Chemistry @ Imperial Festival


Chemistry @ the Imperial Festival

A Chemical Canary

Researchers & students from the Department of Chemistry took their research to the public at the Imperial Festival

Researchers & students from the Department of Chemistry took their research to the public at the third Imperial Festival on the 9th and 10th May. There an estimated 12,000 members of the public was able to find out more about chemistry and the research work being done in the Department.

Chemistry Undergraduates Welcome Festivalgoers

Chemistry UGs bubbles demo

A group of undergraduate students welcomed attendees at the Imperial Festival with impressive displays of self-assembled surfactant membranes - otherwise known as “bubbles”!  As well as flooding the air around the festival entry area with bubbles, the students demonstrated the structure of a bubble, how a bubble forms, and how other shapes can be created, including cubic and tetrahedral bubbles.

Varieties of self-assembled membranes such as these are encountered widely, from nanotechnology applications, drug delivery mechanisms, and even in biology - self assembled phospholipid membranes form the cell walls of every cell in our bodies.

Everyone was keen to know the recipe for our bubble mix for a “Do try this at home” demo!

A Chemical Canary

Dr James Wilton-Ely and Anita Toscani presented their work on carbon monoxide sensing at the Imperial College Festival with the able and enthusiastic assistance of Hena Jubeda, Jonathan Robson and James McArdle. While many visitors to the display had heard of carbon monoxide, few knew how it could be detected. They were fascinated to learn how this invisible, odourless gas could be observed by the naked eye through colour changes of a metal complex (a ‘Chemical Canary’). Using a video and a molecular model, they saw how strips with this material can be used in a simple electronic device to create a functioning alarm system for this gas, which kills 30 people a year in the UK. The younger visitors (and some older ones!) enjoyed playing with the glow sticks used to show how chemical reactions can create light. This was linked to the fluorescence response shown by the metal complex, which allows tiny amounts (1 part per billion) of carbon monoxide to be detected.

More on the work in the Wilton-Ely group can be found at:

The Power of Light

Energy from light demonstrations

Dr Thanh-Truc Vu, Dr Anna Reynal and colleagues from the Chemistry Department presented a display entitled “Light, water, power!” Festival goers were able find out how renewable resources such as sunlight and water can be used to produce energy. Visitors started with a hands-on experiment to extract chlorophyll from spinach leaves, while learning of the key role chlorophyll plays at the heart of the photosynthesis process, transforming sunlight into energy. Both adults and children alike enjoyed donning gloves and performing the extraction and filtration of the green chlorophyll. The presenters explained how scientists can mimic Nature in order to produce energy through some simple experiments. A 9V battery attached to two pencils placed in water was used to generate hydrogen by water electrolysis, illustrating the principle of hydrogen fuel cell. The power of light was demonstrated by shining a desk lamp on a dye-sensitized solar cell to make a toy helicopter fly. Through these interactions with the enthusiastic demonstrators, visitors to the stall were able to ask plenty of questions about energy issues and the different solutions demonstrated at the stall. Those who helped on the stand were Maria Izquierdo Arcusa, Madeleine Morris, Daniel Bryant, Katharina Brinkert, Andreas Kafizas, Jeffery So, Hendrik Utzat, Ernest Pastor Hernandez, Marketa Kubankova, Jeffrey Douglass, Xiaoe Li, Jasper Law.

More can be found on the work on renewable energy research at Imperial at:

Best of the Fest



Maria Tortelli

Maria Tortelli
Department of Chemistry

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