Friday, October 30, 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, September 27, 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.

Mud Lane, Piccadilly and the Strand

On Saturday 19 September RSC Belgium members and friends enjoyed a fascinating walking tour in one part of Belgium that will be forever part of British history and the history of warfare. Ploegsteert – or Plug Street as the World War One ‘tommies’ called it – was on the front line of the Ypres salient for most of the Great War and reminders and memorials of the conflict are everywhere.

The tour was led by local expert Claude Verhaeghe and took us to some recently excavated sites in areas where the first gas attacks of the war took place.

The RSC party met up close to Ypres railway station and took a coach to the monumental Ploegsteert memorial (see above) where we met up with Claude and then took a walking tour along Mud Lane via a series of military cemeteries to the site of the Christmas Day truce (see below).

The Ploegsteert area in in that curious part of french-speaking Wallonia that butts into Western Flanders. Clearly its mixture of francophone and Flemish place names were too much for the first wave of mainly London bred British soldiers based in the area from 1914. This led to familiar London place names replacing local ones in their military maps. Tracks through the woods were known as the Strand, Regent Street and Haymarket.

Claude described the situation of the men on the frontline, told various episodes from the war in the area, and the fascinating, individual stories of many of the men who lost their lives.

At the Prowse Point cemetery (see above) – one of the few cemeteries that are ‘open’ to receive the bodies of the soldiers that are still being discovered in the area - Claude and section secretary Becki Scott described their involvement in the discovery, scientific identification and reburial of Australian solder Alan Mather and how just a few years ago.

After the walk a brief coach tour took us past Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘cottage’ and some of the craters formed by the huge explosive mines employed by both sides.  It was disconcerting to realise that a number untriggered or unexploded mines are still buried in the region. The last victims of World War One was in 1955 when an untriggered mine exploded. But hazards from the discovery of conventional unexploded ordnance and even gas shells are still common place in the area.

After a very pleasant lunch at the restaurant L’Auberge our party returned to Ypres via the Church crypt at Messines where Adolf Hitler had been treated for injuries during the war. We learnt that Winston Churchill had been in the same sector in 1916 when commanding a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers following his resignation from government following the Gallipoli debacle. Both future leaders were enthusiastic painters and both had painted the church at Messines.

Our thanks to Becki Scott for organising the logistics of the trip and to Claude Verhaeghe for being a very informative and entertaining guide. You can find out more about Claude’s battlefield tours here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

First Norman Lloyd Scholar's First Class First Year

The first recipient of the Dr Norman C Lloyd scholarship established by RSC Belgium at Cardiff University has now finished her first year. And she has passed the year with flying colours!

Dale Lyons (right) received the scholarship for 2014/2015 to help her in the first year of a four year Chemistry with a year in industry (MChem) degree programme. She is looking forward to her year in industry which she hopes will help her to decide which career path to take after her studies. Dale's favourite module in year one has been Solid State Chemistry.

Dales says that receiving the scholarship "has made a massive difference.  I have been able to buy textbooks rather than wait for them to be available in the library which has helped a lot with revision. Having the scholarship has motivated me throughout the year to do well and eased some of the pressure in terms of worrying about money.  Thank you so much."

Clearly the support of the scholarship has been very useful and Dale has received a first-class honours for her first year of study at Cardiff. Well done Dale!

In the Autumn a new first year student will been selected to receive the 2015/2016 scholarship.

The scholarship
The Norman Lloyd scholarship was set up by RSC Belgium in collaboration with Norman’s family and the 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.

You can find out more about the Cardiff University scholarship here including how to donate to the fund.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chemistry for the Future: Solvay Prize 2015

Solvay has announced the start of the search for its Chemistry of the Future prize for 2015. The prize is intended to endorse basic research and underline the essential role of chemistry, both as a science and an industry, in helping solve some of the most pressing issues the world is facing today. The Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize rewards a major scientific discovery that could shape tomorrow’s chemistry and help human progress and celebrates the strong support for scientific research given by the founder of the Solvay GroupErnest Solvay.

The €300,000 prize is awarded every two years. In 2013, the inaugural Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize was presented to Professor Peter G. Schultz. The next Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize will be awarded on 18 November, 2015 at Le Palais des Académies in Brussels, Belgium.

Professor Peter G. Schultz (above), professor at the Scripps Research Institute in California, and director of the California Institute for Biomedical Research, was awarded the first Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize in 2013 for his multiple scientific contributions at the interface between chemistry and biology. In particular the exploitation of molecular diversity and the rational expansion of the genetic code of living organisms. His ground-breaking work has made an impact in many scientific fields, including biotechnology and medicine. It also has important implications for regenerative medicine, and the treatment of infectious disease, autoimmune disease and cancer.

Selection process
The selection process for the 2015 prize is two-stage process. First, independent nominators propose candidates whose achievements in the field of chemistry, including biochemistry, material sciences, soft matter, biophysics and chemical engineering, will shape the chemistry of the future. Then the international jury selects the winner of the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize from amongst the list of candidates.

The jury for 2015 will be led by Håkan Wennerström, Professor of theoretical and physical chemistry at the University of Lund, Sweden. He is a former chairman of the jury for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He is joined by the first winner Professor Peter Schultz, Paul Chaikin, Professor of Physics at the New York University, USA, specializing in solid state physics, in particular soft matter, and Christopher Dobson, John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Chemical and Structural Biology at the University of Cambridge.

Also on the jury is Gerhard Ertl, Professor emeritus at the Department of Physical Chemistry, Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-PlanckGesellschaft in Berlin, Germany, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies of chemical processes on solid surface, together with Jean-Marie Lehn, Professor at the Institut d’Etudes Avancées de l’Université de Strasbourg and Professor emeritus at the Collège de France in Paris. Lehn was an early innovator in the field of supramolecular chemistry and is a fellow winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Completing the jury are Patrick Maestro, member of the Académie des Technologies in France, Scientific Director of Solvay, and Paul Baekelmans, Science Adviser to the Solvay Group and Professor emeritus at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He chairs the Conseil National de Chimie of the Académie des Sciences de Belgique.

Find out more at the Solvay website and a flyer for the prize can be downloaded here.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Waterloo Walk 2015

The sun certainly shone on the section’s Spring event: a walking tour around the historic site of the Waterloo battlefield on Sunday 10 May.  At almost 200 years to the day since the historic battle 21 members and friends of the section followed in the footsteps of the Anglo-Dutch and French troops at the battle guided by historian and Project Hougoumont Co-ordinator for Historical and Archaeological Research, Alasdair White.

The walk started at 14:15 prompt outside the Wellington Café in the shadow of the famous Butte de Lion. Here Alasdair (below) explained the (still) ongoing building works happening in the area that will provide a new and a very shiny visitor centre and other facilities hopefully in time for the 200th anniversary of the battle on 18 June 2015.

We then moved on to visit the part of the battlefield occupied by the Anglo-Dutch right flank, an area that was held mainly by the Dutch and Dutch-Belgian units while being subject to French cavalry charges and later the attack of the Imperial Guard. Alasdair explained the use of infantry ‘squares’ to repulse cavalry attacks, showed us where the main action took place and told numerous anecdotes of personal actions that made an impact on the course of the battle. During his explanations we also encountered the remnants of a French cavalry charge (see below) still wandering the battle field clearly in a daze!

Alasdair then led us down to Hougoumont farm, where some of the heaviest fighting occurred. There Alasdair explained the major restoration work and archaeology that is happening around the farm and associated buildings and fields. He also described the importance of the farm to the successful outcome of the battle.

Finally we walked across the battlefield to La Belle Alliance (Napoleon’s HQ) and via La Haye Sainte farmhouse back to our starting point following the final failed attack of the Imperial Guard that signalled a general retreat of the French forces as the ‘Anglo-Dutch’ (but consisting of a majority of German troops it would seem) and the Prussians closed in.

 All-in-all the walk was a fascinating four hour tour-de-force and provided an excellent entertaining and educational afternoon. Over a beer or two at the Wellington Café tactics and strategy were further discussed and Alasdair also had copies of his two new books (described below) on the Waterloo campaign available for purchase.

June 1815 – the Belgium Campaign
With text by Alasdair White telling the tale of the 'Campaign of June 1815' and photographs by Marc Fasol taken during various recent re-enactments of the battle, this bi-lingual (English and French) publication includes 89 photographs and five maps to deliver a beautiful ‘coffee-table’ book that would grace the library of any historian or interested reader.

The book is available in hardback €25 direct from the author or from Renaissance du Livre or from Amazon.

The Road to Waterloo: A Concise History of the 1815 Campaign 
This second paperback book from Alasdair contains many new interpretations of the events of 1815 and leads to some perhaps controversial conclusions. It cuts through the accumulated inaccuracies and wishful thinking that has characterised the writings of so many historians to give the interested reader a clear, concise and remarkably unbiased understanding of what actually happened during the early summer of 1815.

This slim volume is available as a paperback (€9.00/£7.50) and e-book (€4.50) from White & Maclean or from Amazon or direct from the author.

Waterloo 200
To find out more about Waterloo and the 200 year anniversary visit the Waterloo 200 website. This is a joint project between charity Waterloo 200, the National Army Museum, and Culture 24 and is largely funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The site covers many famous names associated with the battle, like Wellington and Napoleon, but also less well-known figures. You can use this website to find out ‘Why Waterloo Matters’ and to uncover the stories behind the names.