Student research success

Yesterday our final year MChem students had a day trip to London to the home of UK chemistry, the Royal Society of Chemistry‘s Burlington House base. The event was an early career research conference on environmental chemistry hosted by the RSC Environmental Chemistry Interest Group

MChem students outside Burlington House

An event of this sort welcomes research presented by PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, a smaller friendlier way to present your work and gain valuable experience as well as find out about a wide range of topics in the area. In this case though, we showcased how undergraduate research can be every bit as important and that it is never too early to start your research career.

The day started with a warm welcome and some interesting talks from early career researchers from several different institutions.
Good time was given to the poster session which allowed the presenters time to speak to everyone about their work. The worthy winner of the poster prize certainly had a good talking point with acetate overlays for her mapping project of lead in Glasgow. Interactive posters, a great idea. Our students got to talk to PhD students about their work and what it was like to do a PhD, the real life version from the coal-face.

 

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Lunch provided additional networking opportunities, and a free lunch which students always seem to enjoy! Though for one of our students the nerves were setting in as her talk neared.

Sarah Chandler presented her work from her third year research project on developing autonomous electrochemical sensors to analyse metals in the marine environment. It’s quite unusual for third year students to undertake real research but here at Brighton we feel it’s the best way of developing their practical skills and ability to think about more than what is presented for examination. Starting in the third year also means they are already skilled researchers by the time it comes to their final year projects and their can use this experience when applying for PhD positions.

Sarah’s project was very successful and she worked hard to understand a new area and add her own ideas during the process. Ultimately she managed to develop a sensor that could detect sub-ppb levels of As in real samples, and with a little more development should work well in the field without additional reagents. During the talk she impressed with her knowledge and ability to convey the intricacies of her work with clarity and interest. That she is still to complete her first degree only added to the impact of her presentation.

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The day ended with a great keynote explaining one very varied career path with some interesting tales and some great advice for the students starting out. Not least that often what seems like a disaster at the time can turn out to be great interview fodder when you explain how you dealt with it.
The final act of the day after thanking all the presenters was the oral presentation prize. Much to her surprise Sarah was awarded the prize, testament to her talents and proving that you don’t have to be doing a PhD to undertake great research. I’m sure she’ll go far.

All the students got so much out of the day, from hearing research from people not far from where they are in their careers, to the great career advice from the two keynotes and the networking opportunities provided so well throughout the day. We’d like to thank the RSC Environmental Chemistry Group organising committee for a successful day, we’ll definitely be back.

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A Level Thursday

Today is A level results day and our next cohort of students are receiving their results. We’d like to congratulate and welcome those who now have unconditional places with us. We are really looking forward to meeting you at the end of September and hope you are excited about joining our community. We have a Student Union facebook groups and our ChemSoc has their own Facebook group as well which you are welcome to join. You can get to know others on the course and at Brighton and find out what you could be doing when you get here.

For those who have not got quite what they were hoping for we still have a few places left on MChem, BSC(hons) Chemistry and BSc(hons) Pharmaceutical and Chemical Sciences. Call our clearing hotline on 01273 644000 and see if we can help you with your next steps. For more information on Clearing please visit our website

Why Brighton?

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Second guest slot on our blog is from MChem student Lorraine Amponsah who is currently on placement with BMW. Here she tells us how her studies at Brighton have helped her during her placement.

It has to be agreed that the University of Brighton’s unique selling point is its emphasis on the practical and analytical aspects of Chemistry – putting it simply: the course provides you with the skills and knowledge “that matter”, and are necessary for employment within the chemical industries. In many ways, my placement at the BMW Hams Halls Laboratory, as a Chemist, has consolidated much of the theory knowledge and practical skills that I acquired during the course of my degree.

On enrolling on MChem Chemistry, I was given the option to select either Biochemistry or Geochemistry as the theme to which would underpin my degree. Opting for the latter resulted in me undertaking the 2nd year module “Soil and Water Analysis”. Admittedly, at the time I struggled to understand the significance of water testing methods – “soil and water”, and “chemistry”? What was the correlation?
Excessive rainfall increases the risk of stored diesel, petrol and glycol leaching into the ground waters, and the surrounding environment; as such, BMW Chemists regularly carry COD (chemical oxygen demand) tests on site-water samples and trade effluent samples – the very same technique I had been introduced to during my “Soil and Water Analysis” laboratory sessions at university.

My efforts in completing the ‘Analytical Chemistry’ assignments have paid off in untold amounts. My sound understanding of validation parameters (reliability, precision, accuracy, specificity, ruggedness etc.) – gained as a result of the assigned ‘Validation Proposal’ analytical project – enabled me to strategically plan, and execute a series of laboratory experiments which resulted in the development of an alternative, more cost effective method of determining ‘oil content in machining coolants’ – a method soon to be shared with the BMW Chemistry teams in Germany, China, South Africa and the USA.
​It wasn’t so long ago that I and my classmates nervously tried our hand at analysing the calcium content of ‘infant formula’ by MP-AES, supervised by a chemistry demonstrator; but now, 12 months on, I can independently, and confidently analyse waste water samples for dissolved metals, using that very same analytical instrument!

There is the unfortunate scenario, that on testing, an engine malfunctions and explodes – and what a sight it is! On being provided with a sample of oil extracted from the engine, it is my job as a chemist to play “detective”. Using gravimetric analysis (as taught in first year) I am first able to ‘reveal’ any contaminants collected on the filter paper, and it is then through the employment of FTIR analysis that I am able identify the contaminant based on its produced spectra (an extension of the Physical Chemistry practical undertaken in 2nd year).

I could draw many parallels between chemistry course material, and real-world industry, but I’m sure you get the picture!

Now aware of the industrial-relevance of my course, I’ll return to complete my undergraduate studies with more focus and a greater sense of direction, safe within the knowledge that whichever chemical field I eventually choose to pursue – be it in automotive manufacture, oil & gas or materials research – my Chemistry degree at Brighton will have provided me with the skills necessary for me to excel.