Monday, 18 June 2018

A Trip to TrainWorld

On Saturday 16 June 2018 a select group of RSC Belgium members and friends were treated to a guided tour of the (relatively) new TrainWorld museum adjacent to the grand old station at Schaarbeek in Brussels. Following our experience we can highly recommend a trip to TrainWorld!


The guided tour took over two hours and was full of new facts and fascinating information. How many train stations are there in the grounds of the royal place at Laeken? How many oak trees were required to be felled to provide the sleepers for every mile of rail road in the 19th century? (Answers below)*.


Belgium was a very early adopter of rail technology with the first commercial (and nationalised) railway line in continental Europe opened between Brussels and Mechelen in 1835. Initially the Belgians imported UK technology but rapidly 'copied' and developed their own engines becoming the leading global exporter of railway equipment during the 1800s.


The museum itself incorporates ancient and modern. The tour starts in the impressive interior of the old Schaarbeek station and then enters four massive modern halls full of old engines and railway memorabilia with something to amuse visitors of any age and degree of interest in trains.


*There are three railway stations in or under the palace grounds. 880 oak trees were needed per mile!

Chemical Bonding in the 21st Century

On Monday 28 May 2018 a full day symposium was organised by the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) in honour of  the visit to Brussels of Professor Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry in 1981. The theme of the symposium is central in Hoffmann’s work: the Chemical Bond. 


The aim of the Symposium was twofold:in the morning session, the audience got an in-depth impression of Hoffmann’s work, ideas and vision on the chemical bond in a special two hours lecture with a pedagogical perspective from Prof Hoffmann. This was a veritable tour de force from the distinguished that was informative and entertaining in equal measure.


Matthias Bickelhaupt (VU Amsterdam), a former postdoc with Hoffmann, closes the morning session discussing “Chemical Bonding in Transition States”.

In the afternoon session, the context is different: six young but already renowned scientists from six Belgian universities highlighted their work, offering Roald Hoffmann and the audience an impression of the present status of Quantum and Theoretical Chemistry in Belgium.

The afternoon session included two contributions from RSC Belgium members: Jeremy Harvey of KULeuven who described his work on chemical bonds in dynamics and microscopy and Prof Benoit Champagne from the University of Namur who talked about his work on molecule, polymers and supramolecular assemblies.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Chemistry and Music: a Popular Combination!

On Thursday 19 April 2018 RSC Belgium members and friends were treated to an likely combination of Chemistry and Music at St Johns International School with Professor Adrian Dobbs of Greenwich University. This evening talk, chemistry demonstration and musical performance attracted a large and enthusiastic audience to the Music Room and its Grand Piano.


During the talk entitled 'Chemistry and Music: an unlikely combination?' Prof Adrian Dobbs, accompanied by Sophie Brewer, discussed the historic links between music and chemistry, including how chemistry has contributed to the manufacture of musical instruments and how many famous musicians have had links to chemistry and much more! Did you know that quintessential English composer Edward Elgar was a keen amateur chemist. Or that Russian compose Borodin was torn throughout his career between the professions of chemistry and music.


We learnt about the chemistry behind Stradivarius's violins and guitar strings and Adrian and Sophie performed a number of musical pieces with Adrian playing the piano and Sophie on flute and violin.


In addition Professor Dobbs recruited volunteers from the audience to participate in some demonstration chemistry including making your own polymers and simple electroplating. All using chemical substances commonly found in the home.

All in all the event proved that Chemistry and Music was a very interesting combination and was greatly appreciated by our audience.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology

Our 2017-18 programme continued on Thursday 22 March with a fascinating insight into the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology with Prof Bernard Hallet from the Universite Catholique de Louvain in his talk: 'Genome Editing by CRISPR-CAS9: Turning a Bacterial Trick into a Biotechnology Revolution”.

Prof Hallet (pictured below) described the biological and chemical basis of the CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technique and how the development of targeted genome editing systems, such as CRISPR, and their applications has moved forward enormously in the last decade.  In the last five years the field has undergone a quantum leap with the introduction of CRISPR-Cas9, the bacterial immune system which can be used to edit genomes on demand.

Bernard outlined how this serendipitous discovery that bacteria contained DNA sequences which were repeated, and interspersed with unique sequences, latterly identified as viral DNA, derived from viruses that had previously infected the bacteria.


It was then found that close to the CRISPR sequences, genes were located coding for CRISPR-associated proteins (Cas), which have nuclease activity. Together with small guide RNAs (crRNAs) which have been transcribed from the CRISPR locus, one or more Cas proteins form ribonucleoprotein targeting complexes, with each contain a single guide sequence. The Cas nuclease (usually Cas9) then cleaves the target DNA, marked for degradation by base-pairing with the crRNA.

In 2012, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna proposed that the CRISPR-Cas9 system could be used for programmable gene editing, an idea that has since been further developed by many research groups for potential applications ranging from creating smart model systems for fundamental protein research to enabling bio-engineers to modify crops and farm animals, and translational scientists to develop novel treatment approaches for inherited and acquired disorders for which curative treatment options are not currently available.


This fabulous CRISPR-Cas9 story provides the perfect example of how basic bacterial research has moved the whole scientific community towards the next biotechnological revolution and sparked an extended Q and A after the talk itself.

Charpentier at Louvain-la-Neuve
The title Doctors Honoris Causa will be awarded by the Universite Catholique de Louvain to Prof  Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, Germany for her discovery of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing system and to Prof Malcolm Bennett University of Nottingham, United Kingdom for his work on the root system of plants at a ceremony on 18 April.

The ceremony will take place at the UCL campus of Louvain-la-Neuve (Life Sciences Institute, ISV) on Wednesday April 18. For more information on this event and to register visit the UCL-ISV website.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

An Evening with Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff

On Friday 23 February, RSC Belgium was delighted to host an informal evening with Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff. The event took place at the British School of Brussels and was a hugely informative and entertaining soiree with one of Europe's most eminent chemists and science communicators.


Staged in a Cafe Chimique style, with refreshments available throughout the evening, Prof Poliakoff first gave a short talk on his work and career covering his research interests focused on supercritical fluids, continuous reactions and their applications to Green Chemistry.  He also talked about the Periodic Table of Videos, which he hosts.


Prof Poliakoff then answered questions from the audience for over an hour before further informal questions at the end. Our audience for the evening ranged from six to seventy and an excellent time was had by all.

During the evening we took a collection to support our Norman Lloyd Scholarships at Cardiff University and raised a further EUR 200 for the fund. Many thanks to all who contributed.


About Sir Martyn
Sir Martyn Poliakoff CBE FRS FREng studied at King's College, Cambridge, gaining his Ph.D. in 1973 on the Matrix Isolation of Large Molecules. Following time at the University of Newcastle he joined Nottingham University in 1979. He is Honorary Professor of Chemistry at Moscow State University. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the RSC and the IChemE and was awarded CBE in 2008 for "Services to Sciences", and knighted in 2015 for "Services to the Chemical Sciences". He was Foreign Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society from 2011 to 2016.

A taster for the Periodic Table of Videos is below - featuring Hydrogen.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

RSC Belgium 2018 AGM Report

The section's Annual General Meeting (AGM) took place on Friday  2 February 2018 at Les Amis Dinent Restaurant in Wezembeek-Oppem at 19h30 and was followed by the section's Annual Dinner from 20h00. The meeting opened at 19:30 with ten members present but a further eight members, who were unable to attend the AGM in person, had asked the Chairman to act as their proxy for the meeting if a vote was required thus achieving our quorum.

Following recording of apologies received, the minutes of our previous AGM of 10 February 2017 were approved with no corrections.  The section secretary, William Darnley then presented the Committee Report on the Section’s 2017 Activities. During the year the section organised twelve events, four evening lectures, two weekend social events, both of which were guided tours, the usual two school/outreach events and the ever popular Cafe Chimique. The committee attended an inter-section curling event in Kent in December, and finally, the committee did some fundraising to top up the Norman Lloyd Scholarship Fund. Membership of the section stood at 129, a slight dip on last of four.

Among the highlights were the lecture on energetic materials presented by Dr. Matt Andrews of MSIAC at NATO, the guided tour around the “Het Anker” brewery in Mechelen at the beginning of September and the lecture on “Copernicus: the EU’s Earth Observation Success story” back in February. Feedback from Cardiff University about Ms. Jessica Powell (the third recipient of the Norman Lloyd Scholarship) was very positive. The recipient for 2017-2018 was named as Ms. Ffion Cartwright. The report was unanimously approved (proposed by David Terrell and seconded by Brian Sutcliffe).

Section Finances
The treasurer, Julie Tupenny presented the 2017 financial report and accounts. On the 1st of January 2017, the net assets of the RSC Belgium Section were €5918 approx. The annual grant from RSC UK was €6000, somewhat less than the requested €7000. However, with careful management and a very successful Summer Concert at BSB the financial situation is good. The committee aims to keep the account at around €7000 due to Belgian regulations where the section officers are personally responsible for any deficit, and to the end a grant of €7000 will be requested from HQ.

The treasurer personally thanked Ralph Palim F.C.A the Hon. Auditor for his thoroughness in auditing and approving the accounts for the RSC Belgium Section for the year ending 31 December 2017. He will continue as auditor for the section accounts for 2018.

The meeting moved (William Darnley), seconded (Brian Sutcliffe) and unanimously adopted the audited accounts and the Treasurer’s report.

Chairman’s Remarks
Section chairman Tim Reynolds thanked the committee for their hard work and support during the year. We had hosted an interesting programme and survived financially despite a lower grant than that which had been requested.

In particular he thanked two members of the committee that were effectively stepping down from the committee at this AGM – Becki Scott and John Swift who had or were both returning to the UK. He also thanked William Darnley for stepping up to take over Becki’s role as secretary.

The Chairman also noted the sad loss of two very good friends and supporters of the section’s activities during 2017: Dr Ian Carson and Prof Istvan Marko.

The Chairman also extended a welcome to the newly elected committee members and the incoming Treasurer. He looked forward to our varied and interesting programme for the coming year.

Committee elections
Nominations for Section Secretary: William Darnley. Elected with no objections

Nominations for ordinary committee members: Jane Downing and David Terrell. Elected with no objections

The first meeting of the 2018 Executive Committee was held on 20 February 2018.

Closing remarks
The Treasurer said she had found a way to make a modest saving for the section each year, by switching to digital bank statements. This was greeted with enthusiasm by all members present.


All business being completed the meeting adjourned at 19:55 and the Annual Dinner commenced. You can access the draft Minutes of the 2018 AGM here. These minutes will be presented to the AGM of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Belgium Section in 2019 for approval.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Potteries of the Caribbean

Our last lecture of 2017 took place on Friday 24 November and was given by our departing section secretary Dr Becki Scott who described her recent scientific adventures in the Caribbean in ‘Potteries of the Caribbean’. The lecture took place in the social area behind Brel Theatre at the British School of Brussels.



The Caribbean has a rich and varied past, often represented by ceramic objects. Ceramic objects are usually prolific on archaeological sites and therefore form a focus for many interdisciplinary studies.

These remains can provide a wealth of information about past cultures, relating to style, manufacturing technology, and ultimately past trade and resource management. Stylistic and typological studies can be used to create relative chronologies for a site, while chemical and petrographic analyses are used to provenance the raw material(s) used in the manufacture of the object. Although fragments of ceramics are sometimes available for destructive analyses, many objects held in collections are not. Likewise, these precious objects cannot always be transported to laboratories for further study.

Provenance
Becki was involved with a couple of projects focusing on the provenancing of ceramic objects from the Lesser Antilles. Ceramic fragments from excavation contexts in the Caribbean had been sent to Europe for destructive chemical and petrographic analyses. However, larger, more complete objects in collections on the islands of Grenada and St. Vincent could neither be sub-sampled nor exported.

Becki developed a method of using a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (pXRF) to analyse these objects. In other words, she took the instrument to the objects, rather than the objects to the lab. The result of this work has meant that objects, which would otherwise not be analysed geochemically, could be used to contribute to studies determining the cultural interactions between the islands of the Lesser Antilles.

Find out more about Becki's Caribbean adventures and her work in other areas on her blog.

Bye-bye Becki
The event will also be a chance to say ‘au revoir’ to Becki (pictured below with her pXRF spectrometer) as she is now working at Greenwich University in the UK and is resigning as section secretary. However Becki did manage to make a final appearance for RSC Belgium as part of our curling team in December.


Dr Rebecca Beasant Scott – Becki - has been an active member of our section committee, which she joined in 2012, and has acted as section secretary for the past two years.

Born and brought up in Norfolk, Becki had an early interest in archaeology and took a BA in the subject at the University of Wales, Lampeter including a dissertation that focused on an area of south Norfolk that may have been in continuous occupation and use from the Iron Age to today. Joke?

She then took an MA in Cultural Landscape Management at Lampeter, followed by a MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology at Cranfield University awarded in 2008 for which she won the Inforce Prize for best overall academic performance.

This was followed by a PhD at Cranfield on the investigation and characterisation of colourless glass from forensic and archaeological contexts using multiple interdisciplinary analytical techniques.

A postdoctoral position at KU Leuven brought her to Belgium to research on the use of trace elements to provenance archaeological glass in 2010-2011. Followed by a second post-doc position in Leiden University in The Netherlands. Becki has now returned to the UK where she is employed as an Analytical Geochemist at the University of Greenwich on its Chatham campus.