Scientists the world over are searching for alternatives to fossil fuels. The reason is that the main sources of energy used today – oil, natural gas, and coal – are responsible for the increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, and are thus ultimately causing global warming, with all its devastating consequences.
The energy of the future is also an important topic at the Department of Chemistry of UZH, where researchers are busy investigating artificial photosynthesis, a process that produces hydrogen using sunlight and catalysts. Future generations stand to benefit from the success of their findings.
Solutions to the energy problem
Stimulating young people’s enthusiasm for this topic and for science in general – this is the aim of the Chemistry Days, which are aimed at high school students and which are organized regularly by the Department of Chemistry together with high school teachers. Two such courses again took place last Thursday and Friday.
Forty high school students from all over German-speaking Switzerland made their way to Irchel Campus, where committed chemistry teachers showed them how chemistry can contribute towards solving the energy problem – for example by providing alternative ways of producing electricity using Grätzel cells. Another topic focused on how to use electronic currents to produce hydrogen through electrolysis, and how to convert hydrogen into methane to better store and use it.
And finally, students also found out about organic light-emitting diodes (OLED), the successors of LED lighting. The students were allowed to make a novel solar cell on their own on the basis of organic coloring (super yellow).
Fascinating young people
Switching between theory and (lab) practice, the students taking part in the course learned about the potential of chemical energy – i.e. the energy that is stored in the bonds of chemical compounds and that can be released through chemical processes. Simply burning material, as happens when using oil, natural gas, or coal, makes little sense.
Research into chemistry can deliver significant insights into the future of energy supply. Having taken part in the course, the high school students would certainly agree. And in a few years, some of them might look into chemical energy during their studies and – who knows! – as a researcher go on to achieve a major breakthrough for the CO2-neutral production and storage of energy.
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