This summer a small team of boys from Bolton School will travel to London to present their science project at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition. The prestigious event highlights exciting research from across the UK and this year includes a Young Researcher Zone where students from schools and colleges present the science they have been doing with STEM partners in the Royal Society Partnership Project Programme.
Bolton School Boys’ Division successfully bid for a partnership grant in 2019 to look at the environmental impact of disposable contact lenses. A chance Twitter conversation between Dr Turner, who works in both the Chemistry Department of the Boys’ Division and at the University of Manchester, and Professor Phil Morgan, a Professor of Optometry at the university, led to the research question. While a lot of work had been done on the impact of the plastic packaging of the contact lenses there was little research into the persistence of the actual contact lenses in the environment. Professor Morgan, whose son is an Old Boy of Bolton School, is a renowned expert in the clinical performance of contact lenses and has published over 200 papers in the area.
The boys’ initial work focused on soil tests, which showed that the contact lenses materials were not really affected by normal soil conditions and the hydrogels within them were remarkably regenerative! Then the effect of different substances was tested, including boiling water and various enzymes. The hydrogels remained indestructible.
The Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted the project but when experimental work resumed, an increased familiarity with alcohol hand gels sparked an idea for developing a home gel system that would weaken the contact lens structure and hopefully reduce the time the materials persist in the environment when they are disposed of. The current project team has been testing various gel combinations to find one that is suitable for home use. This has included consideration of variables including chemical and physical hazards, effectiveness and viscosity. The effectiveness of the gel systems will be evaluated by looking at the Raman spectra of the materials, which should show which chemical bonds have been changed.
The current project group has also surveyed contact lens users to try and find out how well they comply with instructions about their contact lens care and whether they have ever thought about the environmental impact of their lenses.
Dr Turner and the team are really excited to present this research to the public alongside many of the UK’s leading researchers on 6 and 7 July. Look out for updates on the school’s Chemistry Department Twitter feed.