Friday, 13 September 2013

1. States of matter

Wiki, as usual.
S-Cool site is here.
Lovely voice (probably cousin of Wallace) here.

Monday, 20 May 2013


Go to Chemactive and report back. Will it be useful for GCSE?

Friday, 8 March 2013

Lanthanides and Actinides

Scishow introduces you to some global ideas about rare earth elements.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Chemistry of Custard

Eat it on your crumble, then watch the Brainiac version. Speculate why that's possible?

Now read this article.

(Background reading on forces including shear and compression here.)

Can you imagine a material that hardens under impact, but then immediately reforms to become flexible? What uses could you make of such a material? In what situations would you apply it?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Coprolite chemistry from the Royal Society. Click on Watch the video to run the lecture.

Monday, 23 April 2012


I read that E220 'can be consumed by all religious groups, vegans and vegetarians'.

But what is it? Find out what you can about this common chemical used in your food.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The tin of tomatoes I bought contains citric acid.

We know that citric acid is found in citrus fruits, with lemons and limes having a greater concentration than a strawberry. But what's it doing, added to my tin of tomatoes?

I've now found out that citric acid is manufactured industrially in great quantities for detergents, medicine, and cosmetics. (Yes! I remember making the bath bombs!) It seems to act variously as a cleaning agent, as a preservative to stop mould or bacteria growth, and to provide an acidic taste.

In the tin of tomatoes, I guess it provides the 'edge' to the taste, and helps prevent mould. Do you think it also helps prevent any reaction between tomatoes and the metal of the tin that contains them?

What can you add to my knowledge of citric acid with your research?

Try acids here (then take the quiz). Read about citric acid here. I don't understand the Kreb's cycle, but I can see it starts a new area to find out about.

Monday, 9 April 2012

On the label to your Sainsbury's hard cheese is the word Lysozyme.

Lysozyme is an enzyme.

It's used in the food industry as a preservative. I found this description from Foodditive helpful:

Lysozyme acts as a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of bacteria that lead to spoilage. It is mainly used in the cheese industry in the maturation of European cheeses, by preventing the growth of Clostridium tyrobutyricum spores which cause butyric acid fermentation leading to product loss and spoilage.

In my wandering about looking for enzymes, I also found this youtube video useful. What else can you find about enzymes or lysozyme?

Monday, 2 April 2012


Check the supermarket shelves and make a list of products where you can see this additive listed on the label. Are there particular types of foods that have this additive?

Let's eat something with it listed (the baked beans I bought this week is a good trial!) What do you think this additive might contribute to the texture, taste or appearance of food?

But what is maltodextrin?

You can do some research on Wikipedia, Wisegeek and find a chemical company to make it.

Typing Maltodextrin into Youtube also leads to a range of videos about this chemical.

After your research, what's your view? Is maltodextrin going to kill me by Thursday?

Monday, 12 March 2012

The can of chickpeas I bought has the words Contains sulphites.

Should I worry? What are sulphites?

Scroll down here to start gathering responses to that question. Can you find any more?

One list I found in Planet Internet listed all the following numbers as sulphites: E220, E221, E222, E223, E224, E225, E226, E227, E228. The Wikipedia entry is different.

But most responses agree that sulphites are a preservative, and give a product a longer shelf life. They're also 'natural' in that they are part of your naturally occurring body.

After your research, what's your response? Are sulphites in food something I should worry about?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Chemistry in your raisin bun

Welcome, ladies, to an 8-part series, Eat your chemistry.

Buy a pack of raisin buns, eat them, then look at the ingredients. You'll see E101 is listed!

Oh no! What have you eaten! What is E101?

Research riboflavin on planet internet. Are the following true or false?

It has poor solubility in water.
It is used as an orange-red colour additive in food.
It is a member of the B vitamin family.
It plays tennis.

Can cells process riboflavin? When you see E101 listed in your raisin bun what would you recommend we do: eat it or junk it?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Find out about Calcium

Find out about calcium.

How calcium reacts with water? Uses of calcium? How calcium bonds? (Am I right to say that calcium bonds with most other elements in the periodic table?)

Or maybe find what reactions a calcium compound can give... how to fry an egg using calcium oxide and water.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Chemistry of Concrete

'Professor Poliakoff overcomes his fear of tall ladders to observe the chemistry of concrete.'

And we know the history of concrete, yes? How the Romans used it? Find out on Wiki.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Round up

Look over the periodic table. How many elements can you describe, explain, or talk about?

Now here's the Chemical Party. Don't show it to the juniors.

Monday, 6 February 2012

8 Lanthanides and actinides

In Ellen's story, the lanthanides and actinides are the underground miners of Periodic Table Town.

They are transition metals, but keep a separate place on the Periodic Table. Can you suggest why?

The lanthanides are industrious types who provide rare metals for high-tech products. Find out about one: Neodymium.

The actinides can be dangerous as they are radioactive. But what is radioactivity?

Ellen describes uranium, for example, as 'like a big crumbly cookie. Little bits can break off easily. When as atom's nucleus begins to crumble, it doesn't drop crumbs or chocolate chips, however. It flings out protons, neutrons, electrons and rays dangerous energy'.

Does that help? You could try Youtube too for understandable answers to the question. Here is a video with animation, and a video for the discovery of radioactivity.

Monday, 30 January 2012

7 Metals

Learn these three metal names! Semi metals; true metals; transition metals.

The semi-metals (or metalloids) include silicon, Si, one of the most common elements on earth. It's extremelly versatile, as it can act like a metal to carry electricity, yet also act like a non-metal and not carry electricity.

What's SiO2? You can melt SiO2 to create fulgurites; you merely need a bolt of lightening. (Can you find out more with an Internet search?)

If you mixed other elements with SiO2, you could create jasper, agate, amethyst.

The true metals include aluminium (Al), tin (Sn), lead (Pb), gallium (Ga), indium (In), thallium (Tl), bismuth (Bi) and polonium (Po). Find out about one or more
from our favourite chemists at Nottingham.

The transition metals are, in Ellen's story, the bridge that spans the left to the right side of Periodic Table Town. They include gold, mercury, iron, copper, and zinc.

Transition metals conduct electricity. Read Ellen's story of how transition metals conduct electricity by 'sharing their electrons'. In her words, if the electrons are like kids, we could say, 'You can play anywhere in the neighborhood, just don't leave the neighborhood.'

Monday, 23 January 2012

6 Noble gases and non-metals

The noble gases become heavier as you go down the column of the Periodic Table. Helium is the smallest molecule; xenon is the largest. What would you expect to happen as you filled balloons with each gas?

Do your own research too. Find out an interesting detail to share about the gases; anything about neon, argon, krypton, radon, xenon, helium?

Watch this video. And this. Could you ascribe a character to each of these elements? Maybe you could make a family from them. (The mother is the brilliant and pleasant character, obviously.)

Find out something new to you too, and share your knowledge, about these non-metals: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, sulfur, selenium.

You've now seen several chemists demonstrating the properties of liquid nitrogen. You could key liquid nitrogen experiments into Youtube and see what you can find.

Here's one video, with an interesting side discussion on handling liquid nitrogen - I recall seeing chemists handling it very quickly, and have had to assume they are experienced in what they do, which is why their fingers don't immediately freeze.

Monday, 16 January 2012

5 The Alkalis and Halogens

Visit and find the alkali brothers on the far western shore of the periodic kingdom.

Find sodium. (Watch sodium blow up here.) Find chlorine in the halogen family. Can they be paired up? What do they produce? Read Ellen McHenry's chapter explaining the properties of sodium and chlorine.

Find the 'cousins' of the alkali brothers: magnesium and calcium. Read the chapter to find out their special bonding abilities.

Here's the flame test she refers to in this chapter.

And for review... the Periodic Table game at Funbrain.

Monday, 9 January 2012

4 More about atoms: electrons

Four rules electrons live by:

1. Spin.
2. Always try to pair up with someone of the opposite spin.
3. Get plenty of privacy - stay away from other electron couples.
4. Try to live in a perfect neighbourhood - often a group of eight.

- Thanks to Ellen McHenry.

Read the rest of her chapter to find out about the special electron properties of the noble gases. Try the activities and I'll read, The Periodic Kingdom.

Plenty of videos on atoms; try this one.

Monday, 2 January 2012

3 Atoms

Can you draw and label an atom by following these statements?

-An atom is made up of three smaller particles: protons, neutrons and electrons.

-The protons and neutrons are at the nucleus of the atom.

-The electrons are smaller, and circle the centre.

-The routes the electrons travel in are orbits.

-The proton has a positive charge.

-The electron has a negative charge.

-The neutron has no charge.

And go through these:
Video showing an electron cloud.
Video showing how electrons fit together in configurations.
The Chem4kids site on Atoms. Quiz on atomic structure.

Try the free trial on BrainPOP; see if the site is useful.
Read how to find numbers of protons, neutrons and electrons, at the Jefferson Lab.
At the same site, learn how to model an atom.
GCSE chemistry support with animations of electrons orbiting nucleus at

In other words, loads of stuff.

Read the Ellen McHenry chapter and try placing electrons on the Atom-izer with me. Ellen suggests using nuts as the electrons. This is a great idea and I totally recommend it.

Monday, 26 December 2011

2 The Periodic Table

Read the history of the Periodic table, Chapter 2 of Ellen McHenry's The elements course

Look at the periodic table at Popular Science; the elements pop up if you click on them.

Find elements on Web Elements. Here's Magnesium.

You might like some video introductions; the BBC have taken off their programme from Youtube, so until someone puts it back up, try others. This one?

(And you can always laugh at Mr Bean.)

Monday, 19 December 2011

1 The elements

Look over the next 8-week chemistry course. How many elements can you list from your head?

Do we have, in the house...

Look on the labels for cereal, toothpaste, tinned goods, dried foodstuffs. Check out mama's headache tablets and your Calpol.

See if you can work out or find out what these are:


I can help with one of those. Try gold.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Review week!

We've reached the end of the course!

Review Carbon Chemistry. Go back through the folder, find an experiment, check out a link, play one of the board games, answer the quiz questions, read the materials, make up a chemical with toothpicks and marshmallows...

Next week we start to explore more elements in detail.

Monday, 5 December 2011

11 Carbon Oxides and the Carbon Cycle

Carbon attached to 1 oxygen makes carbon monoxide.
Carbon attached to 2 oxygens makes carbon dioxide.
Carbon attached to 3 oxygens makes a carbonate ion.

This week you're finding out what each of these compounds do.

Plenty of explanations of the carbon cycle : cartoon video ; with a focus on CO2 ; I liked the crumpled paper background.

And here's a list to research: the limestone caves you'd like to visit around the world. For tours of all types of caves, try here and here.

Monday, 28 November 2011

10 Proteins

A protein has a string of carbons as its structural base... it also has the element Nitrogen.

Your starting point for this week's chapter, from which we can meet amino acids, the beliefs of creationists, DNA, and Mendel.

This video covers some of the ground.

I expect you won't be humming this, but I'm quite impressed he kept going.

You can hear the story of Mendel here. Me, I'm brushing up with this.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Lecture: Pick a question...

...and use it to ask some more questions*.

1. What's the impact of burning fossil fuels?
Does CO2 dissolve in salt water?
What's the result of combining CO2 with H2O?
How are chemists looking at ways of storing CO2 underground?
What's your reaction to this method of storage? They seem to have it sorted in Edinburgh.

2. Can you see energy?
Remember watching the chemists mix alcohol with saturated calcium acetate to get a flammable gel? They set this alight and then added various chemicals. What colours would you expect to see from burning lithium, and sodium? What about copper chloride?

In the explanation the Chemists described the 'colour of the burn' as a way you can see the 'amount' of energy produced. Hmm. More explanation here.

3. Can you use hydrogen for energy?
The chemists looked at the H-H bond and broke the bond with the catalyst palladium, showing how hydrogen can be used to release energy.

The benefits of using hydrogen an an 'energy carrier'? It burns 'clean'.
The public perception of risk in using hydrogen is high, but hydrogen cars are already here.

4. Where can we find hydrogen?
i. Methane. (We have a lot of that!)
ii. Water. (By splitting hydrogen from oxygen through electrolysis.)

5. How can we store energy?
The travelling chemists drew your attention to three means.
i Batteries such as those you can make from Coca cola, magnesium and copper.
ii Biofuels, such as ethanol.
iii Solar panels (the panels use SiO2+C).

6. Can we speed up energy production?
One problem is that energy can be produced, but the method of production might take more energy than we get from the output.

The Chemists asked, can the process of catalysis speed up reactions to get them over the 'energy barrier'? A catalyst lowers the barrier, meaning not as much energy is needed to produce the reaction.

What's an effective catalyst? Enzymes, apparently.

For a visual show, watch this combination of hydrogen peroxide, potassium iodide and soap. (Who wouldn't want an oozing pumpkin?)

And remember the Bombardier beetle?

7. What makes a chemical base have a particular property?
Carbon, for example, can take many forms depending on the arrangement of the atoms: diamond to graphite.

Carbon is also readily combined with other chemicals, resulting in many materials and many applications. The Chemists ran through several examples - airbags, fireworks, emergency flares, biodegradable surgical stitches, nappies - and showed you how controlling the structure of polymers allows you to control the properties.

Can you find out the chemistry behind the materials listed above?

The chemists drew your attention to COOH on a benzene ring. I'm out of my depth over here.

It's your job, basically, as a chemist, to explore what materials can be created by altering the composition and structure of chemicals. Temperature is a useful tool: for example, below a critical temperature, a superconductor will have no electrical resistance. Superconductivity can be used to 'levitate' magnets over liquid nitrogen for example, and thus has applications for transport systems.

8. Is there anything a chemist can't do?
No, not really. Because chemistry is totally brilliant. Unless you use it to melt your face off, or destroy the planet, in which case, it was a thoroughly bad idea telling you about it.

*Thank you to the travelling chemists Prof Pulman and Dr Henderson from the University of Edinburgh providing the lecture at the Hong Kong Science Museum. I hope the British Council flew them Business Class.

9 Fats

Experiment with olive oil, sesame oil, butter, shampoo, stuff from the cupboards and the tap. Change temperature, alter the quantities, and vary the combinations of the stuff you're using. What do you observe?

Fats are insoluble in water but soluble in some organic compounds. True or false?

How are fats broken down in the body? I may need to talk about bile! Bile is similar to a detergent, like soap or washing up liquid.

Your body needs fats, but there's a pressure on people to be scared of them, or to use substitutes: that huge industry in 'fake fats' needs people to be focused on their shape, weight, or diet. This page looks at the manufacturing process of a fake fat. (Interested in giving up your butter?)

And here's an experiment to try. Can you come up with a theory as to why this happens?

More info on oils and fats here, with Your mother.

Monday, 14 November 2011

8 Carbohydrates

Almost everything we eat is a carbon compound.

True or false? Find out this week by reading the materials before the session.

Watch this animation about how glucose works in the body.

A diabetes support group is here. This site lists artificial sweeteners and carries some discussion of sugar/carbohydrate.

Read the list of artificial sweetners. Which ones do you recognise from the labels of drinks you see for sale?

Let's start here please for a discussion on different foods to take and different ways you can find 'balance' in what you eat and drink. (HA! It is all my SECRET PLAN to make you talk BELLIES.)

Ahem. Ellen says, Can you find answers to the following?

1. Name 3 ruminants.

2. Name a monosaccharide.

3. What are the symptoms of diabetes? What do doctors look for?

Monday, 7 November 2011

7 Rubber & Silicones

Read Chapter 7 with me in advance of the workshop.

Let's do the comprehension puzzle; I enjoy the way you're all brilliant at that.

What items around the house can you identify that are rubber or silicon?

Have you tried chewing gum? Do you want to? Sure, go ahead, that's fine, so long as you don't mind being CUT OUT OF THE WILL.

An alternative is to read here. You can imagine some of the reasons why Singapore banned chewing gum. This site provides a history of Dubble Bubble gum. Sillyputty provides a range of other activities.

Monday, 31 October 2011

6 Plastics

Read Chapter 6 with me and let's answer the questions.

Here's a museum I want to visit. Let's put this on the list!

Wiki on shellac.

I recommend this video about making nylon. (If only for his voice.) Enjoy the story.

Monday, 24 October 2011

5 Combining functional groups

Read Chapter 5 with me.

Can you draw a chocolate molecule? Use the notes to help.

Here's an online site devoted to Percy Julian.

This week's challenge was to find out about soap that floated rather than sank. Try here!

Monday, 17 October 2011

4 Functional Groups

Read Chapter 4 with me in preparation for the workshop.

Watch this video about ethanol. See? Chemistry is politics.

And vinegar... from The Vinegar Institute.

Monday, 10 October 2011

3 -enes and -ynes

Molecules with double and triple bonds. Read Chapter 4 with me for the workshop.

This week's challenge is to find out about xylene. Here's a place to start.

Monday, 3 October 2011

2 Alkane Hydrocarbons

Read Chapter 2 in advance of the workshop.

You're asked this week to find out about oil reserves around the world. A map on Wiki shows who has the most.

Watch the Nottingham periodic video for Hydrogen.

The US Energy Kids site is here.

Monday, 26 September 2011

1 Carbon

Read Chapter 1 with me in preparation for the workshop.

Play the Nottingham periodic video for Carbon.

Try these videos: the first shows how diamonds are formed, the second is the process from mine to cut stone.

On the right hand side of your screen you can also see several other diamond videos; choose some and learn about carbon-carbon-carbon-carbon...

Can you find out about coke - the material related to coal. Remember visiting Ironbridge?

Monday, 19 September 2011