Friday, 30 October 2015

What is Chemistry?

On the evening of 20 October RSC Belgium members and friend were treated to an absorbing lecture from Professor Peter Atkins entitled 'What is Chemistry?' In the Brel theatre at the British School of Brussels Peter guided us through the marvellous world of chemistry and explained took how it shapes the world around us. He imparted the nine most important things you need to know to understand and study chemistry and therefore how the world works.

Most people remember chemistry from their school days as a subject that was largely incomprehensible, fact-rich but understanding-poor, smelly, and so far removed from the real world of events and pleasures that there seemed little point, except for the most introverted, in coming to terms with its grubby concepts, spells, recipes, and rules.

Peter Atkins wants to change all that. In his What is Chemistry? book and lectures he encourages us to look at chemistry anew, through a chemist's eyes, to understand its central concepts and to see how it contributes not only towards our material comfort, but also to human culture. Atkins shows how chemistry provides the infrastructure of our world, through the chemical industry, the fuels of heating, power generation, and transport, as well as the fabrics of our clothing and furnishings.

By considering the remarkable achievements that chemistry has made, and examining its place between both physics and biology, Atkins presented a fascinating, clear, and rigorous exploration of the world of chemistry - its structure, core concepts, and exciting contributions to new cutting-edge technologies.

The evening also saw the awarding of prizes in our Chemistry Challenge 2015 competition.

Peter Atkins FRSC is emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Lincoln College. He left left school at fifteen taking a job at Monsanto as a laboratory assistant. He  studied for A-levels in his spare time and gained a place, following a last-minute interview, at the University of Leicester. There he studied, of course, chemistry, obtaining a BSc degree in chemistry, and subsequently a PhD degree on research into electron spin resonance spectroscopy and aspects of theoretical chemistry. He then took a postdoc at UCLA as a Harkness Fellow. He returned to the UK as a fellow and tutor of Lincoln College, Oxford, and lecturer in physical chemistry (later, professor of physical chemistry). In 1969, he won the Royal Society of Chemistry's Meldola Medal. He retired in 2007, and since then has been a full-time author.

He has honorary doctorates from the University of Utrecht, the University of Leicester (where he sits on the university Court), Mendeleev University in Moscow, and Kazan State Technological University. He was a member of the Council of the Royal Institution and the Royal Society of Chemistry. He was the founding chairman of the IUPAC Committee on Chemistry Education, and is a trustee of a variety of charities. He is a patron of the Oxford University Scientific Society.

However he most well-known as a prolific writer of popular chemistry textbooks. He has quite literally written the book in terms of undergraduate texts globally for Physical Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics. He is also the author of a number of popular science books, including Atkins' Molecules, Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science and On Being. His most recent popular volumes are Reactions: The private life of atoms, Chemistry: A Very Short Introduction and 'What is Chemistry?' the subject of his presentation on 20 October.

Peter Atkins discusses the ideas behind 'What is Chemistry' in the video below.

RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge 2015 Results

The results of the RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge 2015 have been announced and the talented prize winners picked up their winnings at a special RSC Belgium event with Prof Peter Atkins of Oxford University on the evening of 20 October at the British School of Brussels. This year we received 119 eligible entries from several international and European schools in this testing challenge of young people's chemical knowledge and initiative.

The RSC Belgium Chemical Challenge has three sections:
  • A/ A chemistry multiple choice paper
  • B/ A structured questions on chemistry, and
  • C/ A 'Thinking Matters' paper that is not chemistry based
And the top results were as follows:

Section A: Multiple choice
First was Jozef Ceri Rees from the British School of Brussels (BSB)
Joint second were Ivet Andres Munoz also from BSB and Franziska Ihli from European School Brussels 3 at Ixelles (EEB3)
And third prize went to Yoonkwon Yi from the International School of Brussels (ISB).

The winners in this section are pictured below together with RSC Belgium chairman Tim Reynolds.

Section B: Structured Questions
First was Ivet Andres Munoz from BSB.
Joint second were Changfu Sun and Yoonkwon Yi bith from ISB
And six students tied for third place: Leyla Jackson from BSB, Benjamin Keltjens and Conor O'Flaherty from BSB, Thomas Maher from St Johns International School Waterloo (St. Johns), Willak Kamil from European School Brussels 1 at Uccle (EEB1), and Jonas Papazoglou-Hennig from EEB3

Section C: Thinking Matters
Joint first were Utkarsh Saxena of ISB and Laura Molnar from EEB1.
Three students tied for second place: Zachary Arnolds from St. Johns and Veronika Mrazek and Greta Carpenter both from EEB3.
Joint third were Sam Craig from ISB and Bilaal Ahmad from St. Johns.

Keith Price Prize
Ivet Andres Munoz from also received the Keith Price Prize for best overall score in sections A and B. First prize winners received €50, second €25 and third places €10 with the winner of the Keith Price Prize receiving an additional €100.

Well done to everyone that took part! Every student that entered the competition receives a certificate of participation. We will be running the Challenge again in 2015. And look out for our Top of the Bench International eliminator coming soon! All the students who collected their prizes at the 20 October event are pictured below.

The Challenge
The Chemistry Challenge competition was devised and compiled by RSC Belgium treasurer Rita Woodward and is open to students from any school in Belgium. The questions are set in English, but may be answered in English, French, Dutch or German.

The competition is open to school students in their penultimate year of High School (usually aged 16 – 17), and consists of a 2 hour written test held in school and designed to demonstrate the participants’ knowledge of chemistry and their ability to think logically.