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OUASSA Chemistry projects

What is Chemistry?

Chemistry is an essential part of everyday life. It underpins many other sciences and is frequently referred to as the central science. So what is chemistry?

The simplest description is the study of matter, which includes everything you can see, feel, taste and touch, for example: how things change when they are heated or cooled, how things interact when they are mixed together and the design of new materials for modern applications.

Chemistry research covers a huge field and includes: the interaction of molecules with light, developing new energy sources such as next generation solar cells, supramolecular chemistry, synthesis of new drugs and drug delivery methods, the development of new ‘smart’ polymers, conducting polymers, molecular machines, marine and freshwater chemistry, environmental pollution and forensics.

Chemistry is at the leading edge of many of the scientific advances of the modern world and as such really is ‘the central science’.

January Summer Science Camp

When particles get really small (< 100 nm in size) their behaviour changes drastically from the same material that’s in everyday use, so for example suspension of gold particles can appear a dark ruby red colour. During this camp you are going to prepare silver nanoparticles and look at how their colour changes depending on their size and shape. There will be some simple redox chemistry involved in the preparation and you will take spectra of the suspensions to see how the particle properties effect their interaction with light.

We will also run a project funded through the unlocking curious minds fund based on mānuka chemistry. Mānuka is widely known as a source of anti-biotic molecules such as those found in honey. However, it also contains many other chemicals in its leaves that are interesting and the plant is currently under extensive investigation to find out how the chemistry of mānuka varies around NZ. One molecule called Grandiflorone is a strong herbicide that we can use for an experiment to assess regional this variation. We will make an extract from mānuka and use it to assess the variability plants from different regions of NZ as active herbicides.

July Winter Science Camp

Gels (like the jelly we eat at home) contain about 90% water.

This property means they can be used to soak up large volumes of liquids like the ones used in nappies or to hold solutions of chemicals such as drugs for cancer treatments. The big problem though is that they are not very strong and it is easy to break them up. There has been a huge amount of research over the past 30 years or more looking at how chemists can improve the strength of gels to extend their possible uses.

In this camp we will look at one way that this can be done. We’ll make an addition polymer from NIPAM and use small nanoparticles of clay to bind to the strands of the polymer and hold the chains together, increasing the strength and elasticity of the gel. The chemistry is based around using alkenes to make polymers combined with intermolecular forces used to hold the clay to the polymer strands, as well as learning some important techniques chemists use to synthesise materials.

More information about Chemistry at Otago

Download the Chemistry (PDF, 300 KB) infosheet for more information about:

  • Suggested background
  • Careers in Chemistry
  • Degree programme
  • Teaching style
  • Postgraduate study

For further information visit the Department of Chemistry website.