Many of you that read my blog regularly will know that universities are a major theme in most of my posts. I, like many A2 students up and down the country, am in the process of my decision for the next step in my paths in education, this, I know, in not a decision to take lightly, and as many of my friends and family can vouch, I am researching every choice with great care and diligent.
Over my summer break, I attended all my chosen university open days, a vital step, in my opinion, on the path to making a decision. For one of my choice universities, I have attended several of their open days. Most recently I have attended a taster day hosted by the university, in a bid to gain more of an insight into university life, and to get down to the knitty gritty of what my chosen choice would entail, and I can say, without a doubt, I was not disappointed.
The reason I enjoy chemistry as I do is that behind the theory of each topic, I can physically get to grips with the concepts explained to me. Each aspect of chemistry has a practicality to it, something I can physically do and see, and to me that makes me feel even more like a scientist.
On the open day, we were split into groups, performing two different chemical tasks during the day. In the first task we preformed, we went into the universities laboratories and measured the release of fluoride ions from toothpaste. We were told that fluoride ions were an important part of tooth structure and the structure of teeth is constantly being broken down and renewed, hence the reason we need a constant supply of fluoride ions. We were told that the best way of getting these ions to our teeth was by using fluorinated toothpastes; we then heard how different toothpastes have different concentrations of fluoride ions, locked up in different compounds, such as, monofluorophosphate. We were then given a range of different toothpastes and told to pick one to test, once we had chosen we were give screw-capped test tubes, and distilled water with the instruction to fill the tubes with 25cm3 of distilled water, and carefully measure and add 1 cm3 of our sample toothpaste. Once we had our water-toothpaste mixture were then secured the top back on to the test-tube and shook the tube vigorously for at least 3 minutes to ensure that the toothpaste had fully dissolved and the ions were free in the solution. After this, we then took turns in using an electrode in our toothpaste solutions to measure the fluoride ion concentration, following a few simple calculations, we then gained the mass of fluoride released by the toothpaste when brushing, we compared this to expected mass of fluoride released to see if they agreed with the values given by the toothpaste manufacturer. After the experiment, we then evaluated the procedure, looking at areas that could be improved upon. We also touched upon the use of fluoride in drinking water to reduced decay in teeth, learning about its effects on growing children, and adults, we also spoke about where fluorination of water sources still occurred. We finally spoke about how toothpaste manufacturers tested the effectiveness of their product, by testing toothpaste on dead cow’s teeth!
After a short lunch break we then returned to the labs to perform an NMR spectrum. I have to admit now, to this point, performing an NMR spectrum has to be one of the highlights of my student career, and it was when I was sat in front of a computer, with lab coat on and goggles over my eyes, that I truly felt like a real scientist!
In the NMR spectrum laboratory, our group preformed an NMR spectrum on three unknown compounds. Before we started we were given a quick overview of NMR spectroscopy, of the different environments protons can be in, and how these environments corresponds to peaks on the NMR spectrum, we also learnt briefly about spin-spin splitting of the peaks, and how this splitting pattern gives us information of the protons on the neighbouring atoms. After this brief insight into the theory we were then given the opportunity to run our own spectra. Each student in turn was given an unknown sample to place into the NMR machine and programmed details, such as the position of the sample into a linked computer. We then let the computer run the sample and were presented with a spectrum of our unknown substance, by then comparing the number of peaks, and so the number of different environments, we could then determine the compound by comparing it to a list of possible compound identities. After we had run our spectra, we then heard briefly about the theory of how the NMR machine works, how the superconducting magnets were supercooled to 4K by liquid helium, surrounded by a layer of liquid nitrogen. After this, the fun began, as a group we went outside of the labs with a canister of liquid nitrogen and an insulating glove, we then took some leaves and dipped them into the liquid nitrogen causing the leaf structure to shatter like glass as we threw them to the floor, we also preformed a few other entertaining demonstrations with the liquid nitrogen, such as showing how the ground is super hot compared to the liquid nitrogen and causes the poured liquid to instantly turn to gas when it hits the ground and how when liquid nitrogen is poured onto a puddle, the water freezes into thick ice.
After this final afternoon session, we had a Q&A session where we could approach the lecturers and speak with them directly about the chemistry we preformed and ask general questions about the course and the university. I found all the lecturers to be very friendly down to earth people, we seemed genuinely interested in my views and my career path, and seemed very keen on helping me succeed and pushing me to achieve my maximum potential with many tempting opportunities, such as PHDs and research aboard!
All in all, the taster day really opened my eyes about what opportunities are available to me, and how to go about getting the best start in my future career, and giving me a clearer insight on the inner working of how my future degree would progress.