Published on: 1 August 2014

Twenty-three Chemistry students experienced a day in the life of a chemist, led by university professors and PhD students, at Curtin University late last term.

Science teacher Katie Williams said the aim was to inspire and ignite the Year 10 boys’ passion for the subject by participating in practical experiments and learning about university research projects. “It also came at a time when the boys were deciding on their subject choices for next year,” Ms Williams said.

The first experiment was the recrystallisation of benzoic acid when purifying an organic compound. This involved dissolving, drying and using a vacuum to remove moisture and purifying the benzoic acid into white crystals. The second experiment was the formation of an ester using isoamyl alcohol, acetic acid and concentrated sulphuric acid to create isoamyl acetate – a clear liquid that smelt like candied bananas.

“The boys learnt to use glassware, such as a Hirsch funnel and separating funnel, that they don’t use in the classroom in a world-class laboratory setting,” she said. “These were typical first-year university experiments.”

The remainder of the day was spent listening to PhD students discuss their studies. A range of projects were presented, from the study of rare diseases, the uses of high powered lasers, to the forensics of vehicle paint layers, which was a favourite of the boys.

Tom Robins and Leo Li said they were impressed by the passion shown by all the presenters. “The young, energetic and intelligent graduates were both inspirational and informative, and offered a huge amount of insight for the many like-minded boys in the class,” they said.

Tom and Leo agreed that when completing subjects in a school environment, it was sometimes hard to perceive their future applications. “The wide range of activities and people that we met at Curtin were a testament to the ever-expanding value and interesting nature of chemistry in our modern world, examples of which inspired all the boys throughout our experience.”