Thursday, 11 February 2016

Changing Perceptions of Chemistry

What do the general public and policy-makers think about when they think about chemistry and chemists? Chemistry and chemicals are essential to life and our modern society - everything is chemistry! But we often see consumer products that claim to be 'chemical-free' and it can seems like chemophobia is widespread in society. Public perceptions of Chemistry and Chemicals and how we talk about chemistry have been hot topics for many years. But what is the real picture? What do the public and policy-makers really think? And how can we best convey the excitement, potential and benefits of chemistry better?

To explore these questions further the RSC Belgium 2016 Café Chimique was entitled “Changing Perceptions of Chemistry and Chemicals”. The event took place on Thursday 4 February in the relaxed atmosphere of the Auderghem Cultural Centre main bar.

RSC Belgium Chairman Tim Reynolds (above left) moderated a panel of three speakers:

  • Jon Edwards (above far right) who is Strategic Communications Manager for the Royal Society of Chemistry who outlined the main findings of the recent RSC survey on public attitudes to chemistry in the UK (#chemperceptions)
  • Dr Anna Gergely (above centre left) who is Director EHS Regulatory at law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Anna talked about the regulatory environment in which chemistry has to operate and how policy-makers perceive chemistry and chemicals
  • Nuno Bacherel (above centre right) who is Editor-in-Chief of the Your Formula website and is Communication Manager, Public Affairs at the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC). Nuno talked about the philosophy behind the Your Formula initiative and his work to change perceptions of chemistry and chemicals

Great debate
As usual the three panel speakers gave short presentations of around ten minutes each before launching into an audience-led debate. Seating was in a café-style format and the usual free bar and nibbles were available throughout the event and afterwards.

As ever there was a very lively debate that lasted well over an hour.

Jon Edwards outlined the main findings of the recent RSC survey on public attitudes to chemistry in the UK. The results showed that the UK public's perception of chemistry and chemicals is far more positive than professional chemists believe, although there is some confusion in the public mind about what a chemist is and what a chemist does. Overall it appears that there is an appetite for people to know more about chemistry; but this will entail a change of attitude for chemists and experts working in the sector. You can find Jon's presentation here (3.28 MB).

Concrete examples and factual data are the added value that scientists and chemists bring to the table when discussing regulatory issues, and this value needs to be positively and widely communicated, without fear, stated Dr Anna Gergely. You can find Anna's presentation here (454 kB).

Initiatives such as Your Formula, bring together people to discuss key sustainability topics, and look to change the public's perceptions. The Your Formula platform is a Cefic initiative where young scientists and researchers with an interest in sustainability share expertise and experience. The platform allows a different way of communicating chemistry and science, with contributors sharing personal activities and high interaction rates through social media explained Nuno. His main message was to: "Be Passionate, Keep it Simple and Make it Personal." Changing public perceptions of chemistry will be a long road, but progress appears to be happening!

More information
You can find all the results and further commentary on the RSC's public attitudes survey on the #chemperceptions pages of the RSC website.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Luxembourg to represent Belgium in Top of the Bench!

The results of the RSC Belgium Top of the Bench (ToTB) eliminator for 2015 have been announced. And the holder of the Keith Price Cup (pictured right) for 2016 - and the Belgian representative in the TOTB grand final in the UK - will be team Hydrogen from St. George's International School in Luxembourg!

This year we were unable to hold our usual practical Saturday event - scheduled for 21 November - due to the Brussels security lock down that came into force on the morning of our event. Fortunately we were able to inform all our competing teams before any of them started to travel to the British School.

Unfortunately it was not possible to find a Saturday afternoon slot to re-schedule the TOTB Eliminator Round before the RSC HQ deadline date for submission of team details of 31 January 2016. So a modified form of the Eliminator was held at each competing school.

This consisted of a written question paper and a challenging Practical Problem Solving Exercise. Although the competition this year did not involve any 'hands-on' practical work the format developed by our resident competition guru, Rita Woodward, gave the students more than just a standard paper and pencil test of their chemical know-how. Students from the Oxygen team at the SHAPE International School are pictured above taking part in the competition at their school.

Members of Hydrogen, the winning team from St George’s Luxembourg, each received a RSC heat sensitive mug and the school will hold the TOTB Keith Price Cup during 2016.

St. George's School Principal, Dr Christian Barkei, was really pleased with the team's success and the win has been reported in some Luxembourg newspapers: 'Young chemists set eyes on prize in UK contest'  ( and 'St George’s Hydrogen Team Wins Royal Society of Chemistry Regional Event in Belgium' (

The Runner–Up team was team Calcium from the European School Brussels 4 in Laeken (EEB4) and Calcium team members each received a RSC phone battery charger as did those students who scored the top mark in the written paper for each of the three year groups that form the TOTB teams. Every student that took part in the competition received a certificate.

Despite our troubles and tribulations the eliminator was, as ever, a close-fought competition with a total of nine from six schools taking part.

The full line up of participating teams for the 2015 competition is listed below:
The TOTB Finals take place in Loughborough in the UK on 16 April 2016 and RSC sponsors the travel arrangements for our winning team. The RSC Belgium team is the only competing school team not based in the British Isles.
Our next TOTB Eliminator Round will, hopefully, take place in November 2016.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

RSC Belgium 2016 AGM report

The section's Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Annual Dinner took place at Les Amis Dinent restaurant in Wezembeek-Oppem on the evening of Friday 15 January 2016. The meeting opened at 19:35 with 10 members and 1 co-opted committee member. In addition sixteen members who were unable to attend the AGM had asked the Chairman to act as their proxy for the meeting if a vote was required. This enabled a working quorum for the meeting to be obtained under our section rules.

Following approval of the minutes of the previous AGM that took place on 16 January 2015 section Secretary Becki Scott presented the Committee Report on the Section’s 2015 Activities.

2015 Highlights 
During the year the section organised five public events, two Saturday social excursions, and a visit from the RSC's CEO: Robert Parker. Total section membership stood at 132 – a net increase of six over the year.

Among highlights of the year were the Café Chimique on Climate Change, Prof Avril MacDonald’s series of demonstration lectures for schools and the public in February, a lively demonstration lecture by Prof Sir John Holman and two guided tours: one of the Waterloo Battlefield in May and the other of the WWI front lines in September. The 2015 Chemistry Challenge competition had attracted increased participation with the prizes given out at Peter Atkins’ event in October.

Feedback had been received from Cardiff University that Ms Dale Lyons (the first recipient of our Norman Lloyd scholarship) had performed exceptionally well in her first year and the next recipient had been selected: Rhodri Evans.

Financial aspects
Rita Woodward presented the 2015 financial report and accounts. In general, 2015 had been a good year for schools events. The section made a net deficit of just over 1200 euros with a remaining balance of c. 6000 euros. The committee aims to keep the account at around 7000 euros due to Belgian regulations meaning that the section officers are responsible for any deficit. A future grant of 9000 euros will be requested from HQ. The accounts had been signed off by the auditor Ralph Palim. Ralph had also a greed to continue as auditor for the section.

Our Chairman, Tim Reynolds, thanked the committee for their hard work and support during the year. He highlighted the “Fantastic Plastic” events that had been taken to the schools, rather than all the schools visiting a set location. This had proven extremely successful and was something the section is hoping to repeat with Andrew Hanson’s “Colour is Fun” events in March 2016. The Chairman thanked Ian Carson for his input, hard work, and organisation with these events. Ian also thanked UCL, Fabio, and BSB for their help with the chemicals etc used in the “Fantastic Plastic” talks. Tim went on to report that John Holman’s talk had also proved to be a very popular event. He also acknowledged that the section had a disappointing end to the year, with the cancellation of two events due to the security situation in Brussels. He went on to say that a good programme was coming together for 2016 and he thanked all members for their continued support of the section.

Following elections the RSC Belgium Executive Committee for 2016 has the following membership: Mr Tim Reynolds (Chairman), Mrs Rita Woodward (Treasurer), Dr Becki Scott (Secretary), Prof Bob Crichton (elected committee member), Prof Brian Sutcliffe (elected committee member), Dr David Terrell (elected committee member), Mr John Swift (elected committee member, and Dr Ian Carson (elected committee member).

The first meeting of the new Executive will be on 17 February 2016 where co-opted members will be confirmed.

International issues
Bob Crichton brought to the attention of members the proposed regulations of the RSC's Outreach Working Group (OWG) which will affect the way international sections operate. Prof David Evans of the Beijing section who sits on the OWG had approached the Belgium section committee for their opinion and feedback on the proposed regulation changes. The section felt that the move to restrict the amount of the budget spent on outreach to 50% could be very limiting to the range of activities which we undertook. The discussions at the OWG indicated that all local section representatives were opposed to the changes. It is felt that these changes will undermine the work of the individual sections. We have also been asked to clarify the numbers of members and non-members attending events. This is a worrying precedent because many of our events have a large non-member attendance. Many local sections rely on the support of volunteers.

Tim, as the Chair of the International Steering Group, will communicate directly with HQ and the networks over this issue.

There being no other business, the meeting closed at 19:58. The AGM was followed by the 2016 Annual Dinner (see above) of the RSC Belgium section.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Second Norman Lloyd Scholar announced

RSC Belgium is proud to announce that the second recipient of the Dr Norman C. Lloyd Scholarship at Cardiff University has been selected and is enjoying their first year at the university. Rhodri Evans hails from Caernarfon and started his BSc degree in Chemistry at the end of September.

Pictured below in one of Cardiff’s chemistry laboratories Rhodri Evans, who originally comes from Caernarfon, is enjoying living and studying in the Welsh capital. The scholarship is given to new students to the Cardiff School of Chemistry who are of high academic standing and a resident of Wales.

Upon receiving this award, Rhodri said: “I would like to thank the Royal Society of Chemistry Belgium and the family and friends of Dr Norman Lloyd for this scholarship. As a student in my first year, [the scholarship] will no doubt be helpful towards achieving a successful first year at Cardiff University. With this money, I will most definitely expand my knowledge of the syllabus as a wider range of books/technology will suddenly become available. The most informative sources usually come with a significant cost and thus this money will be beneficial. I will also be able to participate in a number of Chemistry related activates which will give me much needed experience in the profession.”

“To be selected for this scholarship is an honour in itself, especially in class exceeding 180 students. From growing up in a relatively small town, moving to a capital city is a big step and was daunting at times. Being known then that I specifically have been selected will give me new profound confidence in my Chemistry studies and will give me a drive to achieve the highest possible degree. In addition to this, it has made me aware of the accomplishments of past Chemistry students at Cardiff University such as Dr Norman Lloyd. This then gave me a clearer idea of what I want to achieve later in my career,” he continues.

“After I finish my Chemistry degree at Cardiff University, I hope to work in a research based occupation. This truly captures my imagination as the learning process never ends and the life we live can be improved through chemical breakthroughs. I can only say thank you once again and will hopefully be active with the Society in the years to come,” concludes Rhodri.

I am sure you will all join Setsuko’s family in wishing Rhodri every success in his studies at Cardiff.

The scholarship
The Norman Lloyd scholarship was set up by RSC Belgium in collaboration with Norman’s family and Cardiff University in memory of our old friend and supporter Norman Lloyd. Norman was himself a student at an institution that is now part of the university. The funds raised provide an annual scholarship of £1,000 for an undergraduate student, usually in their first year of study, at the Cardiff School of Chemistry.

The first recipient of the scholarship was Dale Lyons who completed a very successful first year at Cardiff in last summer.

If you would like to donate to the Norman Lloyd scholarship fund follow this link and specify that you wish to donate to the Norman Lloyd Scholarship fund in the comments box.

More information on the scholarship itself can be found here.

Friday, 30 October 2015

What is Chemistry?

On the evening of 20 October RSC Belgium members and friend were treated to an absorbing lecture from Professor Peter Atkins entitled 'What is Chemistry?' In the Brel theatre at the British School of Brussels Peter guided us through the marvellous world of chemistry and explained took how it shapes the world around us. He imparted the nine most important things you need to know to understand and study chemistry and therefore how the world works.

Most people remember chemistry from their school days as a subject that was largely incomprehensible, fact-rich but understanding-poor, smelly, and so far removed from the real world of events and pleasures that there seemed little point, except for the most introverted, in coming to terms with its grubby concepts, spells, recipes, and rules.

Peter Atkins wants to change all that. In his What is Chemistry? book and lectures he encourages us to look at chemistry anew, through a chemist's eyes, to understand its central concepts and to see how it contributes not only towards our material comfort, but also to human culture. Atkins shows how chemistry provides the infrastructure of our world, through the chemical industry, the fuels of heating, power generation, and transport, as well as the fabrics of our clothing and furnishings.

By considering the remarkable achievements that chemistry has made, and examining its place between both physics and biology, Atkins presented a fascinating, clear, and rigorous exploration of the world of chemistry - its structure, core concepts, and exciting contributions to new cutting-edge technologies.

The evening also saw the awarding of prizes in our Chemistry Challenge 2015 competition.

Peter Atkins FRSC is emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Lincoln College. He left left school at fifteen taking a job at Monsanto as a laboratory assistant. He  studied for A-levels in his spare time and gained a place, following a last-minute interview, at the University of Leicester. There he studied, of course, chemistry, obtaining a BSc degree in chemistry, and subsequently a PhD degree on research into electron spin resonance spectroscopy and aspects of theoretical chemistry. He then took a postdoc at UCLA as a Harkness Fellow. He returned to the UK as a fellow and tutor of Lincoln College, Oxford, and lecturer in physical chemistry (later, professor of physical chemistry). In 1969, he won the Royal Society of Chemistry's Meldola Medal. He retired in 2007, and since then has been a full-time author.

He has honorary doctorates from the University of Utrecht, the University of Leicester (where he sits on the university Court), Mendeleev University in Moscow, and Kazan State Technological University. He was a member of the Council of the Royal Institution and the Royal Society of Chemistry. He was the founding chairman of the IUPAC Committee on Chemistry Education, and is a trustee of a variety of charities. He is a patron of the Oxford University Scientific Society.

However he most well-known as a prolific writer of popular chemistry textbooks. He has quite literally written the book in terms of undergraduate texts globally for Physical Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics. He is also the author of a number of popular science books, including Atkins' Molecules, Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science and On Being. His most recent popular volumes are Reactions: The private life of atoms, Chemistry: A Very Short Introduction and 'What is Chemistry?' the subject of his presentation on 20 October.

Peter Atkins discusses the ideas behind 'What is Chemistry' in the video below.

RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge 2015 Results

The results of the RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge 2015 have been announced and the talented prize winners picked up their winnings at a special RSC Belgium event with Prof Peter Atkins of Oxford University on the evening of 20 October at the British School of Brussels. This year we received 119 eligible entries from several international and European schools in this testing challenge of young people's chemical knowledge and initiative.

The RSC Belgium Chemical Challenge has three sections:
  • A/ A chemistry multiple choice paper
  • B/ A structured questions on chemistry, and
  • C/ A 'Thinking Matters' paper that is not chemistry based
And the top results were as follows:

Section A: Multiple choice
First was Jozef Ceri Rees from the British School of Brussels (BSB)
Joint second were Ivet Andres Munoz also from BSB and Franziska Ihli from European School Brussels 3 at Ixelles (EEB3)
And third prize went to Yoonkwon Yi from the International School of Brussels (ISB).

The winners in this section are pictured below together with RSC Belgium chairman Tim Reynolds.

Section B: Structured Questions
First was Ivet Andres Munoz from BSB.
Joint second were Changfu Sun and Yoonkwon Yi bith from ISB
And six students tied for third place: Leyla Jackson from BSB, Benjamin Keltjens and Conor O'Flaherty from BSB, Thomas Maher from St Johns International School Waterloo (St. Johns), Willak Kamil from European School Brussels 1 at Uccle (EEB1), and Jonas Papazoglou-Hennig from EEB3

Section C: Thinking Matters
Joint first were Utkarsh Saxena of ISB and Laura Molnar from EEB1.
Three students tied for second place: Zachary Arnolds from St. Johns and Veronika Mrazek and Greta Carpenter both from EEB3.
Joint third were Sam Craig from ISB and Bilaal Ahmad from St. Johns.

Keith Price Prize
Ivet Andres Munoz from also received the Keith Price Prize for best overall score in sections A and B. First prize winners received €50, second €25 and third places €10 with the winner of the Keith Price Prize receiving an additional €100.

Well done to everyone that took part! Every student that entered the competition receives a certificate of participation. We will be running the Challenge again in 2015. And look out for our Top of the Bench International eliminator coming soon! All the students who collected their prizes at the 20 October event are pictured below.

The Challenge
The Chemistry Challenge competition was devised and compiled by RSC Belgium treasurer Rita Woodward and is open to students from any school in Belgium. The questions are 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 2 hour written test held in school and designed to demonstrate the participants’ knowledge of chemistry and their ability to think logically.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Chairman Tim elected to Chair RSC's International Steering Group

RSC Belgium Chairperson Tim Reynolds has been elected as the Chair of the RSC's International Steering Group. Tim received over 50% of the votes cast in the ballot for the position that attracted a good number of nominations from RSC's various international sections. 

Tim will be attending the RSC General Assembly in Manchester on 13 and 14 November including the Membership Networks Committee (MNC) meeting on Friday 13 November where he will be representing the interests of RSC international members. He will also be attending the International Delegates Day on 12 November.

One of the MNC's main tasks at the moment is a regional review that is working to build a more representative and responsive governance structure for the RSC.

RSC Global community 
Tim believes that it is increasingly important that the views of members of RSC international sections are heard and fully represented in RSC decision-making. As chairman of the International Steering Group he will look to canvass the views of all international sections and consult widely with international membership to ensure the diverse needs of the RSC's international global community is represented.

"Today more than one in five of RSC members live and work outside the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland: for example ‘continental’ Europe represents 7% of total RSC membership. And international membership will be the main area for growth in the future," says Tim.

"A key element of RSC strategy is to ‘bring together and empower our global chemistry community for the benefit of science and humanity’, so it is vital that the voice of international members is clearly heard by decision-makers in the Society," he continues. "As the newly elected chair of the International Steering Group I will work hard to ensure that the views of international sections are heard and fully represented. With increasing globalisation I believe that the distinction between ‘local’ (i.e. UK/ Eire-based sections) and ‘international’ sections is increasingly irrelevant: all sections should be equal."

Tim has been a RSC member since May 1993 and has served on a number of RSC committees including the Committee for Promotion of Chemistry to the Public and the International Strategy Group. He is currently a member of the RSC Government Affairs Committee.