Spectroscopy in a Suitcase

Nicholle Bell is a PhD student studying under a Principal's Career Development Scholarship. She is the coordinator for Spectroscopy in a Suitcase, which brings the beauty of spectroscopy to schools in Scotland.

Nicholle Bell

I have always been eager to spread awareness of science amongst the general public. During my MChem studies here at Edinburgh, I performed experiments for visitors at the University open days, demonstrated for school pupils at various science festivals across the UK, and even performed the synthesis of chloroform, while interviewed by Sir Ian Wilmut on BBC Radio Scotland.

Now, as a first year postgraduate student on a Principal's Career Development Scholarship, I am able combine my research interest, the development and application of novel NMR and MS techniques to characterise some of the most complex mixtures on this planet, with my passion for science communication.

It is through this scholarship that I have been appointed as coordinator of Spectroscopy in a Suitcase (SIAS) Scotland. SIAS is an RSC outreach programme developed to give school pupils an opportunity to learn, in their classroom at no cost, about spectroscopy via hands on experience. This scheme has just landed in Scotland and we have a miniature ATR FT-IR (a. k. a. Alphie) spectrometer and an UV-VIS spectrophotometer that we hope will captivate pupils in modern analytical science. And yes, they really do come in suitcases!

So far my role has involved spreading the word of SIAS. In late 2011, I teamed up with RSC outreach team at the Science at the Parliament event at Our Dynamic Earth, where I managed to entertain SMP John Sweeney in the power of FT-IR spectroscopy with a bit of help from a whisky sample. More recently, I had a great time training my first group of high school teachers. It was rewarding to see their enthusiasm for SIAS. As of Feb 17 th the spectrometers have been let loose into the world as the lending programme commenced (a tissue moment).

SIAS is cementing my passion for spectroscopy and science communication. I am meeting lots of interesting people, learning about different spectrometers (and suitcases!), how to hold a successful events, how to teach others etc. The program has also shown me how our technology is advancing. Even NMR spectrometers will one day be made to fit in a suitcase to be carried around Scotland, my ultimate dream.

For now I am concentrating on how to serve a whole country of school pupils with a one set of kit. I hope to train some ambassadors across Scotland to help me with carrying out training sessions and workshops. However, right now I would like to spread the word that SIAS is here. So if you know any chemistry teachers who would be interested in using SIAS, please put them in touch with me (N.G.A.Bell@sms.ed.ac.uk). Everyone deserves an insight into the beautiful world of spectroscopy!