The Department aims to teach Chemistry in a way that stimulates students, allowing them to enjoy the classes. We provide an opportunity to become familiar with a range of chemical concepts and ideas, placed as much as possible in the real world.
Welcome to the Chemistry Department
We discuss a range of topics and do a number of appropriate experiments, through which the students learn about Chemistry in particular as well as about general skills such as independent thinking, taking initiative and critical observation. These skills are developed and expanded upon as the students progress from U3 through U5. For those who are keen to take Chemistry through A-level we provide AS and A level classes, challenging the students to venture beyond knowledge and skills acquired thus far.
- Staff List
- Curriculum - AS/A Level
- Curriculum - IGCSE
- Curriculum - KS3
- Reading Lists
- Website Links
Mrs Nicola Austin- Head of Chemistry
Joined St Catherine's in 2007. Prior to this she had spent a year researching the application of mass spectrometry to the study of proteins, and in particular the protein responsible for the body’s response to a lack of oxygen. Applications of spectrometry and spectroscopy remain an area of interest. Outside school she enjoys travelling, especially in South East Asia, and sampling different local cuisines. She also likes to experiment with different recipes in the kitchen.
Mrs Grace Hermitage
Joined the school in September 2014 after having taught Chemistry, Physics and Maths for seven years at The Kingsley School in Royal Leamington Spa where she held the position of Head of Chemistry. Prior to this she had a successful career in the private sector working for blue chip companies in the oil, aviation, and fashion industries. In the final year of her degree she completed a thesis on Chelation in Transition Metal complexes, specifically focusing on stability, synthesis and characterisation. At St Catherine’s Grace is involved in supervising and assessing the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. She has also previously helped run the Sailing Club which has had many recent success winning the Surrey Schools Regatta and various other competitions. Outside school her interests include fence judging for British Eventing, sea and lake fishing, surfing, wind surfing and golf.
Dr Simon Pyburn
Joined St Catherine's in 2021. Prior to this he taught in a number of schools including Rugby School and Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, Elstree where he was also Head of Chemistry. He made two excursions to South America where he served as Head of Science at two British schools; The Grange School in Santiago, Chile and Colegio Colombo Britanico, Cali, Colombia. His PhD studies at University of Leeds involved investigating the binding of polypeptides to transition metal ions, with a focus on understanding synaptic gap chemistry. He travelled to France as part of his PhD studies where he met Jenny, his Argentine wife – they have two grown up children; Daniel & Naomi. Outside school he has enjoyed participating in many sports, with badminton being to the highest level, and road cycling being his current passion. As a Christian he is involved in the life of a local church and has been known to speak in assemblies and chapels from time to time.
Mrs Ceri-Anne Wiskin
Joined St Catherine’s in 2016 having taught Chemistry at George Abbot School for 5 years, then at Tomlinscote School for 3 years where she held the position of Head of Chemistry. In the final year of her degree she completed research into the synthesis of Penicillin and Taxol. At St Catherine’s Ceri is also the Assistant Housemistress of Midleton and is involved in running the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Outside school, her interests include hill walking, rock climbing and swimming.
Mrs Elaine French-Mowat - Chemistry Technician
Joined the school at the start of 2012. Before this she had a career as a Biomedical Scientist specialising in clinical biochemistry in hospital laboratories. Latterly she was employed by NICE testing the efficiency and quality of medical devices and writing research papers on CE marking of medical devices. Extra-curricular interests include taking part in the school Association choir supporting St Helens RLFC and Liverpool FC and walking her dog in the Surrey hills.
Examination Board: Edexcel
Why study Chemistry?
One of the first things that you will notice as you progress through to A Level is that some of the ideas that you took for granted at GCSE level have more to them than you thought. As you gain a deeper understanding of the underlying principles involved, you will start to see how all the many and varied aspects of the subject are held together. The ability to apply your mind in this way is very highly valued in the wider world, hence why Chemistry students rarely find difficulty in obtaining employment. Studying A Level Chemistry will allow you to discover more about the fascinating world we live in and the science behind major technological developments.
AS Level: You will study many topics covered at GCSE level in more depth. These include atomic structure, energetics, rates and amounts of substance. You will also study the foundations of Organic Chemistry and analytical techniques.
A Level: You will learn a wider selection of reactions in Organic Chemistry and how they can be used to synthesise everything from pharmaceuticals to fabrics. You will study analytical techniques with a wide range of applications including forensics, medicine and in industry. Physical Chemistry topics are developed and mathematical techniques are applied to predicting whether reactions occur, interpreting pH and analysing rates information. The colourful world of transition metals and their applications to modern day life are also explored.
A series of core practicals are integrated into the two year course and you will have ample opportunities to develop your understanding of experimental methods and practical skills.
- AS Level: 2 x 1 hour 30 mins papers
- A Level: 2 x 1 hour 45 mins papers and 1x 2 hours 30 mins paper
At A Level there is also a teacher assessed practical competency. This will be reported separately to your A Level grade.
We begin teaching IGCSE in U4. We follow the Edexcel IGCSE specification. During the course of the U4 year the girls choose whether they would like to take Dual Award Science or Separate Science. All of the material that is taught in the U4 is on the Dual Award Specification.
IGCSE Chemistry Specification
Below is a list of the topics studied each year, although there may be subtle changes from time-to-time.
- States of Matter
- Atomic structure
- Structure and Bonding – Ionic and Covalent
- The Periodic Table
- Group 1 – Alkali Metals
- Group 7 – The Halogens
- Group 0 - The Noble Gases
- Separation Techniques
- The Reactivity Series
- Acids, bases and making salts
- Organic Chemistry
Separate scientists will study some additional material on making salts and organic chemistry. They will also study some additional topics including metallic bonding and the extraction of metals.
- Rates of reaction
- Mole calculations
- Structure and Bonding
- Reversible Reactions
- Oxygen and the Air
There will also be some time allocated to revision and consolidation.
Separate scientists will study some additional material on mole calculations. They will also study some additional topics including equilibrium and electrolysis.
The programme of study taught in Middle School Chemistry lessons is designed to offer students opportunities to enjoy and explore a broad range of topics whilst ensuring that they develop both their scientific skills and key understanding of core concepts in preparation for taking IGCSE. We aim to relate the material taught to the world around us and to highlight everyday applications, including recent developments. Students have the chance to develop their practical skills and gain confidence in applying the scientific method.
In U3 we start the year with a discussion on chemical safety and some demonstrations of what can happen if a corrosive or flammable substance is not handled correctly. Topics following that include:
- Particle Theory
- Chemical and Physical Changes
- Acids and Alkalis.
- Atoms, Elements and Compounds
- Chemical reactions
- Smart materials and Nanotechnology
- Carbon, fuels and the future
RSC Chemistry Olympiad
For the last few Upper Sixth girls entered the International Chemistry Olympiad. This is a challenging written test of chemical knowledge. The questions are based on real-world chemistry problems and recent news. They provide a good opportunity to develop some of the skills required for study at university and beyond.
Our girls have achieved some very commendable results, including Silver Awards.
Cambridge Chemistry Challenge
At the end of the Lower Sixth year girls studying Chemistry have the opportunity to enter the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge.
The aims of this competition are similar to the Chemistry Olympiad: to stretch and challenge students interested in Chemistry. It provides an excellent experience for anyone considering taking their studies further.
Our girls have achieved some very commendable results in the competition, including Gold Awards.
Over the years some interesting online challenges have also been posted on the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge. We encourage students to have a go at completing some to develop their thinking and reasoning skills. The online challenges can be accessed here.
Middle School Science Club
Middle School Science Club is a well-attended after-school club that focuses on scientific experiments and investigations not covered directly in the national curriculum. Experiments include: dissection of owl pellets, balloon rockets, “The Great Egg Escape”, turning wine into water (literally), kiwi Fruit DNA extraction, and Forensics.
General Reading Lists
We recommend the following books for extra information to Chemistry students:
- IGCSE Chemistry Notes
- RSC ChemNet
- Chemguide – An excellent resource for wider reading and reviewing topics
- AS/A level resources from Knockhardy Publishing
- RSC ChemNet
- Chemistry World magazine
- New Scientist
- Animations of organic reactions mechanisms
Wider reading around the subject:
- Theodore Gray - The Elements – a visual exploration of every know atom in the universe
- Theodore Gray - Molecules – The Elements and the Architecture of Everything
- Larry Gonick & Craig Criddle - The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry
- Hugh Aldersey-Williams - Periodic Tables: The Curious Lives of the Elements
- Nick O’Hare – How to Fossilise Your Hamster (and other amazing experiments for the armchair scientist)
5th Form and above:
- Ben Goldacre – Bad Science
- Mark Miodownik – Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World
- John Emsley – The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison
- John Emsley – Nature’s Building Blocks
- Keith Brown – Moles: A Survival Guide
- Melaine Fine – Solving Moles Problems
- Susan Aldridge – Magic Molecules – How Drugs Work
- Peter Atkins – What is Chemistry
- Peter Atkins - The Periodic Kingdom
- Peter Atkins - Four Laws that Drive the Universe
- Phillip Ball – H2O – The Biography of Water
- William Brock – The Norton History of Chemistry
- Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything
- Jim Clark - Calculations for AS/A level Chemistry
- Martin Cockett and Graham Doggett – Maths for Chemists
- San Kean - The Disappearing Spoon
- James Keeler and Peter Wothers – Why Chemical Reactions Happen
- Primo Levi – The Periodic Table (a challenging read)
- Lars Ohrstrom – The Last Alchemist in Pairs: And other curious tales from Chemistry
- Oliver Sacks - Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood
- David Scott - Around the world in 18 elements
Chemistry Educational sites:
Chemistry - other sites:
- Association for Science Education
- ChemGuide"helping you to understand chemistry" - designed to help UK students over some of the more worrying parts of the A level syllabuses
- Creative Chemistry"over 200 worksheets, guides and question sheets for GCSE and A Level chemistry. You will also find fun chemistry puzzles, interactive revision quizzes, molecular models, and the Sc1 Tune-up Garage to help improve your GCSE science investigations."
- Doc Brown's Chemistry Clinic
- GCSE Chemistry
- General Chemistry Online includes a searchable database of over 800 common compound names, formulas, structures, and properties; a glossary of over 900 chemical terms; links to over 400 general chemistry Web resources; quizzes, tutorials, notes and guides
- How Stuff Works
- Internet Science
- Molecule of the Month from Bristol University
- New Scientist
- Nuffield Curriculum Centre Periodic Table
- The Periodic Table of Comic Books the elements will never seem the same again - great fun!
- Re:act'Nuffield Advanced Chemistry' website for AS and A2.
- Royal Society of Chemistry (Studentzone)
- Science Museum
- Scientific American
- Virtual Museum of Minerals and Molecules
- Websites for Chemistry and Physics
- WebElements an interactive periodic table from the University of Sheffield. Clicking on each element brings up information on its atomic number, atomic weight, group, period and block as well as a description. Further information is available on it's history and discovery, how it might be made or isolated, what compounds of it are to be found, its uses, physical data, electronic data, nuclear data, biological data, geological data and structure. Invaluable!