A Level Chemistry Students visit the Organic Chemistry Laboratory in Oxford

On Tuesday, 10th January eight students studying Chemistry A Level at Akeley Wood Senior School had an amazing chance to visit the Organic Chemistry Laboratory at Oxford University.

The Chemistry Laboratory is in the middle of Oxford, and is a combination of a traditional, very old, historic building combined with up to the minute equipment and facilities.

We initially met and had a talk from the Head of Outreach about what it is like studying Chemistry at Oxford. Following this, he then explained the format of the morning which was to have a go ourselves at an experiment; and he was going to show us some of their technical pieces of equipment and explain how they work.

The experiment we were given was to make an ester. This is a chemical that helps give things like perfumes their scent. An ester is made by combining an acid with an alcohol. To help us as we followed the instructions, and to answer any questions as we were working through the process, there were a few PhD students in the lab also. These students were very helpful and chatty with us; it was a great opportunity to talk to them, not only about the experiment, but also what it is like being a student at Oxford University. Each pair had different chemicals so each pair’s Ester was going to smell different! After much heating, stirring, filtering and other processes, we ended up with a small container of our liquid Ester. Personally, my ester smelt of pear drops.


We were also shown the University’s NMR and IR spectrometers. These are really expensive pieces of equipment that use powerful magnets and radio frequency to be able to tell what a compound is specifically made of. For instance, we put some acids into the machines and the machine deciphered what they were.


Although we only spent a morning in the chemistry lab, it was a very interesting time which flew by as we had never seen anything like it before; and it showed us the sort of things we can expect to do beyond A Levels. As students, we were very grateful to the people at Oxford University; and to our Chemistry teachers for arranging this opportunity.


Will Honour

Year 12