma Turner said: ‘The hardest bit has been trying to draw the structure of the compound. It is interesting using equipment that we wouldn’t normally get to use.’

During the afternoon experiment Tracy McGhie said: ‘The students have done very well. This morning’s group were very quick at finishing and got all the answers very quickly and answered all the questions well. We haven’t got to the end of the murder mystery here yet but this group is also working well.’

Iain Goodall, who has just finished his PhD in atmospheric chemistry, said: ‘All the students seem to be on top of everything. It is always good getting into schools and being able to provide equipment and techniques that they might not have a chance to experience until they got to university. It is a complicated bit of kit and people spend their careers learning about spectroscopy. Infra-red spectroscopy really is one of the cornerstones of analytical chemistry so the earlier it can be introduced into a chemistry syllabus the better.’

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