Head of Faculty: Dr A.D. Briggs
In the words of the eminent chemist Sir Jack Baldwin: ‘Chemistry is about making forms of matter that have never existed before’.
This was certainly the aim of the alchemists, as they strove to turn base metals into gold. Nowadays, chemistry is studied for less mercenary means, though designing and making new molecules is still very much at the heart of the subject. New substances such as anti-cancer drugs, contraceptives and biodegradable plastics would not exist without the chemical knowledge used to create them.
The sense of discovery and understanding by experimentation is vital to the study of chemistry at Shrewsbury. From the creation of pigments and paints that mirror those of Renaissance Italy, to the extraction of natural oils from herbs and fruits, deeper understanding of things around us comes from dealing with the molecules that comprise these substances at first hand. Pupils have also tried their hand at extracting the 'heat' from chillies (the substance capsaicin) and iodine (an antiseptic) from seaweed.
At Shrewsbury Chemistry is taught by seven specialist teachers, who are supported by one full-time and two part-time lab technicians. The Faculty is extremely well equipped and is housed in a modern building that includes six full-size laboratories, access to extensive IT suites, a large science lecture theatre and a sixth form project room. We also have both UV/visible and infra-red spectrophotometers that are used for the analysis and detection of chemicals. Each laboratory is equipped with separate practical and teaching area, two fume cupboards, a networked computer and interactive projector system having access to all shared teaching resources.
The enthusiasm of the pupils for the subject is mirrored in the fact that for the last four years the uptake at AS level is over 60, with the vast majority staying on for A2, making it one of the most popular subjects offered at Shrewsbury. This is also an indication that the subject has become more accessible to all in the last few years (as opposed to being merely for those pupils in the top sets at GCSE). The subject makes for a challenging A level however, and the department runs not only a weekly drop in 'clinic', but also offers a 'mathematics for chemists' course at the beginning of the AS year; we feel that this is one of the main areas of weakness for some pupils.
Each year several pupils make the decision to study chemistry or a closely related subject at one of the top Universities, and about 4 or 5 pupils per year apply to read chemistry or biochemistry at Oxford, or natural sciences at Cambridge. Classes to prepare these pupils run throughout the Michaelmas term; these ‘enhancement’ sessions are intended to appeal to anyone in the sixth form with an interest in taking the subject further.
Each year approximately 15 Sixth Form students tackle the chemistry RSC Olympiad paper in February. In 2014 a total of 19 students were awarded medals, including three golds, which recognise the students as being amongst the top 50 chemists in the country. All students are prepared in special classes for both of these 'papers' by a series of seminar enhancement sessions up to the exam in February.
Since 2012, a group of Lower Sixth students has taken part in the annual Cambridge Chemistry Challenge (endorsed and sponsored by St Catharine’s College at Cambridge University) after their AS examinations. In both 2013 and 2014 one of our students achieved the highest award – a Roentgenium medal – awarded to the top 0.8% of entrants. In addition 18 students have earned Gold awards, 26 have earned Silver and 46 have earned Copper.
Three members of the Lower Sixth represent the School at the Midlands heat of the RSC Young Analyst Competition every year. In 2013 we were placed third, just missing out on a place in the National Final. We qualified for the National Final in 2010 and just finished outside the top three places.
Our pupils are also involved outside of the classroom at a Junior level. Four pupils ranging from Third Form to Fifth Form age take part each year in the RSC's Chemistry Quiz competition. In 2012, two pupils from each of the Fourth and Fifth Forms reached the semi-finals, held at the University of Birmingham.
Each Sixth Form chemist attends at least one lecture demonstration at the University of Birmingham, a venture intended to stimulate further intellectual interest in the subject. Any forthcoming lectures in the current term will be found on our Academic lectures page.
Chemistry is a science which crosses over into many other aspects of the Curriculum; the debate between science and religion, the chemistry of Art, the history and Philosophy of Science. The ideal chemist should be an expert practitioner, a competent mathematician, and should have the ability to articulate chemical concepts through the written and spoken word. It is these skills that we aim to build up in our students during their study of chemistry at Shrewsbury.
We study the Edexcel IGCSE course, which provides a good foundation from which to transfer to further study with confidence.
At A level we study the OCR A course. The course has been modernised and includes more chemistry that is relevant to the present and with plenty of opportunity for practical work.