The magic of water

2017 Vice-Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award recipient, Mrs Joyce Sewry
2017 Vice-Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award recipient, Mrs Joyce Sewry

By Nokwanda Dlamini, fourth-year Bachelor of Journalism and Media Studies student

The 2017 Vice-Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award recipient, Mrs Joyce Sewry presented her lecture titled ‘The Magic of Water’ on 3 October 2018 at Rhodes University’s Eden Grove Blue lecture theatre.

Illustrating how the small water molecule has unique properties translating into why water is essential for life on earth, Sewry used the theme of water to show how she teaches chemistry and engages with the community through service-learning.

Highlighting the importance of chemistry in our lives, Sewry said, “Water is essential to life; it’s the chemistry of water that makes it so special to sustain life.” Sewry is a senior Chemistry lecturer who, in her teaching, emphasises how water has the unique chemistry to maintain life.

Breaking down her teaching methods for first year students and highlighting challenges that they face when they first come to university, Sewry said, “The aim in teaching students chemistry is to make them scientifically literate at the end of the year.” Illustrating that chemistry is all around us, Sewry performed a combustion experiment using methanol to prove that water is a product of combustion. “More than that, water is a resistant factor against climate change because of its chemistry. The water molecule is polar, and the reaction between the polar water molecules results in hydrogen bonding. Water therefore has a high energy of vaporisation because of the hydrogen bonds. If this wasn't the case, water would evaporate extremely rapidly on hot days,” she explained.

Sewry also urged her audience, especially students, to not believe everything they read. To underline this statement, she asked them whether they think “Dihydrogen Monoxide” should be banned.  She then asked the audience to write down the formula, which revealed that Dihydrogen Monoxide (H20) is nothing more than water.  

Using chemistry, Sewry illustrated the magic of water, giving the audience a glimpse into her award-winning teaching style, leaving explosions in her midst.  She concluded by explaining that water has a high heat capacity and a cooling effect, which is why it is used in a vehicle’s radiator to cool it down. “Lastly, water is a good solvent because it dissolves different substances,” she said.