Famous chemists? Scotland has it all mapped out

16th December 2011 at 00:00
Pupils plot scientists and their discoveries in an online project

Scotland's chemistry claims to fame are being recognised on an interactive map that pupils are creating as part of an international celebration of science.

Dozens of students from Scottish secondary schools have posted essays describing their home towns' links to famous chemists or chemical discoveries.

Their work is represented on the map by a symbol that can be clicked on to bring up pupils' written descriptions of the important chemical finding, place or person.

Entries range from Sir William Ramsay, the 19th-century Glasgow-born professor who discovered the noble gases, to the village of Strontian, in Argyll, which gave its name to the mineral strontium, first found there in the late 1700s.

Called the Chemistry Map of Scotland, the project was dreamed up by a university academic to help mark the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) 2011.

Richard Baker's innovative idea has been welcomed widely by teachers as a new tool for cross-curricular learning.

At Lossiemouth High, S4 pupil Matthew Bradshaw researched Sir James Dewar, who invented the Dewar flask. "I found the research task very interesting and enjoyed learning about a famous scientist who once lived near me," he said.

Robert Campbell, principal teacher of chemistry at Lossiemouth, described the map as a "useful exercise" covering Curriculum for Excellence criteria for all levels, particularly online research skills.

Dr Baker, senior lecturer in chemistry and materials science at St Andrews University, said: "I came up with this idea of a chemistry map of Scotland because I thought it would be a nice way of making chemistry relevant to Scottish children, rather than giving them abstract equations, which they have to learn and may not understand.

"Giving chemistry a geographical context links it to their communities and experiences. They may have parents or grandparents who worked in some of the industries that may no longer exist, like mining, which produced chemicals that they can then find out more about."

The map is dedicated to Dr Baker's late colleague and keen educationist, Nigel Botting, who died of cancer earlier this year, aged 48.

Dr Botting, also a senior lecturer in chemistry at St Andrews, was well known to many teachers and pupils.

Every year, he organised the national Scottish meeting for teachers of chemistry, the Scottish Council of Independent Schools' chemistry masterclass, and helped pupils with their Advanced Higher projects.

He was also a key figure in the establishment of the chemistry map project.

The map is one of two Scotland-wide projects for IYC 2011 funded through a pound;4,000 award from the Royal Society for Chemistry.

There are hopes that the map may be expanded in the future to cover the rest of the UK.

www.chemistrymapof scotland.org

julia.horton@tess.co.uk.

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