Overwhelmed by the available chemistry resources? Looking for new chemistry teaching ideas? Elementary Articles is the place for chemistry, education, and everything else.

Elementary Articles is the official blog for the RSC's Learn Chemistry – your home for chemistry education resources and activities.

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As Sir Ranulph Fiennes prepares to lead the first team on foot across Antarctica during the southern winter, I look at the resources Learn Chemistry has to help teachers on the topic of ice and freezing.

  • This question sheet from Kitchen Chemistry looks at the structures of water and ice, the hydrogen bonding involved in making ice and why the structures of ice and diamond are similar.


  • This experiment encourages students to think about the process of freezing, possibly using molecular modelling kits. Fitting, considering Sir Ranulph and his team will have to cope with temperatures as low as -90 C!


  • As Sir Ranulph and his team cross the Antarctic, they will be helping scientists compile evidence information on climate change. This information sheet shows how ice core information is collected.


  • Of course, there was always the RSC competition on why hot water freezes faster than cold water - the Mpemba effect. This ancient quandry was open to the public for their ideas on why it occurs. Test the Mpemba effect yourself here.
Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Sep 17, 2012 5:58 PM BST
RSC Prizes and Awards are now open for nominations!

Do you know someone who has made a significant contribution to teaching the chemical sciences, developed innovative materials for students, or is based in industry and has played a key role in promoting the chemical sciences in education?

RSC's Prizes and Awards recognise achievements by individuals, teams, and organizations in advancing the chemical sciences. Winners can also receive up to £5,000 prize money.

Recognition is open to everyone. You don't need to be a member of the RSC to nominate somebody for a prize, or to win one. Recent winners include Prof. Uri Zoller, of Haifa, and Martin Poliakoff, of the University of Nottingham (and star of hundreds of excellent Periodic Table of Videos broadcasts).

Make your nomination before 15 January 2013
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Sep 12, 2012 9:51 AM BST
Last Friday saw the launch of yet another entertaining set of resources on Learn Chemistry. This time, it was the turn of “Exhibition Chemistry”, a set of 40 guides to dramatic practical demonstrations for teachers to carry out. There are demonstrations suitable for students ages 11-18, and they’re all guaranteed to capture their imaginations and show them just how exciting chemistry can be.

Originally written for our “Education in Chemistry” magazine by inspirational teachers who have perfected the experiments themselves, the articles give a step by step guide to carrying out the demonstration, along with how they can fit into chemistry topics and useful hints and tips for making the biggest impact!  From the explosive Thermite reaction, to making food cans fly, to demonstrating the weird properties of alloys in Magic Metals, these resources certainly show off the best that chemistry has to offer. We hope they can play their part in inspiring the next generation of chemists!
Posted by Elizabeth McLoughlin on Aug 28, 2012 10:43 AM BST
Open Educational Resources for Higher Education? The RSC Wants You!

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) has charged the RSC with gathering the best open educational resources (OER) to host on Learn Chemistry.

Last month we soft-launched a brand-new set of HE resources on Learn Chemistry, featuring business skills for chemists, context and problem-based learning, schools-university transition resources, spectroscopy resources, and more.

For an encore, we're planning to enlarge our higher education provision using OERs, with the help of the HEA. OER material is free to use, download, and share; we'll be scouring the web for the best resources, and giving them a shiny home on Learn Chemistry.

If you have created, or know of, high-quality HE-appropriate open educational resources, we want to hear from you!

Contact our newest team member, HE Learn Chemistry executive Rosalind Onions at onionsr@rsc.org.
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Aug 16, 2012 12:14 PM BST
The second and concluding part of Reckitt Benckiser's Changing the Face of Physical Chemistry has now been launched. Challenging Medicine comprises of 50 resources with experiments, powerpoints and handouts. The Challenging Chemistry resources (including Challenging Plants, launched a few months ago) are about challenging our understanding of fundamental chemical principles and concepts and how they are applied to tackling global issues facing us over the next few decades.

The assets fall into one of two categories: information, background and ideas sheets, supported by powerpoints and video clips and practical activities, each with student and technician sheets.

The Challenging Medicine assets are sorted into themes of Body Chemistry, Making Medicines, Analysing Medicines and Physiochemical Properties. My favourites are the colorimetric analysis of aspirin (that can be used for other activities), students given the opportunity to make their own milk of magnesia and sodium bicarbonate ear drops and the rate of permeation of paracetamol through cellulose tubing.

The worksheets can be used individually or together as part of a theme of work, but however you choose to use them, we hope you’ll agree they are comprehensive and that little bit different compared to some resources!
Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Jul 30, 2012 4:27 PM BST
As the Olympic Games opening ceremony gets closer, the news starts to focus more and more on the science behind the sport. The BBC website today has articles on the science behind the running track, running on blades and a video on the backroom science that helps athletes.

At the RSC, we have been showing the science behind sport for the past few months with our Chemistry in the Olympics website and Global Experiment which schoolchildren from around the world have taken part in. With resources to explain the science behind the Olympics for all ages, we hope students can understand a little bit more about how much work goes into preparing an athlete to perform - not just by them and their team, but the scientists that have spent years researching the material footballs are made from, the flexibility of poles in pole vaulting and the weight of racing bikes, to name a few.
Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Jul 23, 2012 2:47 PM BST
Mechanism Inspector was launched at ASE in January this year to help students get to grips with the tricky subject of organic mechanisms. The subject is covered in A-levels, Scottish Highers and the International Baccalaureate, as well as undergraduate studies. The site provides students with the opportunity to learn about and test their understanding of the subject by answering questions on different mechanisms and why one mechanism may be preferred over another.

The latest additions to the already chocka block website include:
  • Nucleophilic substitution and elimination reactions, resulting in an additional 56 investigations to the site. Each step of these investigations is accompanied by interactive help.
  • Background core knowledge of these additional reaction types, as well as further background material, has been added.
  • The industrial synthesis of paracetamol which highlights where the basic reaction types are used in commercial products.

For those that have made the most of Mechanism Inspector or want to move onto the next level with organic mechanisms, Synthesis Explorer is for you! You can create your own sythetic pathways by choosing from a wide range of starting compounds and reacting them to reveal details of the reaction conditions and reagents.

So whether learning about organic mechanisms for the first time or giving yourself a refresher on the subject, the RSC Mechanism Inspector and Synthesis Explorer websites are here to help!

Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Jul 18, 2012 11:34 AM BST
Inspirational chemists are not thin on the ground, nor even inspirational female chemists. Even so, it's always worth being reminded of the achievements and dedication of people to whom we owe many of the advances of the modern world.

Mildred Dresselhaus in her officeOne such person, Mildred Dresselhaus, recently won the $1m Kavli Prize in Nanoscience for her pioneering work with carbon and its fascinating properties. For this, and decades of research and advocacy, she has been nicknamed 'The Queen of Carbon'.

Dresselhaus, at 81, is still a professor at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, and was recently interviewed and profiled in the New York Times. She talks of having her early talent for the sciences captured by good teachers in 1940s New York, and later being inspired by Rosalyn  Yaslow and Enrico Fermi.

Her work paved the way for the Nobel Prize-winning discoveries of buckminsterfullerene, and later carbon nanotubes. Presumably the recent work on graphene will also have drawn on some of Dresselhaus' carbon chemistry.

Dresselhaus has apparently long been an advocate for women in the sciences. She is the kind of role model that the European Union's poorly-received campaign to get girls into science (which Jo Buckley recently wrote about) could have instead drawn upon.

Discussing the histories of prominent scientists can be a great way into the subject matter; students and teachers together can explore the subject and the challenges it would have presented to the scientist in his or her time. Further, it reinforces the notion that scientific discovery is ongoing.

We think that personal stories and chemistry anecdotes are a great way in to this often difficult subject, so look out for more Faces of Chemistry videos, anecdotes, and the like in the coming months...
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Jul 3, 2012 5:13 PM BST
We're always looking out for novel ways to teach chemistry, or at least simply inspire others to learn the subject. Oort Kuiper, a science rapper who goes by the non-astronomical everyday name Jon Chase, has set out to teach science and inspire future scientists, with rap.

I realise I'm probably the last person working in STEM in the UK to have heard of this, but Oort's Science Raps site has a bunch of catchy, informative, and school-safe rhyming, all in the name of science. Two are worth particular mention.

First, his 2011 Periodic Table rap, produced for the International Year of Chemistry, and remastered by the Periodic Table of Videos team to celebrate their 50,000th subscriber:

As Oort pointed out, his video attempts to explain some of the science in the periodic table, whereas the legendary Tom Lehrer's Elements song was just a long, if witty, list.

The second, released last month, starred Oort in a paean to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM). Just like the periodic table video, it's rather catchy. It was funded by the HE-STEM project.

We'll have our very own HE-STEM-supported resources and tools for higher education students on this site very soon, but in the meantime watch and listen Oort Kuiper sing the praises of STEM...

I'm all in favour of using song or rhythm to convey ideas in education, or even just as a mnemonic technique, and hope Oort's science raps keep coming.
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Jun 27, 2012 4:24 PM BST
A few weeks ago, I was alerted to a study carried out at the University of Michigan which stated that feminine scientists may actually do more harm than good in promoting their disciplines.

After further reading, the results were proposed after two small studies - polling just 186 girls in total. The findings showed that women scientists who ‘glamorised STEM subjects’ and exhibited feminine qualities were found to be ‘less motivating’ and ‘seemed to shut the girls’ minds to new possibilities further’. It seemed that the girls polled saw being successful at STEM subjects whilst maintaining femininity as highly unlikely, and therefore not attainable.

This isn’t the first time an argument like this has surfaced. You might be reminded of Dr. Charlotte Uhlenbroek and Prof. Mary Beard who have remarked on, or had to defend, their looks. And just this week, I saw the European Commission's campaign, designed to attract more women into a career in science. Putting it mildly, the video on YouTube has received a bit of criticism. Watch it for yourself and see what you think.

Whilst I have no idea of the nature of the images shown to the girls in the Michigan studies (just how caricatured were they?), I found the whole article alarming. I wonder if it will make ‘girly’ scientists question their own image, at least for a moment.

Regional Coordinators help to diminish gender stereotypes. A great example is how Chemistry at Work events, which are run around the country, aim to open young people’s minds into the diversity of skills and range of roles chemists can have. Chemistry at Work's success relies on passionate speakers, who are keen to share their knowledge through hands-on activities. If you would like to be involved or for more information, contact your local Regional Coordinator.
Joanna Buckley is RSC Regional Coordinator for North East England and works with the education team. Contact her at Joanna.Buckley@sheffield.ac.uk
Posted by Joanna Buckley on Jun 25, 2012 4:19 PM BST
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