Northwood College for Girls hosts the ‘Spectroscopy in a Suitcase’

Science Sixth Form

On 18 March 2015, student ambassadors from Imperial College London visited Northwood College for the ‘Spectroscopy in a Suitcase’ workshop.

This was an exciting opportunity for the A Level students to gain experience using state of the art chemical analysis tools, the Infra-Red and NMR spectrometers. The equipment was brought to school in suitcases, hence the name Spectroscopy in a Suitcase!

There are naturally numerous different organic substances and there needs to be a way of identifying the particular chemical in a substance. For example, if you have a test tube of a colourless liquid, you cannot just assume that it is water; it might be hydrochloric acid, ethanol or methanol, none of which are safe to drink.Infra-red spectroscopy, mass spectrometry as well as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) are various ways which allow identification of compounds so that chemists know what they are dealing with.

We had the opportunity to prepare standard infra-red spectra as well as mass spectra, which were introduced at AS Level Chemistry and are currently applied further in the A2 course. NMR spectroscopy is mainly studied at A2 Level; this was illustrated and practised as well.

Certainly, the most interesting part was getting to see how these spectra, which we see in our textbooks all the time, are actually produced.An Imperial College chemist would hand us a chemical sample, which we would then pipette onto a portable spectrometer, which is essentially a laptop sized box with a small plate at the centre, onto which the unknown compound is placed. This was connected to a computer which would then produce a spectrum which looks more like the following infra-red spectrum: After that, we analysed the spectra we had made and tried to identify the compounds we were dealing with, using the theory covered in class.

Our thanks go to the Imperial College Outreach Department and to our Chemistry Department at for organising such an educational and informative event

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