Monday, March 10, 2014

RSC Belgium announces its Chemistry Challenge 2014

The RSC Belgium Section is pleased to announce its Schools Chemistry Challenge 2014! This stimulating chemistry competition is open to students from any school in Belgium, so please spread the word to any appropriate educational institutions or organisations that you are involved with. We would like to make the 2014 Challenge bigger and better than ever!

Details of the 2014 competition format can be downloaded here. The questions will be set in English, but may be answered in English, French, Dutch or German.

The competition is open to school students in their penultimate year of High School (usually aged 16 – 17) and consists of a total of two hours of written test papers held in individual schools and designed to demonstrate the participants’ knowledge of chemistry and their ability to think logically.

Two formats
The Challenge can be taken in two ways: either as a single two-hour paper or split into three stand-alone, separate sections (Section A 30 minutes, Section B 60 minutes and Section C 30 minutes) which teachers might find easier to work into their timetable constraints. Teachers would need to decide on their preference by the time they tell us the approximate numbers of students that will participate in the 2014 challenge from their school.

The common curriculum on which the competition will be based can be found here. This has been reviewed and validated by teachers in 2012 and 2013.

The Challenge papers themselves will be distributed to participating schools in May with completed papers to be returned during June.

Past papers
For your information the Schools Chemistry Challenge 2012 and 2013 papers are also available online here and here respectively. This will show you the format for each section, but there will be 100% new questions for 2014!

As ever, very attractive cash prizes are offered, as well as certificates acknowledging participation for all students that take part. From our previous experience we have found that students felt that participation was a valuable ‘plus point’ when completing University application forms, clearly demonstrating an ‘extra curricular’ interest in a science subject.

More information
For further information, please contact our challenge coordinator Rita Woodward or via the usual RSC Belgium email address.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Biobased Chemicals, Industrial Sugars and Biorefineries

On the evening of 10 February RSC Belgium members and friends were treated to an overview of the current status and future opportunities for the bioeconomy in Europe from Dr. Adrian Higson, Head of Biorefining at NNFCC Bioeconomy Consultants based in York, UK. The talk attracted a good crowd to the Swoosh Lounge at the British School of Brussels.

The transition to a sustainable, biobased economy is one of the major challenges and opportunities for Europe today. The present economy depends heavily on non-renewable fossil resources, resulting in Europe facing the multiple challenges of resource price volatility and supply security, increasing environmental pressure and climate change. The transition to the biobased economy combines necessity with the tremendous opportunity for sustainable growth and competitiveness based on the development of innovative, renewable materials and products. Adrian's presentation looked at the emerging biobased chemicals industry, its drivers and barriers, and highlighted how biobased innovation is being supported in the UK and Europe.

Adrian (above) made a particular reference to a €6.2 million transnational collaboration initiative with significant Belgian interest: the BioBase NWE project. This project aims to bridge the innovation gap for biobased breakthroughs and accelerate the growth of the biobased economy. It brings EU and regional partners together to provide financial, technological, training, networking and political support to enterprises in North West Europe innovating in biobased products and processes. You can view Adrian's presentation here

Biobased biography
Dr. Adrian Higson is Lead Consultant on Biobased Products at NNFCC and works with global brands to develop their understanding of the opportunities and risks presented by the biobased economy and acts as an advisor to the UK Government on biobased economy development. He coordinates several UK research programmes including the recently launched £45 million IB Catalyst. He is a member of the European Commission Expert Group on Bio-based Products and member of the UK’s Industrial Biotechnology Industry Task Force. Adrian obtained his PhD from the University of Liverpool and subsequently held posts at the Universities of Colorado and Dundee. Prior to joining NNFCC he was a Project Manager at Sigma Aldrich.

Established by the UK Government some 10 years ago as the National Non-Food Crops Centre, the NNFCC initially focused on helping extend the competitive non-food uses of crops. Today NNFCC is an international consultancy providing advice on the conversion of biomass to bioenergy, biofuels and bio-based products. The company is based in the BioCentre on the York Science Park.

NNFCC specialises in providing information and knowledge on the supply of biomass, its use in industrial applications and the fate of biomaterials at their end-of-life. It operates in five specific sectors: Feedstock, Bioenergy, Biofuels, Bio-based products and Biorefining.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Future Energy Supplies for Europe

Energy is vital to our modern society. But where will our future energy supplies be sourced? How do we ensure an adequate energy supply while protecting our environment? And where do the chemical sciences fit into all this? These questions were the subject of a Café Chimique event organised by RSC Belgium on 28 January.

The event took place in the very convivial atmosphere of the Salle des Fêtes in Auderghem Cultural Centre. There an audience of well over 50 RSC members, friends and members of the public listened to short presentations from our panel of four speakers to help the audience understand the issues, possibilities and policy pros and cons.

Energy spread
Our debate speakers represented a wide range of energy perspectives. You can access a short biography for each of our speakers here.

Our first speaker was Peter Botschek (above), Head of Energy at Cefic - the European Chemical Industry body. Peter gave an overview of the energy scene in Europe and its evolution and possible impact on the chemical sector. You can find his presentation here.

Philippe Charlez (above), Unconventional Resources Development Director, from French oil and gas giant Total is an expert in hydraulic fracturing and was able to give an insight on the techniques used to liberate shale gas and oil. His presentation is here.

Jan Duerinck (above) from the Belgian Flemish research organisation VITO is an economist and expert on renewable energy technologies specializing in the development of techno-economic energy–environmental models. He was co-author of the study “Towards 100% renewable energy in Belgium by 2050” published in 2012 that was commissioned by the four Belgian ministers in charge of energy. His slides can be found here.

Finally Richard Ivens (above), Institutional Affairs Director at Foratom – the European Nuclear industry body - talked about the current status of the nuclear energy sector with a special focus on post Fukushima developments. Richard's presentation is here.

High level of debate
Following a short pause to refresh our glasses we launched into an audience-led debate on the future of our energy supplies expertly marshalled by our chairman Bob Crichton.

The questions from the audience were varied ranging from the environmental and economic issues of 'fracking' to the viability nuclear and some renewable technologies to achieve a truly low-carbon energy system.

The mix of technical, economic and political issues raised during the hour-long session kept our panel on their toes and they clearly enjoyed the debate. Commenting afterwards Philippe Charlez said: "It was really a pleasure to participate in this Cafe Chimique. I was impressed by the level of the debate and the quality of the questions."

The issue of how our future energy supplies will be provided is clearly very complex. But following the debate on 28 January  RSC Belgium members and friends now have some valuable insights on the varied challenges and problems that need to be overcome to ensure we 'keep the lights on' across Europe!

Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 AGM Report

Les Amis Dînent restaurant in Wezembeek-Oppem was the location for the section's Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Annual Dinner on 17 January. The 2014 Committee was elected and reports on the activities of the section in 2013 and the state of the section's finances received. In addition to members, committee representatives and friends, the section was pleased to welcome Dr. Hanny Nover director of the European Chemical Regions Network (ECRN) as an observer.

Following notification of apologies the minutes of the previous AGM held on January 25 2013 were reviewed and approved before section secretary Tim Reynolds gave his report. "During 2013 the section organised seven public evening events, a day social excursion and participated in a number of other educational outreach activities," he said.

Among highlights of the year were the Café Chimique on Stem Cells that followed our 2013 AGM in January, the visit of RSC President Prof. Lesley Yellowlees in March and the section’s royal guided tour of Mechelen in June. The section had also participated in its fourth Greenlight for Girls annual event in November and had also run its largest ever Top of the Bench qualifier in that month: a truly international affair with eight schools involved including three new entrants: the SHAPE school, St Georges form Luxembourg and the International School of Flanders.

He also noted the sad loss in March of our friend and supporter Dr Norman Lloyd. However with the help of Norman’s family, friends and colleagues a fund had been established to support a scholarship in his name at Cardiff University for first degree chemistry students.

Small surplus
Our Treasurer Rita Woodward then presented her 2013 report and the sections audited accounts. Rita noted that the section had made a surplus of €537 for 2013. In fact, despite an active year, net expenditure was considerably less than forecast due to the cancellation of a joint meeting with Kent and Chilterns sections; the postponement of the Cafe Chimique on Energy until January 2014 and the anticipated expenditure relating to a second RSC Historical Landmark plaque not happening.

Considering the very healthy state of section assets (€18600 – including the Norman Lloyd fund) and anticipated activities and new initiatives in 2014 a request for a grant equivalent to €5000 would be made to RSC HQ, which was €2000 less than in 2013 Rita stated.

Rita said: "To date over €6300 had been donated to the RSC Norman Lloyd fund." This fund was held in a separate account and during 2014, following the recent completion of a Gift Agreement with Cardiff University, a sum of €6500 would be transferred to fund an annual scholarship starting in 2014 of £1000. The proposed section budget for 2014 was also discussed.

Chairman's remarks
Prof Bob Crichton thanked Rita and Tim for their reports and all members of the executive committee during 2013 for their hard work and support during the year. He highlighted the contributions of Rita and Peter Woodward in providing the drinks and nibbles for many of the events during the year that added so much to the evening meetings. He also thanked everyone who had participated in events such as the Greenlight for Girls and Top of the Bench events for their time and effort in these important activities.

Two posts were up for election to the executive committee this year and Tim Reynolds was re-elected as Secretary, while Ian Carson was elected as a committee member. The full composition of the 2014 Executive committee can be found here. Rita also expressed her gratitude to our auditor, Ralph Palim, and announced that he was willing to be re-appointed as auditor for 2014.

The draft minutes of the 2014 AGM can be found here.

Following the close of the meeting Members and friends enjoyed the Annual Dinner (see picture above).

Saturday, November 30, 2013

RSC holds 'International' TOTB Qualifier!

RSC Belgium held its first ever ‘international’ eliminator heat for the annual RSC Top of the Bench (TOTB) competition on Saturday 23 November at the British School of Brussels (BSB). As ever it was a hard-fought struggle between a total of 12 teams from eight schools including three schools competing for the very first time. In a very close finish the ‘Bromine’ team from the British School of Brussels claimed the Keith Price Cup and the right to represent RSC Belgium in the 2014 final!

This was the third time that the RSC Belgium's TOTB eliminator has been held as an actual 'head-to-head' competition with a practical element and the popularity of this format is clearly growing. In addition to welcoming three new schools to the competition – including one from Luxembourg – the section also welcomed RSC coordinator for the Top of the Bench competition Sue Thompson, who came over from the UK to help with the judging and see how we ran our eliminator.

The full team line up was as follows:
For the SHAPE International School, the International School of Flanders and St George’s International School this year was the first time they had competed in our eliminator.

Foaming conkers
The twelve teams of budding chemists had to complete a short written test on their individual chemical knowledge and data interpretation skills and then show teamwork and problem-solving abilities in a practical chemical exercise.

This year the test involved the use of conkers! The teams were set the task of preparing a detergent from saponin – a component of conkers – and then produce a certain volume of chemical foam using a detergent mixture, bicarbonate of soda and a minimum volume of lemon juice.

Teams were judged on their approach to the problem, teamwork, the quality of the recording of their work and the accuracy and precision of their observations.

This format closely reflects the format of the competition that the winners will face in the actual RSC–run final. As usual Rita Woodward devised this cunning competition and set the questions.

Close competition
All twelve teams consisted of four students aged 14 - 16 and were accompanied by teachers. When teams had worked out their own solution, their efforts were timed by judges Prof. Bob Crichton, Dr. Ian Carson, Dr Becki Scott, Sue Thompson and Gavin Brown.

The overall winners were determined by their team placing in both written and practical parts of the 'eliminator'.

The final result was very tight with the winners being the Bromine team from BSB, followed by the Argon team also from BSB and in third place Nitrogen from newcomers St Georges International School in Luxembourg. The winning teams are pictured above having been presented with the Keith Price Cup by branch chairman Prof Bob Crichton. The team will now represent Belgium in the (inter)national final in the UK in 2014.

In addition the Nitrogen team (above) from St. George’s received RSC tee-shirts as they came top in the written part of the competition. All the students who took part in the competition will also receive certificates.

Clearly everyone who took part in the competition had a very enjoyable time with both students and teachers very enthusiastic about this competitive format. RSC Belgium looks forward to an even bigger and better Belgian TOTB eliminator next year.

Our thanks to all the teachers and students (see below) who took part in a really fun afternoon of chemistry!

RSC Belgium explores Mars!

On Tuesday 26 November a packed Swoosh Lounge at the British School of Brussels heard about the exploration of Mars from Dr. Ann Carine Vandaele of the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomie (BISA). The fascinating talk took RSC members and friends through the long history of humanity’s missions to Mars. And then brought us up-to-date with the next planned explorations in which Ann herself is involved.

Ann (below) is Head of Planetary Aeronomie at the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomie based at the Uccle Observatory and is the Principal Investigator for the NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery) spectrometer suite that will identify components of the Martian atmosphere on board the planned 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter Mission.

Ann started her talk by comparing the Earth and Mars and their atmospheres and then outlined the history and objectives of the various missions that have been sent to Mars since the 1960s – including some heroic failures and the many notable successes.

The first flights to Mars were made by Soviet craft but the first real success was the US Mariner 9 flight in 1971. The Viking landers followed in 1975 and the Spirit and Opportunity rovers in 2003. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) first mission was the Mars Express in 2005.

All these missions have given us growing evidence that there was a large amount of water on Mars in the past and, indeed, there is a reasonable supply on the planet still – just not on the surface.

The latest mission is of course the NASA Curiosity rover with its powerful array of chemical instruments in what is essentially a mobile science lab.

The ExoMars (Exobiology on Mars) is the next major scientific mission to Mars and will be searching for that elusive ‘biosignature’ of Martian life past or present. The Viking missions sent back data that may or may not have indicated that (bacterial) life is present now on Mars. The ExoMars mission is currently under development by the European and Russian Space Agencies (ESA and Roscosmos) having been originally planned as a NASA-ESA joint venture. The ExoMars programme includes several elements that will probably be sent to Mars on two launches in 2016 and 2018.

NOMAD, the “Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery” European instrument was selected as part of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission for 2016. It will conduct a spectroscopic survey of the atmosphere of Mars in the ultraviolet (UV), visible and infrared (IR) spectral regions. Its primary objective will be to improve our knowledge of the vertical structure and composition of the atmosphere of the ‘red planet’.

All in all this was an extremely interesting talk that kept an audience of well over 40 members and friends enthralled. Plenty of questions were asked and the discussion continued over drinks and light refreshments.

Monday, November 18, 2013

G4G IV: The Global Experiment

At the start of the RSC's Chemistry Week RSC Belgium took the RSC Global Experiment 2013 to the fourth Greenlight for Girls Day in Brussels on Saturday November 16. In all around 100 girls took part in the experiment in two packed workshop sessions. The venue for G4G IV was the International School of Brussels in Watermael-Boitsfort. The RSC team had a great time running the workshops in which the girls measured the vitamin C content of fruits and vegetables.

Puctured above is the RSC Belgium team for the day with a couple of G4G enthusiasts. The RSC Belgium team consisted of (from left to right above) ElisaMaupas, Sophie Hollanders, Kim Eekelers and RSC executive committee member Becki Scott with section secretary Tim Reynolds (behind the camera). 

Each of the workshops brought together around an enthusiastic group of fifty young women aged 11 to 15. Most participants were anglophone but the RSC Belgium team was ready and able to work with the girls in French and Dutch too. 

Each of the students got to do the RSC Global experiment calibrating for vitamin 'C' and then assessing the vitamin in  a range of fruit and vegetable: apple, kiwi fruit, oranges, cauliflower and broccoli. Amazingly, despite the vast numbers, no one painted themselves in iodine! 

"The kids had a really good time," said Tim Reynolds. "It was challenging to get everything done in the 45 minutes allocated to the workshop sessions - but everyone got to do some 'hands-on chemistry' - and we all had some good fun."

Other chemical based workshops offered during the day included sessions on cosmetics and fragrances, 'bath bombs' and experiments from the hit TV series the 'Big Bang Theory'. Other workshops focused on IT, physics, engineering and biotechnology.

Over 200 young ladies attended the day had all had a great time taking some fantastic memories, a goody bag and their own personalised labcoats. RSC pens, stickers and fluffies were in great demand! 

About G4G
The Greenlight for Girls organisation is a Brussels-based, international non-profit organization that works to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to girls of all ages and backgrounds. The main aim is to stimulate greater participation of girls, young women and career-age women in STEM-related studies and careers. To achieve this mission, G4G carry out a range of activities around the world, with a special focus on reaching less-advantaged communities.

RSC Belgium has supported the GreenlightforGirls initiative from its inception in Brussels and provided workshop session at all four of the annual events so far.