Sixth-Formers hear world-leading academic’s plea on plastics

Eighteen Year 12 chemists heard the world’s first professor of sustainable energy make a call for concerted global action on reducing waste.

QE Sixth-Former Souhardh Kotakadi was one of two members of the audience invited forward by Professor Tom Welton at the lecture in London to take part in an experiment designed to illustrate how Chemistry can be made more sustainable.

Professor Welton, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College London, was giving the annual Daniell Lecture at Kings College London, entitled Chemistry for a Cleaner World. The lectures cover exciting contemporary developments in Chemistry and are aimed at A-Level students and teachers. They are delivered by internationally renowned scientists chosen not only for their contribution to modern scientific knowledge, but also for their ability to communicate to a young audience.

""Chemistry teacher David Crouch said: “Such ‘super-curricular’ events are a great opportunity for QE students to look beyond the school curriculum and explore their own academic interests in more depth. This will be fundamental when writing their university applications at the start of Year 13.”

In a report, Souhardh and his Year 12 classmate, Dillon Shah, recounted the substance of the lecture: “One of the underlying issues raised was the significant amount of wastage produced by industrial processes in the chemical industry and the dreadful impact that this has on the environment. For example, Professor Welton mentioned that the majority of the material wasted by today’s generation is plastic, which collects in localised points in the world’s oceans.

""“His message to the audience was simple: in order to be chemically sustainable, we need to recycle, reuse and compost more. He gave the example of how waste is often reused on ships returning to China: having offloaded their cargo in the UK, waste material from the UK is used by the ships as ballast to provide stability and reduce fuel use, before being ultimately recycled in China. He also highlighted the need to steer away from fossil fuels and turn to alternative, sustainable sources of energy, especially biofuels.”

Souhardh gave details of the experiment he took part in at the front of the auditorium: “It showed the effect of a catalyst on the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide (2H2O2 (aq) ? 2H2O (l) + O2 (g)), a reaction used historically for propelling rockets. By adding potassium iodide, the hydrogen peroxide decomposed faster than when a biological catalyst (chopped liver) was added. The reaction produced a volcano of foam, otherwise known as ‘elephant toothpaste’, due to the oxygen gas formed being trapped in air pockets in the soap.”