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Spectroscopy in a Suitcase

Chemists from the University of Plymouth visited Launceston College on Wednesday 6 December to teach the Year 12 chemistry students about chemical analysis. Dr Mike Foulkes, assisted by Solomon Phillips and Dan Phillips, described some of the ways that mass spectrometry and infrared spectroscopy are used by chemists in order to identify unknown organic compounds.

After their introduction, the 19 sixth form chemistry students were divided into teams and given tasks to complete. They were given real spectra of seven different compounds, plus their elemental analysis data. From this, they were able to deduce the molecular formula, use infrared to identify functional groups and then use the mass spectrum to work out which atoms were connected to which. At the same time, each group was given an opportunity to set up and record the infrared spectrum of some of the same compounds using a state-of-the-art Bruker infrared spectrometer, and discuss with Solomon exactly why they were seeing the patterns that they did.

Spectroscopy is a core part of the A level chemistry curriculum, and this visit meant that all of our students had the opportunity to get hands-on experience of a topic that often ends up just being book taught as the equipment would not be available in school. Spectroscopy in a Suitcase is a Royal Society of Chemistry initiative, and Launceston College would like to thank both the RSC and the University of Plymouth for their support of our students.