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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The newest addition to the Learn Chemistry resource bank is one of our older legacy materials. However, despite its age, it is still relevant and definitely worth a place on any teacher's bookshelf as a reference. Modern Chemical Techniques provides chemistry teachers with resource materials and background information on chemical methods.


We recognise that chemistry teachers come from a variety of backgrounds, and this book caters for teachers who are familiar with modern chemical techniques, as well as for those teachers that will find them unfamiliar. The book covers much of the basic theory of the technique without emphasising too heavily the maths or physics involved.

The topics covered include mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy, ultraviolet/visible spectroscopy, chromatography and electron microscopy. The final chapter, Following a Synthetic Route, shows how spectra change as a molecule is modified to the target molecule Ibuprofen, in a chemical synthesis, including data from mass, infrared, and NMR spectral investigations.

An example of the NMR spectra from the book is shown below:

We hope the advanced reader will be able to delve into the boxed sections of each chapter, but the novice reader will not be disadvantaged by omitting them. Overall, the book should give confidence to teachers in covering, perhaps, unfamiliar techniques.
Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Aug 27, 2013 4:43 PM BST
Learn Chemistry is still growing, and the newest addition is July's legacy resource - The Nature of Science.  Through 4 very different activities, The Nature of Science helps students to discover how science actually works in the real world.

So many people see science as a black and white subject, and scientists as all-knowing. This is far removed from the reality of science, where creativity, controversy and confusion all have a role to play in advancing our understanding of the world around us! The Nature of Science resources show students how there is so much left to be discovered, and hopefully help to inspire a new generation of scientists.

The Nature of Science includes 4 activities:
A cartoon from "Scurvy - the mystery disease" which asks students to think about the difference between early and modern scientific thinking.

Aimed at students aged 11-16, these activities are suitable for students of different abilities and learning styles, and can be easily adapated to suit differing groups. Each resource can be used to link together many cross-curricular themes in chemistry, and provide an understanding of the social and political factors that influence scientific progress.
The resources all contain detailed instructions for teachers and handouts for students, together with advice on how to adapt the lessons for different groups.

We hope they can help to communicate the wonder and excitement of science to all students!
Posted by Elizabeth McLoughlin on Aug 6, 2013 10:11 AM BST
We've continued to beaver away at the Learn Chemistry site and systems over the last few months, and the results of some of that work went live last week to our students and teachers of chemistry around the world. Here's a short update to keep our users in the loop.

The systems powering Learn Chemistry are now more robust and reliable. We also think it's made searching and browsing our thousands of chemistry resources a little faster!

We've added a 'null search'. You can now hit search on Learn Chemistry without entering a search phrase to get a listing of everything in that category. For instance, select ‘information and data’ and hit 'Search', and you’ll get all 2101 substance and other information items.

Faces of chemistry Careers with chemistry page is live. We've embedded the National Stem Centre careers widget into the page, loaded with science career results. Reach the Faces of Chemistry site via the ‘More’ menu at the top of every page.
We've also squashed a couple of strange bugs, and made some other behind-the-scenes improvements. Those hidden changes will soon become more visible when we add exciting new functions to our flagship home for chemistry education later this year!
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Jul 17, 2013 10:25 AM BST
The periodic table. It’s what everyone associates with chemistry and rightly so. It is one of the key pieces of ‘equipment’ in any chemistry class. So it’s not surprising that our most popular resource on Learn Chemistry is our interactive Visual Elements Periodic Table (VEPT), with around 70,000 people using it every month.

We are delighted that so many students and teachers are already making use of some of the amazing features – from podcasts to historical facts – that VEPT has to offer. But we want to know which features are particularly useful in your classroom and which bits are most popular with your students. This way we can make sure that we can make it even better.

When we launched the 2nd phase of VEPT back in October last year, we were excited when Professor Martyn Poliakoff gave us the go ahead to feature his extremely popular series – the Periodic Table of videos – in our own periodic table. Professor Poliakoff himself presents this series of short films, which was shot by Brady Haran and features scientists from the University of Nottingham, in an engaging and entertaining way. In the videos, he explores each of the 118 elements through spectacular demonstrations and easy-to-follow explanations.

It’s been just over half a year since we added the videos to our periodic table, and Professor Poliakoff and Nottingham’s scientists are curious about what people think of them. They’d love to hear your feedback on their videos and how you use them in the classroom, so they put together a short survey.

The survey only has ten questions – so if you’ve got a few minutes spare, please do let them know what you think!

Click to watch this video

The charismatic Professor Martyn Poliakoff talking about gold, inside the gold bullion vault

Whilst we’re on the subject of the periodic table, I should also let you know about some of the exciting new plans that we are working on at the moment. All good things come in threes, so we’re working hard to plan out a third phase of new developments and exciting additions to our periodic table.

Some of the new features we are working on are a scarcity tab to highlight the uses and threats to rare earth elements, bringing in even more video content, and perhaps even creating a periodic table in different languages.
No doubt these will keep us busy for a while. But of course we always welcome ideas from our users. So do get in touch to let us know what you would like to see in our next periodic table update.
Posted by Richard Grandison on Jul 8, 2013 9:29 AM BST
June’s newest legacy resource has been added to Learn Chemistry, although this time we’ve gone for a Higher Education direction. Communicating Chemistry is designed to help undergraduates develop a variety of communication skills in their degree courses.
Title of exercise Key feature(s)
  1. The Fluorofen Problem
Team problem solving
  1. Scientific Paper Workshop
Comprehension/Problem solving
  1. Computer Keyboard Skills
Basic computer skills
  1. World Wide Web Treasure Hunt
Information retrieval
  1. New Chemist Article
Writing a concise report
  1. Dictionary of Interesting Chemistry
Information retrieval/Concise report wiring
  1. Hwuche-Hwuche Bark
Team work/Problem solving
  1. Annual Review Presentation
Oral presentations
  1. Interviews and Interviewing
Interview skills
  1. Poster Presentations
Preparing posters
There are two key themes underpinning the design of the book. Firstly, as communication skills are learnt rather than taught, the exercises provide students with many opportunities for first hand practice and experience. Secondly, the exercises are all set in a chemistry context, so students see the skills as interesting and relevant, and are encouraged to discover, explain and use chemistry. The aspects of communication skills identified in the pack are:
  • information retrieval;
  • written delivery; 
  • visual delivery;
  • oral delivery;
  • team work; and
  • problem solving.
Each section includes a summary, including background and proposed timetable, information for students and a detailed tutor guide.

The exercises typically require approximately two hours of contact teaching and ten hours total work from the students. A whole module could be run using some or all of the exercise, or each exercise stands alone.

Hopefully, these resources will help students grasp some important skills, not necessarily taught with chemistry in mind!
Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Jul 2, 2013 10:53 AM BST
Mechanism Inspector, the second of our two interactive organic resources has undergone updates too! The main change is that it is now touch screen friendly having been converted to HTML5! This means Mechanism Inspector fun on the move!

The second main addition to the site is brand new curly arrow tool. Double- and single-headed arrows are covered in the context of single bonds, carbonyl bonds and C=C double bonds. The new tool allows students to explore the concept of curly arrows and how they are used to denote the movement of electrons in the breaking and formation of bonds.

The tool allows students to understand the implications of choices when deciding where a curly arrow should start and finish. It also highlights the pushing nature of electron movement. There is also feedback for the student why they were right or wrong in their choice, so often lacking in organic resources.

There are more investigations to solve once students have developed their core investigative skills.

There are also now printable flow charts to help students ask the right questions when thinking about reactions possible with particular starting materials.

Whether Mechanism Inspector is useful for testing what students already know before starting a new organic topic, or as a revision aid before exams, we hope the new additions will be a another helpful tool for teachers and students alike in their battle to understand organic mechanisms!
Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Jun 17, 2013 10:56 AM BST
If you’ve never been to the Cheltenham Science Festival, it’s well worth putting on next year’s to-do list. With a great mix of science and showmanship, it’s all packed in to a great site right in the middle of town and there’s something for all ages and all knowledge levels – and the sun always shines*.

And as the Royal Society of Chemistry has been a Festival Partner for this year’s scientific extravaganza, I headed quite a long way south and even further west to see two of the packed-out live events we sponsored.

First up was a brilliant, whistle-stop tour through the periodic table with former Famelab finalist, salsa-dancing scientist and all-round bundle of energy Jamie Gallagher. His Periodic Success show contains everything from explosions and poisonings to space exploration – and there’s plenty of audience involvement.

Next (before an obligatory ice cream in the glorious sunshine) was a performance of Reverend Ron Lancaster’s legendary Bang goes the firework lecture. Learn Chemistry aficionados may have seen Ron in action before but it’s definitely worth checking out his sparkling pyrotechnic lecture we recorded earlier in the year and broke up into short clips to explain the chemistry in fireworks.

That was to mark his 50 years working as a chemistry teacher, vicar and firework manufacturer, so RSC Chief Exec Dr Robert Parker presented the ‘master blaster pastor’ with a blue RSC Chemical Landmark plaque as recognition of his contribution to chemistry and pyrotechnics.

To say thanks for putting on the show at Cheltenham for us, we gave Revd Ron a personalised Learn Chemistry labcoat, not forgetting to sew the pockets up so no rogue explosive materials end up slipping in!

Now I have to admit I haven’t always known quite how important chemistry is to making fireworks – from the basics of gunpowder to nitrocellulose and picric acid in producing colours, there’s a lot of chemistry to learn if, like Revd Ron, you want to be chosen to be the company to put on fireworks displays at events like the London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

And finally, while Cheltenham was a truly explosive experience for me, it’s not the only festival or event the RSC are involved in. Head to the RSC events page on our website to keep across what’s coming up in your neck of the woods.


*This is a promise from Jamie Gallagher, so blame him if you get rained on next year!

Edwin Silvester is a Media Relations Executive at the Royal Society of Chemistry
Posted by Edwin Silvester on Jun 14, 2013 10:00 AM BST

It is my pleasure to share a variety of new outreach resources which have been demonstrated at Science festivals throughout the year so far. These are searchable using the key word ‘outreach’ and have been very popular with students, teachers and demonstrators alike; I hope you have fun trying them out for yourselves.

We now have six new outreach resources as follows…
  • Make your own Bath bombs this activity can demonstrate a chemical reaction that produces a gas when reactants are in the correct state. Ideal for primary school students create some cool chemistry in the bath.
  • A demo to teach about UV light and the action/importance of sunscreen. Sunscreen and UV light links nicely to the Faces of Chemistry Sun lotion video highlighting the chemistry behind sun lotions which help protect our skin from damaging ultraviolet radiation. 
  • The calcium we absorb from our food is used to help keep our bones strong. But have you ever wondered what happens if some of the calcium carbonate is removed from our bones? Bendy bones is the resource for you!
  • Speedy Star Jumps is an activity that allows the collection of data to test whether sports drinks make a difference to performance during short, high intensity exercise. This activity links up very nicely with a great many resources from Learn Chemistry not least Chemistry in Sport and 2012 Global experiment result.
  • The food we eat is made up of many components including sugars, vitamins, proteins and fats. This activity, Make a Molecule, will help children learn more about the types of molecules found in fruits and sweets, as well as how molecules are formed.
  • Red Cabbage pH indicator: This is a hands-on experiment that explains the measurement of pH using red cabbage indicator paper. A range of common household solutions can be tested but are they acidic or alkaline/basic?
Posted by Lee Page on Jun 13, 2013 9:39 AM BST
Do you know what type of food you need to eat to help you see in the dark or help your body build strong bones and teeth? Play Elements of Nutrition to find out! In this fun and educational game for ages 6-12 years, the aim is to collect as much healthy food as you can, whilst avoiding the unhealthy snacks.

I’ve been working on an exciting creative project at the Royal Society of Chemistry over the past few months, in partnership with a lovely team of developers at Texavi. I’m very happy to say that my concepts of a game around the topic of ‘health’ have been realised in the release of a new mobile and tablet application, Elements of Nutrition! 

Strong Educational Engagement Value
Elements of Nutrition was a big hit at the Cambridge Science Festival this year; the app was available to play on iPad and was popular with a wide age range of children and their parents. With facts about vitamins and minerals at the start of each level, this simple app proved to be a valuable learning tool, as well as a fun game with a ‘juicy’ element of competition.
"This app could be used to help consolidate a student’s understanding of a healthy eating topic as it revises the different food groups with examples of foods which constitute a healthy diet. The app could be used at the start of a lesson to assess prior learning and again at the end to see if the student’s knowledge has improved. It can also, of course, be used at home or any time during a lesson that a teacher feels is appropriate.” - Susan Thompson, Regional Coordinator (East), Royal Society of Chemistry, Schools and Colleges Team.
“I think the app would be really good for 
students with English as an additional language; in the early stages of learning English it would allow them to engage in science lessons without really needing to speak or understand much English.” - Secondary school teacher, Cambridge Science Festival.
Learn about:
  • Why it’s important to eat food containing useful vitamins and minerals.
  • What kinds of food contain those vitamins and minerals.
    • Vitamins: A, C and D.
    • Minerals: Calcium (Ca), Potassium (K) and Iron (Fe).
  • Free gameplay with 4 levels.
  • Simple tilt controls that are easy to use.
  • Full instructions on how to play.
The game is currently available to download for free for iPhone, iPod and iPad, and will be soon available on Android operating systems.
I hope you enjoy playing Elements of Nutrition as much as I’ve had making it with the RSC's Strategic Innovation Team and Texavi - please feel free to download, play, share and have some educational fun! (Let me know if you can beat my top score of 1460!)

Posted by Emily James on Jun 12, 2013 1:38 PM BST
Synthesis Explorer, the curriculum-focused resource to help study organic chemistry reactions, has had a face-lift and some exciting additions! It was originally designed to be used by teachers and students to introduce, explore and revise organic chemistry in an interactive and dynamic format. Features include:

  • an intuitive interface to access hundreds of compounds and reactions;
  • synthetic pathways on an interactive canvas;
  • a wide range of reactants, products and details of reaction conditions and reagents; and
  • physical, structural and spectral data for each compound.
On top of all this, users can now arrive directly at the canvas to explore the compounds and reactions, or head to the quizzes section to be tested on reaction products, reaction conditions, physical properties, infrared spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, 1H NMR and 13C NMR (phew!). These questions use the information on the canvas and the physical, structural and spectral data to answer the questions and to get a feel for the depth of information that is available on Synthesis Explorer.

More substances and routes have also been added to the planner, making it relevant to A-Level and beyond! We also include links to the substance pages in Learn Chemistry and Mechanism Inspector, giving more links to closely related chemistry.

Have an explore of the new site and let us know what you think, it’s been a long time in the making!
(PS Look out for new Mechanism Inspector updates soon!)
Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Jun 5, 2013 4:41 PM BST
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