After surviving the 2nd year practical exam at the beginning of last week, the end of the week brought our Salters’ festivals of chemistry. We do two, one is the standard festival with the Salters Challenge then one of our own devising, the second is for SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) students and we do two challenges. The challenge for the SEND festival is to cater to the diverse range of needs the students have while still offering some exciting and engaging science. The SEND festival has run for a good few years, championed by Dr Jane Essex.
This year for our challenges, I went for the RSC Global Experiment, investigating UV-protecting substances and materials. We have an undergraduate experiment that involves investigating sunscreens so I figured we’d have a lot of the kit. For the standard festival, we compared natural oils and commercial sunscreens and how well they blocked UV from changing the colour of UV-active beads. We also tested the best ones using UV-Visible spectrometers. For the SEND festival, we focused on designing a space suit to protect from UV, looking at different materials. The final detail of this was inspired by Doc Kristy’s blog post: making the beads into a necklace and protecting small teddy bears from UV. I thought that would be a little more fun, a little more tangible than a couple of beads on a petri dish. Yes, I did spend a sunny Saturday making teddy bear necklaces (and fending off blackbirds who were trying to eat the beads). The assessment (it is still a competition) was to design the spacesuit and for this we had large printouts of a spacewomen to be annotated with ideas for materials, and in many cases, for sticking material to.
In the end, we had around 92 pupils from 17 local schools and a whole fleet of student and staff helpers. I think most of the helpers got a lot out of the lab sessions and I know I enjoyed it a great deal. That being said, I’m a little glad that the next big outreach event isn’t until June when I’ve got two in quick succession!