Superacids

The concept of superacids was a new on to me until the other day when I read about a chemistry competition that had been held in Moscow earlier this summer. You may have been in this very competition so, if you had, and I get something wrong, please do put me right! The competition asked students to 'design' (on paper) an alien blood that resembled the blood in the 'Alien' movies. If you recall, this blood needed to be capable of ...

Collision theory and mechanisms – linking it together

I’ve just started teaching the kinetics topic to my students and so far we have focussed on the collision theory. Have you heard of this? The collision theory explains to us what happens during chemical reactions in terms of the collision of particles. In order for a chemical reaction to occur, particles need to come together (collide) with sufficient energy (speed). This is called the activation energy (and is defined as the minimum amount of energy required for a chemical reaction). If ...

Making esters

We carried out a great lab in school today, making esters. Have you ever done this? What was good about it was that we used a good range of reagents and got some very different results. I set the class up with a range of alcohols and carboxylic acids and told them it was up to them what they wanted to make. We used microscale quantities for two important reasons: 1, As a safety precaution The beauty of using the microscale quantities is that ...

Teaching optical isomers

I've just started to teach this topic to my students. It doesn't take too long but I do find it an enjoyable topic to teach. But how do you teach it? I always warn the students that the topic is jargon heavy - the words / phrases used in the topic such as  chiral, racemic, racemate, optically active are all pretty specific to optical isomers and are not used outside of the topic. In my teaching I have found that students understand the ...

Optical isomerism

Optical isomers are hard to conceptualise. They are molecules with the same molecular formula and structural formula. They look exactly the same both on paper and in the real world. However, they only exist in pairs, it is only possible to get two optical isomers of the same molecule which makes things a bit easier to deal with (it should be notes that a molecule such as C5H12 has three isomers - not optical isomers but structural isomers, namely pentane, 2 methylbutane ...

Synthesis of Aspirin

Aspirin has been with us for long time - the first documented reports of its use occurred over 2000 years ago. That said, the aspirin may not be in the form that you instantly think of (ie, a tablet) but it has been used all the same. Aspirin is an analgesic, which means it has pain killing effects and it has been well documented that the ancient Egyptians used a special tea made out of willow bark to treat a number ...

Practical application of the ideal gas equation

How many moles of air are in your lab? What mass is this air? These are a couple of great questions you can set your students and ask them to come up with some answers using the ideal gas equation. You will need a barometer (to determine the air pressure), a thermometer (to determine the temperature of the lab) and a rule to calculate the volume of the lab and hopefully some imaginative students. I carried out this work with my class a while ...

Carrying out a good IA project

Have you stated your Internal Assessment(IA) yet? If you are a 'May session' school, this anytime from May of IB1 until December of IB2 seems a likely time that your school will carry this out with you and ask you to write it up. Which means that you need to get some ideas on what types of things you can investigate. However, the aim of this blog post is to give you some ideas for writing and carrying out a good ...

Good Practice – Carrying out a lab

Here is an idea I got from a colleague of mine recently for a novel way of getting your students to plan a lab investigation. It is a model that could be rolled back and used in a variety of labs and it is very straightforward to do. Essentially, you give the students a task (for example, testing for halides) and then give the students a framework in which they can plan their own personal investigation. For example, you give them ...

VX – What is it?

Over this last month or so, the nerve agent VX has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons but I did think it was worth looking at the chemistry of this molecule in this moths blog post. The obvious question is what is it? VX, or, to use the full IUPAC name is actually Ethyl ({2-ethyl}sulfanyl)(methyl)phosphinate. It is referred to as VX as it is a ‘V’ series of nerve agents (‘V’ stands for venom) and was first syntheiszed in the ...