John Cleveland College

Cutting-Edge Organic Synthesis in a School Laboratory

Subject: Chemistry
Age: Secondary
Students: 4 pupils from Year 12

Location: East Midlands
Year: 2008
Grant: £1458

Teacher: Dr Catherine Smith
Scientist: Dr Jon Burton and Dr Ed Anderson, Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford

Students at John Cleveland College are performing Nobel Prize-winning organic chemistry in a school laboratory as a result of their Royal Society partnership grant.

Working in the University of Oxford Laboratories.

The initial project set out to expose year 12 students to organic synthesis of the kind they might undertake if they were to carry out a research-based PhD, but with a twist. The research was to be performed in a school laboratory using only the most basic of techniques.

The first group of students completed an 18 month project working towards the synthesis of the molecule shown: A Histamine H3 receptor antagonist that they themselves identified as a possible target from the chemical literature. At each step in the process, the students were able to fully characterise their products using analytical techniques such as NMR, IR and mass spectrometry, services provided by the University of Sheffield.

The students benefitted greatly from close collaboration with their academic mentors, Dr Jon Burton and Dr Ed Anderson from the University of Oxford. They were able to visit Oxford and continue the project in their laboratories during a two day visit over the Easter holidays. The students’ confidence in their practical and academic ability grew substantially through this experience, and many were persuaded to change their career paths to ones involving scientific research.  

Target molecule investigated by John Cleveland College students

The project has continued beyond the initial grant, with a new group of year 12 students engaging each year on work towards the final target molecule. The recent announcement of a share in the award of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Professor Akira Suzuki has provided a real buzz to the project. The Suzuki coupling reaction is the key step in the process studied and the first reaction each group of students attempts.

As a result of the project 8 students have completed or are nearing the completion of a Gold CREST award giving them measurable confirmation of their achievement. The students have presented their work at our community science fair and the East Midlands Big Bang event. These experiences have increased their confidence when discussing science and have helped hugely on their annual round of university interviews.

As well as the Royal Society, we wish to thank Reaxa for additional mentorship and provision of the Pd-EnCat catalyst used in the Suzuki coupling reaction.