Friday Headlines

the weekly newsletter from Dr Ruth Weeks, Headmistress

A lesson in electrochemistry

09 February 2018

On Tuesday 30 January, A Level chemists attended a fascinating lecture on one of the most important elements in chemistry, carbon. Professor Julie Macpherson from Warwick University enlightened us with a talk about the advancements in technology using the sixth element of the periodic table and how advancements in the field of research are benefiting new technologies.

She began with the electronic structure of carbon and how this relates to its features, making it extremely critical for chemical reactions. She then talked us through the three Nobel prizes awarded for discoveries of new types of carbon compounds such as graphene and fullerenes. We were fascinated to learn that the discovery of fullerenes had been an accident, but lead to amazing advancements in technology such as in tennis racquets and bicycles, and that the discovery of graphene had been discovered by using sticky tape to take off a single layer of graphite. She impressed us by showing new images produced by extremely high-resolution microscopes, enabling us to see single atoms. This is a phenomenal step forward in chemistry which it is hoped will lead to advancements in quantum engineering. Currently, scientists are growing very small carbon structures using catalysts and we were surprised to find out that someone had even made their own microscopic garden out of graphene.

Professor Macpherson talked to us about the work she does in her field involving diamonds. She explained how the different colours of diamond created by impurities in the structure, and cited the example of the Blue Moon diamond which is worth $45.5 million. She is currently working on growing her own diamonds at extremely high temperatures and pressures with a catalyst; diamonds of this kind are incredibly useful in precision machinery due to their unparalleled strength and durability.

We would like to thank Professor Macpherson for a very interesting lecture that highlighted the importance of such a versatile compound and how chemistry is in action all around us.

Written by Mariam Al-Ani and Ryanne Fleet

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