UKEdMag: Unearthing the Mole by @tonabrad

We’ve just celebrated the most important day in the chemical calendar. We started these celebrations about 7 years ago and it’s become a bit of a tradition at our school – it’s Mole day! Held annually on 23rd October, this year it was great timing as it fell on the last Friday of term. It seems Mole day started in the U.S. in 1991 as a way of increasing pupils’ exposure to chemistry.

This article was originally published in the November 2015 Edition of our UKEdMagazine

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So what’s a mole?! Yes, it’s a furry creature but also a really big number. Probably the hardest concept in chemistry is that atoms are really small and therefore the number of atoms needed to allow us to actually see things on the human scale is really large – it allows us to link our microscopic world with the macroscopic world we can see and feel. Enter 6.02 x 10ˆ23 (6 billion trillion) otherwise known as Avogadro’s number – that’s more than all the grains of sand on all the beaches in the World.

The word mole comes from the Latin for ‘heap’, so the easiest way to think of a mole is as a quantity – just as 12 is a dozen, 6.02 x 10ˆ23 atoms are a mole. The mole allows chemists to translate reactions on an atomic scale to those done on the bench. So really it allows chemists to follow recipes and make things accurately – everything from aspirin to nylon tights, honeycomb to tippex. We do a variety of activities on Mole day – an assembly, ‘pin the nose on Avogadro’, chemical bingo, but our favourite is the Mole cake competition – our answer to The Great British Bake Off.

The fun we’ve had over the years with everything from ‘Colin the caterpillar’, ‘the advocado’ and ‘the rat’ . It is a serious event run in Year 13, and now a right of passage to A level, with specially chosen judges with a strict marking criteria – including taste, texture, decoration and mole relevance, with the latter usually being the deciding factor. So roll on next year’s Mole Day – piece of cake anyone?!

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