Chemistry at Work – Chemistry in Museums: Elements and Meteorites

This year the ‘Chemistry at Work exhibition’ – Chemistry in Museums: Elements and Meteorites event was held online with clips of Dr Mike Simms work as a Geologist working in NI museums discussed topics such as Elements, Life and Death and Technology.  After the material was viewed in class an online meeting was organised with Mrs Hampton’s Year 12 Chemistry group for this morning, for Dr Simms to explain his work further and answer questions.

“The elements found within meteorites are no different from those on Earth but analyzing the minerals and metal alloys of which they are made can tell us of the chemical and physical processes that created them. It tells us that the early Solar System was a strange place. Hundreds of planets (not just eight) once orbited the Sun. Many were molten for the first few million years. Some contain mineral grains that were formed in stars even before our own Sun existed. A few contain amino acids; are they evidence for life, or just the ingredients for life? Meteoriticists (not meteorologists – they study the weather) use some of the most cutting-edge analytical techniques and there can be few areas of chemistry more fascinating than the study of meteorites.”

He also discussed more unusual jobs open to those who studied Chemistry such as Geologists, Archeologists, Forensics and Space Chemistry; using rock and mineral samples to highlight his information and showing the importance of these jobs today.  He also looked at spectroscopic ways to analyse rock and mineral samples and the importance of them.

Mrs Hampton’s class asked the question “What is your favourite rock or mineral?”

“…a mineral called Rhenite which is made of Rhenium sulfide.  It is a dark rock with silver sparkles which he was able to show us.  It can only be found in one place so far on earth, in Russia, where a volcano is spewing approximately 20 tons of Rhenium a year.  Rhenium has one of the highest melting points of all elements, exceeded only by tungsten and carbon. It is also one of the most dense, exceeded only by platinum, iridium, and osmium. This is important as it is the only large source of rhenium known which is a rare metal with can be used in filaments for mass spectrographs and ion gauges; in electrical contact material, as it has good wear resistance and withstands arc corrosion; in wire used in flash lamps for photography and in additives to tungsten and molybdenum-based alloys to increase ductility at higher temperatures. Because of rhenium’s high resistance to poisoning from nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus, rhenium catalysts are used for the hydrogenation of fine chemicals and the disproportionation of alkenes but are favourite use is for making space rockets due to its very high melting point.”

“Overall it was a very informative morning and one which my Year 12 group really enjoyed, as we learnt not only about career options but also about elements and meteorites.”

Thanks to Mrs Hampton for her report on this event.

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Publicity Coordinator from 2016 to 2022. Passionate about both the school News Team and Art and Design, Mrs Best also teaches junior ICT, RE and LLW.

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