Science week: rainbows & robots | University of Oxford
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OSB archive

Science week: rainbows & robots

Pete Wilton

Chemical rainbows and robotic vehicles were just some of the topics local pupils explored as part of University events for National Science & Engineering Week.

On 15 March 63 students aged 11-13 from 16 schools in the Oxfordshire area tested their science skills at the Salters' Festival of Chemistry.

In the morning they played chemical ‘Cluedo’, where teams took the role of forensic scientists solving a crime by analysing samples found at a crime scene.

The experiments included a flame test to identify different metal ions and chemical tests to identify non-metal ions. Guest of honour Lord Butler of Brockwell, from the Salters’ Company, joined one of the teams looking to identify the culprit.

Colourful solutions
In the afternoon the teams went ‘Over and Over the Rainbow’ where they had to get to grips with the principles of density and miscibility and use organic and inorganic solvents to come up with their own chemical rainbows.

‘The students had to stack the solutions in the correct order, the most dense at the bottom and the least dense at the top and alternate the organic and inorganic solutions so that they did not mix,’ said Matthew Lodge of Oxford University’s Department of Chemistry, coordinator of the event. ‘Students were marked on their rainbow's quality and the time it took them to make it.’

After making rainbows the teams were introduced to polymers and made a nylon 6-6 string from two different chemicals dissolved in two immiscible liquids. The nylon 6-6 forms at the interface and can be drawn out as a thread and schools were judged on the length of their nylon 6-6 cord.

The day ended with a physics and chemistry talk from Hugh Cartwright. Prizes were then awarded by Malcolm Stewart, head of the judging panel.

Robots & geckos
On 10 March an event at Begbroke Science Park saw 34 pupils aged 14-16 from two Oxford schools learn about the benefits of innovation.

Students from Cherwell School and Marlborough School were introduced to the latest in robotics research: Paul Newman from Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science showed them the Bowler Wildcat vehicle his team are using to develop robotic technology to automate the cars of the future. 

‘It was really interesting and cool to understand how close we are to the reality of self-driving cars, that was just a dream years ago,’ said Dionne Franklin, a student from Marlborough School.

They also visited the impact engineering lab, the Oxford University Supercomputer and got to see CyberSEM, an online resource offering remote access to a powerful scanning electron microscope located at Begbroke.

Having been suitably inspired the students were then invited to turn inventor by coming up with their very own business ideas based on the latest discoveries which they had to pitch in a ‘Dragon’s Den’-style presentation.

The winning idea was ‘GeckoMan’, from Marlborough School, a project looking to turn technology mimicking the gecko’s sticky feet into a gravity-defying amusement activity.

For more on Science Week events visit the Oxfordshire Science Festival.

Festival of Chemistry schools:

Abingdon Preparatory School - Frilford, Abingdon
Bedford Preparatory School - Bedford
Carterton Community College - Carterton
Didcot Girls' School - Didcot
Dragon School - Oxford
HE Middle School Team - Leighton Buzzard
Magdalen College School - Oxford
Moulsford Preparatory School - Moulsford-on-Thames
Our Lady's Convent Senior School - Abingdon
Oxford High School - Oxford
St Andrews School - Bedford
The Cotswold School - Bourton-on-the-Water
The Grange School - Aylesbury
Tudor Hall School - Banbury
Vyners School - Ickenham
Winchester House School – Brackley

Innovation Showcase schools:

Marlborough School - Woodstock, Cherwell School - Oxford