Keele scientists help at the Victorian pharmacy

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Posted on 09 March 2011

Scientists from Keele University are working in collaboration with Ironbridge Gorge Museums and local schools to make safe the contents of old display jars in a pharmacy exhibition.

The Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust education officer approached Keele staff last autumn with an unusual problem. They were concerned about the safety of the contents of the display jars in the Victorian pharmacy at the Blist's Hill Victorian Town. They were considering disposing of all the contents, but even that presented potential risks. Finding out exactly what was in the jars seemed essential to deciding what to do next. So Keele staff were approached and asked for help.

The task is an interesting one and three members of staff have been able to offer help. One of these is Dr Katherine Haxton, a chemist who has much expertise in modern analysis in the new labs at Keele. The second is Mr Mark Brennan, whose contributions to the Victorian Pharmacy TV series make him well-placed to assist with the venture. The final contributor is Dr Jane Essex, who works with Chemistry teachers, both those in training and those already in schools, and has forged links with the team of educators at Ironbridge through taking training teachers to the site each year. The Keele team decided it would make an interesting project to involve students from schools.

The work is unusual in school science terms, because the participants face authentic problems with no 'answer sheet' to refer to. The project does, however, create new opportunities for school-based staff to work jointly with university and museum staff, on site and in Keele's analytical labs to solve the problem. One school which has already signed up to assist is Sir Graham Balfour School, Stafford. A second group will be at the University on 7 April.

Dr Essex said: “It seems appropriate that in 2011, the International Year of Chemistry, chemical sciences will be seen by museum visitors and schools to be 'providing solutions', in this case by managing the potential risk at this popular visitor attraction.”