Shattering perceptions of chemistry
Several Northern Ireland secondary students attended their first-ever lecture at Queen’s University Belfast to kick-start their research investigating specialist chemicals which have the potential to create greener fragrances for personal care products and food flavourings. Ionic Liquids: Towards Greener Fragrances, a collaboration between the University and IRIS, funded by a Royal Society of Chemistry Outreach Grant. The project was designed to give young people a different perspective of chemistry by allowing them to experience the creativity of scientific research.
“We hope to open young people’s eyes to less traditional applications of chemistry beyond the taught curriculum and learn how it relates to the real world,” says Jo Foster, director for IRIS.
“Not many students get to experience an emerging field of science at school and for those who do, it can be life-changing.”
Students will gain hands-on research experience, which allows them to utilise reactions studied at A-level. They will develop practical skills and gain insight into the research profession.
Prof. Gosia Swadzba-Kwasny, Director of the Queen’s University Ionic Liquids Laboratories (QUILL) at the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, who developed the project with IRIS and will lead the lecture, says it is an exciting time for chemistry.
“We want to inspire young people from all backgrounds and show them how interesting and exciting chemistry can be when applied to real-life problems. Equally, we want them to see that they can be part of it all,” says Gosia.
Queen’s University Belfast were recently nominated for the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Team Prize for Excellence in Secondary and Further Education for the innovative research project due to the success of its pilot last year, which ran across four Northern Ireland schools.
Feedback from students was unanimously positive, with all the pilot schools running the project this year.
Year 13 student from Our Lady’s Grammar School, said:
“Amazing project. It really cemented my drive to pursue chemistry as a career.”
Camryn, a student at Limavady Grammar School said:
“Instead of just reading from a book, I had the chance to figure out what works and doesn’t, so the learning stuck with me.”
Students taking part in Ionic Liquids: Towards Greener Fragrances pilot enjoyed practical elements of the project, the relationships developed with the researchers and the experiences of visiting real chemistry laboratories to analyse samples, according to the project evaluation.
“This is reflected in the extremely high retention of students over the year, and that all schools are planning to run the project again in 2022-23,” says Foster.
Whilst the practical work is challenging, it is accessible to all students enabling them to devise their own parameters, develop skills, lead sessions and learn more about the plethora of opportunities studying chemistry can provide.”
During the 2022-23 academic year, the project runs in St Patrick’s Academy, St Malachy’s High School, Our Lady’s Grammar School, St Malachy’s College, Belfast High School, Belfast Boys’ Model School, North West Regional College and Southern Regional College.
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