Our Outreach & Public Engagement programme seeks to create collaborative working relationships between our students and the Schools Outreach and Public Engagement teams within the Department of Chemistry, alongside local schools, colleges and University departments. Our main aim is to make science more exciting, understandable and relevant to the general public, in an attempt to encourage more people to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects generally and chemistry in particular.
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Collectively, our students have already participated in more than sixty hands-on activities, directed to students ranging from 5-18 years old, and covering several areas of chemistry: catalytic decomposition, natural product chemistry, combinatorial esters, forensics, chirality in nature and chemistry, the chemistry of dyes, and so on.

Students also work with UNIQ summer school students, delivering tutorial sessions to give them a flavour of the tutorial system at Oxford, and fun lab demonstrations such as the extraction of limonene, making polymers, depressing the freezing point of water and making chemical models.

Some of our students have participated in the popular workshop “Spectroscopy in a Suitcase”, which is a Royal Society of Chemistry initiative for teaching spectroscopy through hands-on experience to year 10-12 students. As well as covering the principles of spectroscopic techniques, the activities use real-life contexts to demonstrate the applications of the techniques.

Our students have also developed and presented new, exciting activities to schools across Oxfordshire, including a Murder Mystery workshop and explaining VSEPR theory with balloons.
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Murder Mystery Workshop
Developed by four 2014 cohort students (Kilian, Joe, James and Yao), the aim is to identify a suspect that has been involved in a fictional crime, using chemistry techniques based around the theme of “How do chemists identify molecules”.
In each session, students are given an introductory brief, and then split into groups and rotated around three separate stations.
Three analytical techniques are used to narrow down five suspects to one: thin layer chromatography (TLC), Infrared (IR) spectroscopy and pH measurements. With the data obtained from all three techniques, students are then able to identify the fictional culprit. This workshop has been extremely well received, delivering highly impressed and very smiley students at the end of the activity.
Explaining VSEPR Theory
Our students Oliver and Alison (2014 cohort) devised a way of explaining Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion (VSEPR) theory using balloons to represent molecule structures in 3D space, progressively popping the balloons to alter the shape of the molecule in accordance with common VSEPR structures. A simple, fun way to present a complex topic.

Sessions have attracted with very positive feedback from students and teachers alike: “A very well presented workshop, with good student engagement and enthusiastic speakers!”
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Oxford Soapbox Science
Soapbox Science is a novel public outreach platform to promote women scientists and the science they do. One of our students participated on the Oxford Soapbox Science event, which involved speaking to the general public in one of Oxford’s busiest streets for an hour about her DPhil research in natural product synthesis. Leading up to the day, Minh attended workshops run by Soapbox Science to discuss how to engage with the public, to pilot her activities and to meet other selected speakers, and wrote a blog post to promote her activities and research: 'The quest to surpass Nature - what does she know that chemists don’t?'.
Minh prepared a variety of hands-on activities to explain the importance of medicinal compounds found in nature, the relevance of total synthesis, and the benefits of cascade total synthesis. Her confident nature attracted the public’s attention and Minh delivered an excellent talk, which was articulate and informative.
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Minh Tran (2014 cohort)
Keen to share her passion for chemistry, Minh had her first encounters with Outreach and Public Engagement while she was still an undergraduate student here at Oxford. Since then, she has been repeatedly recognised with prizes and awards for her outstanding contributions to the area. We asked Minh to tell us about some of the most recent activities she has participated in and to explain us what drove her to get involved with Outreach & Public Engagement.
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Outreach activities certainly provide another skill set within PhD training, and serve the important purpose of popularising research science to young pupils and the public in general.
"With a multitude of outreach and public engagement bodies around Oxford, I always have the opportunity to be engaged with various activities in dfferent formats. The most recent public engagement session was a Facebook Live interview with Oxford Sparks to discuss ‘Can we make something from nothing’, alongside Research Fellows in Astrophysics and Computer Science. As a conscious effort to aspire pupils to science, especially those from schools with little Oxbridge history, there are plenty of Science Festivals and Open Days around Oxford. I often volunteer at such events, for example, by running the Epigenetics Game with the Royal Society of Biology at the Museum of Natural History.

I have been involved with outreach since undergraduate, and first volunteered as a mentor on the SchoolsPlus programme, under OxfordHub. We organised and ran weekly afterschool clubs for pupils at the Oxford Academy to recap and expand concepts from their taught lessons, help with university applications, and run experiments outside the syllabus. Besides the helpful training provided by TeachFirst and The Brilliant Club, I valued the opportunities to work with and aspire young pupils to science at higher education, which became the fundamental reason for my continuation of outreach.

Having participated in a number of activities throughout the years, the enjoyment and excitement come afresh each time from working with new groups of organisers and volunteers, and meeting different sets of pupils or the public with varying knowledge and questions.
Overall, the various experiences have taught me the flexibility in delivering my ideas to different groups of audience, how the engagement can be kept by linking to applications in everyday’s life, and not to be afraid to explain unfamiliar concepts: the public is very keen to learn. Outreach and Public Engagement activities certainly provide another skill set within PhD training, and more importantly, they serve the important purpose of popularising research science to young pupils and the public in general.”
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Department of Chemistry
Chemistry Research Laboratory
12 Mansfield Road
Oxford, OX1 3TA
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