Last week I got the opportunity, more by fluke than by judgement and planning, to sit in on a chemistry lecture course at the University of Manchester. Now you are probably thinking is this really blog worthy? And you’d be wrong if you thought it wasn’t. Why? Well let me tell you…………

I should start out by explaining why I was in the lecturer theatre the other morning. I’ve been really keen to do some OutReach for chemistry and science in general. So I had got in touch with my old supervisor and RSC local section chair Frank Mair.

The afternoon before my surprise lecture I had taken up far too much of his time talking about OutReach and we had run through a few ways I could help. To be honest it was brilliant to catchup with Frank and what he is doing for the RSC and University chemistry OutReach is rather amazing.

This conversation of course rolled onto the subject of the Manchester Science Festival which unfortunately for me I’ve managed to miss out on the field training leaving “office work” only. Booo hisss. I digress. So Frank is hosting/presenting/headlining two shows or at least two shows:

During the discussion of the shows Frank mentioned that “tomorrow” he was also doing a little something. Now I had misunderstood and thought he was doing a pre-show practise. But in fact and this is where it gets interesting this actually was part of a chemistry lecture. That is correct as in a lecture as part of your normal chemistry course. A first year chemistry lecture even.

Now I didn’t realise this until I had arrived and was chatting with Frank and a second lecturer appeared Alan Brisdon. I sat in both Frank and Alan’s lectures some 15 years or more ago at UMIST so it was quite interesting to see how things had changed.

In fact when I realised it was a lecture I was about to bolt out when I also realised I was at the front and there was no immediate exit route other than up the rather steep steps and back out the door I had entered earlier.

So I plonked myself down in the “RESERVED SEATING AREA” and watched the lecture.

You’ll be happy to know that the fundamentals of the Thompson Plum Pudding and Rutherford atom models are still taught. In a sort of chronological order coupled with how the models have improved theme. There was of course some video stuff as well as all other media from the “powerpoint” slides to even - wait for it - writing on a blackboard! We had even made it to the fascinating world of the quanta when it was time for Frank to step in. I just have to say the time in that lecturer theatre just flew by.

Can you imagine going to your normal chemistry lecture (which was packed by the way) only to discover that about 35/40 minutes into it the last 10/15 minutes would turn into a full on flash bang show! I loved going to lecturers in the first place having things like that would have only made them even more amazing.

So there I was sat front row watching Frank run through line spectra using a very old optical spectrometer circa 1950 (basically a couple of fancy prisms and a narrow aperture) coupled to a modern webcam, which ironically was letting everyone down with its modern cleverness, so the audience could see. But for a change I had also brought in a tiny Ocean Optics UV/VIS spectrometer.

With both a live spectra and the visible line spectra via the webcam showing for each light source the students got to see how the composition of the light alerted. From the “white light source” giving a big lovely broad spectrum then an ultra-sharp line for the sodium lamp and finally the flash bang. Which in this case was Frank’s home made firework - I KID YOU NOT. We got to watch live the spectral characteristics of the different colours being triggered as the firework burnt through the different metal salts. The different metal salts of course having different spectral properties in terms of their emission spectra. A sort of jazzed up old fashioned flame test. In fact that is where Alan had sort of left the lecture talking about the flame test and the emission spectra for different elements. So the link between practical and theory was spot on.

I thought it was just brilliant and I hope the students took something away from it. It also looks like there will be a similar display as part of Frank’s science shows.

Can you wait to see it?

I certainly can not. So book, register do whatever the associated website say (above). I know the flash bang already says it is full but I believe there may be tickets on the night so possibly worth enquiring about that.