Academy students team up with Royal Society on science project

School scientists are getting a taste of university-level research in a prestigious project supported by The Royal Society.

The King’s Academy, in Coulby Newham, has teamed up with Teesside University in a partnership that is extending the knowledge of A-level chemistry students.

The students are working with Dr Anna Reynal and Dr Joseph McGinnis from the university, along with their own teacher Dr Brian Casson, on the project called Artificial Photosynthesis: the challenge of mimicking plants.

They are seeking to create a renewable energy source by recreating the natural process of photosynthesis, a growing area of research that is attracting interest from scientists, governments and companies.

The project is supported by The Royal Society, which has awarded it a partnership grant of £2,938.

Dr Reynal explained:

Our outreach officer wrote to schools to invite them to collaborate with us and The King’s Aacademy replied to say there were very interested in this kind of project.

“The aim is to work out how to capture and store solar energy by mimicking plants that use energy from the sun to convert water and carbon dioxide into fuel. Compared to photovoltaics which convert solar energy directly into electrical energy, artificial photosynthesis can potentially be used to capture, store, and transport energy by transforming sunlight into chemical energy.”

The students have so far had two out of 11 sessions, which will take place at the academy and in laboratories at the university up until Easter, concluding with a presentation of their results to other A-level and GCSE students.

Dr Casson said:

This parternship project is a fantastic opportunity for our Year 12 chemistry students to get involved in some real research, doing controlled experiments in the lab, using equipment they haven’t used before and extending their knowledge above and beyond the curriculum.”

Student Leon Matthews, 17, of Coulby Newham, said: “I’m really enjoying it. It’s great to do something outside the syllabus and have the opportunity to do research and practicals in the lab. It’s taking an abstract concept and testing it, which is really important.”

Steven Simpson, outreach officer from The Royal Society, said it was one of only 40 partnership grant projects in the UK this year.

He added:

It was encouraging to see the university driving this opportunity for schools and to see the students embracing it so enthusiastically. We see it very much as a three way partnership where we don’t just give the grant but we also work together with the academy and the university to help where we can.

“It’s also good for the students to have contact with people for whom science research is their job, for career possibilities but also to raise their awareness and appreciation of science.”

The academy and university have also been invited to take the project to The Royal Society’s annual conference in London next February