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Chemistry department celebrates outstanding achievement in national competition

Chemistry department celebrates outstanding achievement in national competition
boy stands holding roentgenium chemistry award infront of chemistry department sign

Upper Sixth Chemistry student, Zac Stewart, has achieved the Roentgenium Award, the highest award in the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge 2022, which places him in the top 0.7% of students who entered the competition in June this year. Fellow A level chemists, Yuri Tsukumo and Anna Wraith also took part and obtained Copper awards, placing them in the top 33% of competitors.  

The competition experience begins with a very challenging 90-minute paper that aims to stretch students with a passion for chemistry and encourages them to think like undergraduates, taking them significantly beyond what they are taught at A level.  The top awards are based on the periodic table; Roentgenium (Rg) is the highest, followed by Gold (Au), Silver (Ag) and Copper (Cu). Achieving any of these awards is an impressive feat and bodes well for those considering a degree course either at university or as an apprenticeship. 

To recognise his outstanding achievement, Zac accepted an invitation to attend a three-day residential camp at St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge back in August. It was an excellent opportunity for Zac to meet other successful students and hone his chemistry skills.  Zac has written about his experience as an undergraduate chemist below: 

“It was great to get the opportunity to visit Cambridge University and stay in St Catharine’s College, getting a feel for what it is like to be a student there. The residential was organised by Dr Peter Wothers, a Fellow of the College, current and ex-chemistry students. Dr Wothers gave interesting and engaging lectures on various topics such as Schrödinger’s equation and functional group analysis.  

We completed two practicals taken from the International Chemistry Olympiad when it was in the UK. Using the same equipment as experts in the field was an excellent experience; the array of nuclear magnetic resonance machines was particularly spectacular. In the first practical we analysed the structure and formula of a copper complex using titrations. I managed to work out the formula of the complex and my titration results were good enough to achieve full marks. 

We also investigated an interesting chemical called sodium n-dodecyl sulfate (SDS), which has the unique property of having both a hydrophilic and a hydrophobic end to each of its molecules. This is interesting, because when you put the molecules in water, the hydrophobic ends tend to try to leave the water, creating a layer on top of the water. Eventually there is no more room at the top of the container and the molecules start to form spheres called micelles, with the hydrophobic ends all pointing inwards in order to get away from the water around them. We wanted to know what concentration of SDS causes the micelles to form which we achieved by testing the conductivity across the water as we added SDS. This works as the rate at which the conductivity increases will decrease when micelles start forming. It was interesting meeting people with similar passions in science and sharing ideas with them and the academics.” 

Well done Zac, Yuri and Anna! 

3 chemistry students holding award certificates outside Pocklington School chemistry labs