Two A-level Chemistry students from Coleg Llandudno recently got the rare chance to experience life as university undergraduates and gain insights into studying the subject at a higher level.
Sam Farrington, 23, from Abergele and Edward Pearce, 16, from Llandudno Junction - who are both studying at the Rhos Sixth on the college's Rhos-on-Sea campus - experienced the day-to-day ups and downs of university life after joining their second year undergraduate peers at Bangor University.
Sam Farrington said:
I was especially delighted to get the opportunity to take part in a chemistry practical at Bangor University with the second year chemistry undergraduates.
The practical involved synthesising silver nanoparticles with varying size and shape. The first thing that struck me was the extremely small quantities of reagents we were using - just 10 microlitres, which is far smaller than any volumes we've dealt with at A-level.
This provided the chance to use equipment new to me, such as the micropipette. The need for accuracy was clear throughout from micro-pipetting to the making up of very specific concentrations of solutions. For this we were again dealing with very small weights in order to make up solutions.
It was encouraging to see that skills we are learning at A-level are still key even at university level: for example the making up of a standard solution - this provided a bit of on the spot chemical calculations revision! At the end of the experiment we used UV spectroscopy to analyse the solutions we had made up. For me, this highlighted the crossover into physics and engineering when it comes to instrumental analysis in chemistry, and the wide range of areas I could pursue as part of a degree in chemistry.
I went to Bangor University to shadow 2nd year undergraduate students and to get a feel for university life: the style of work that would be completed there and how the classes and lectures are carried out.
On the first day, Dr John Thomas briefed us on the detailed plans he had for the few days that we were there. He was very friendly and helped us both feel comfortable and ready for the lecture and following practical.
The practical was on silver nanoparticles that could be fed through an IR spectroscopy machine to see at what wavelength light was captured to see if they had been created. We were informed that we would be creating some of these nanoparticles the next day, with the other undergraduate students. I was incredibly excited to be able to do this.
All we had to do was some simple moles and mass equations to work out how much of each chemical we would need to conduct the practical, and we weighed them out on a four decimal place weight on a shelf in the lab, before adding them in just the right order and adding select quantities of potassium bromide. This gave us a nice range of colours, from a dark blue to a light yellow.
After we had prepared each solution we were taken to a separate room next to the lab where we would put each vial through an IR spectroscopy unit to see its absorption rate and the maximum wavelength it would absorb. At the same time we documented the results by looking at the features of the line created on the graph by the computer, with most being steep lines and the final two being broad lines. This showed the effects of potassium bromide on the creation of silver nanoparticles.
Before we left we were offered a tour around the department and saw what was kept on the sixth floor, namely being an NMR machine (Nucleic Magnetic Resonance) which could see atoms down to the molecular level to show the structure of the bonds between them, a thermal decomposition machine and a chromatography machine to name but a few.
I was so eager to see the Chemistry department and to have a 'taste' of what life would be like for me if I were to pursue a degree in Chemistry. I am very grateful for the opportunity that I have been given to take part in this experience. I want to thank Dr John Thomas for allowing me to come to Bangor University.