On Friday 9th November 4 Northgate students, Jimmy, Ollie, Hannah and Kayla headed to Briar Chemicals in Norwich to take part in the ‘Top of the Bench’ competition, a Science Investigation Day run by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The theme for the competition this year was water with 4 investigations to complete, looking at the properties of water, finding out where some water comes from, looking at when substances dissolve and watching bubbles. Here’s what they had to do:

  • The first task involved investigating 3 samples of water and analysing them for calcium hardness using a titration. They were then able to predict where the water was from based on a map and some information about routes water may have taken by the time it finds its way into our water supplies.
  • The second task looked at dissolving substances in a solvent and looking at the change in temperature, completing a table of values and graph to show the results.
  • The third task was based around surfactants – substances which significantly decrease the surface tension of water at relatively low concentrations. The team investigated this by measuring electrical conductivity of a solution at increasing strength.
  •  In the final task the team were provided with some sultanas and a bottle of sparkling water. When sultanas are placed in still water they sink however something different happens in sparkling water. The team had to describe what happened in the sparkling water using correct scientific terms. They had to think of any application or process that makes use or could make use of their findings, with extra points for innovation.

At the end of the competition students had the chance to go on a tour of the site and find out a bit more about what it’s like to work on a chemical plant.

Jimmy gives us his take on the day and what he did as part of the competition, ‘I was one of the four students from Northgate. When we arrived we had to wait for the other schools before we were shown to the lab where the challenge would take place.

In the first round we were given three water samples from different areas of the country and a map describing the soil all over England. We had to work out where the samples were from based on their pH and the calcium hardness of the soil which we worked out by using a standard soap solution to work out at what volume the sample bubbled. The second task was performed by Hannah and Kayla, so Ollie and I moved on to task three. This involved measuring the conductivity of water as more and more solution was added and plotting a graph based on the results. The fourth task was a time filler and involved giving an explanation for raisins floating in carbonated water.

After the challenge there was a quiz to fill time before the results were revealed. We were not in the top three but we did well. Soon after we were shown around the site, we saw the packing area, the power generators and the control room for one of the production lines. It was very interesting and our guide was very helpful.




Although Northgate’s team did not win, we hope it inspired them with their Science and to perhaps pursue a career in this area. A big thank you to Briar Chemicals for hosting the competition, the staff involved in supporting the event and the Royal Society of Chemistry. We look forward to next year’s competition!

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