Nottingham Potential Summer School in Green Chemistry

26 Aug 2020

Written by Charlie Swan, Cohort 5

The University of Nottingham’s ‘Nottingham Potential Summer School’ is an annual, fortnight long event that allows hundreds of A-level students the opportunity to experience university life first-hand. It gives them the chance to attend in-person lectures, experience university facilities, accommodation, and gain excellent mentoring towards the UCAS application process. Or at least, this is what usually happens. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, government restrictions on gatherings and many university buildings remaining closed, the Summer School took to the internet – so that the show could go on.

The sustainable chemistry branch of the Summer School is traditionally planned and executed by the CDT cohort in their second year of study. This year was no exception as Cohort 5 stepped up to the plate, adapting an entirely experimental based itinerary into something more conducive to online learning. The previous programme involved experiments such as the synthesis of biodiesel, construction of a battery, generation of sustainable cleaning products from plastic cups, and the extraction of limonene from orange peel. Adapting these projects to form a brief lecture series highlighting the importance of green and sustainable chemistries, was a key objective of the Cohort 5 students as they ventured to adapt the material of previous years.

After much deliberation and hard work, reinterpreting practical experiments into easily digestible and engaging mini-lectures, the Cohort 5 students settled on the three topics for the Summer School. These topics were: sustainable fuels, batteries, and renewable feedstocks – with the lattermost topic viewed from two perspectives. The first of which, looked at recyclable, reusable and biodegradable polymers, whilst the second took a more organic stance, detailing the extraction and subsequent use of natural product molecules. Each of the four presentations were split into two sections – the opening fragment was pre-recorded and delivered an introduction to the topics, followed by a short number of interactive quiz questions. Participants were then allowed a short-break before reconvening ‘in-person’ over Adobe Connect for the live part of the lecture. In part two, the hosts would take the students through the answers to the questions and allow free time for any further questions they may have had.

Overall, in-spite of the circumstances, the Summer School was deemed an almighty success across the subject, with groups of between 30 – 50 students participating in each of the Sustainable Chemistry interactive sessions. The opportunity also allowed Cohort 5 the chance to engage with the process of teaching younger audiences. In addition to the challenge of adapting material from a practical setting to a short series of lectures, but still providing the same level of interest and enthusiasm. These e-learning materials will remain preserved in the annals of the University’s online resources for years to come – accessible at future opportunities to teach hundreds more prospective students.