Year 11 Chemists Visit Oxford University

Meeting yesterday morning at 6:55am and getting on a coach with a bunch of bleary eyed teenagers was a wonderful start to the day! But once fully awake, we were all very excited about the day to come as most of us had never been to the legendary University of Oxford, in which some of the most famous writers found inspiration for bestselling books, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit.

Upon arrival we promptly made our way to the university’s chemistry teaching laboratories where we had our very first university taster lecture. Phosphorus was the theme of the lecture, along with stereoisomers, catalysts and acids and bases. We were able to appreciate the amount of work that goes into the medicine we take for granted. We learnt about the complex research into non-superimposable substances and the risk that comes with synthesising our own medicines. Our lecturer was from the USA and had studied extensively with numerous groups of specialist teams from all around the globe. It really opened our eyes to the different paths that science can lead you down. The jobs which are initially associated with science, such as engineering, are only a fraction of the field. We realised that, like selling books, there are authors behind the science; researchers work behind the scenes to discover vital information needed in making drugs.

Finally, the fun practical! Oxford has fantastic labs full of top notch equipment. Lead was the theme of the morning as we worked out the absorbency of a stock solution in different concentrations, using spectrometers. We plotted graphs and worked out how to identify molecules due to their solubility and discussed how to remove impurities in our water supply. Luckily we had just had recently covered this topic in class so we were quite knowledgeable!

At lunchtime we ate with PhD students who are currently studying and researching at the university. We were able to find out more about different courses and options and their experiences of life at Oxford.

After lunch we had a workshop tutorial in which we learnt about the history of the periodic table; it was a fantastic workshop and we worked in teams, racking our brains to remember the table’s layout. It turns out it’s a lot more complex than we remembered it to be!

We finished the day with a tour of Oxford highlights, including the magnificent Bodleian Library, as well as being educated in the extensive underground tunnels that link the many colleges. We also learnt about the ancient feuds between various colleges and the consequences of an 800-year quarrel that still rumbles today. We also toured around Exeter College and saw things such as the library and common room.

Overall, the day was a lovely and an extremely useful insight to what university will be like when studying a science, a field that has only recently started to become a more level playing field between men and woman. I think it is amazing that young women are now able to have opportunities to have leading roles in breakthrough research. The day was also full of laughs and we managed to take some fabulous pictures in the beautiful city (we can never resist a good photo opportunity!).

 Chloe, Year 11

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