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.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

RSC CEO Robert Parker presents ...

On the evening of 5 May a special meeting of the RSC Belgium executive committee welcomed RSC CEO Dr. Robert Parker to Brussels. Dr Parker was in the Belgian capital for a meeting at the European Parliament and stayed on to talk to the executive committee and make a special presentation to one of its long-term members: Dr Ian Carson.

Robert recalled that one of his first major public events after being appointed as interim CEO of the Royal Society of Chemistry was to speak at the European Schools Science Symposium (ESSS) in 2011. The  ESSS 2011 was held at the European school in Woluwe Brussels and RSC Belgium had initiated the invitation to Robert's predecessor Richard Pike. Robert's experience at the Symposium was a significant factor in his decision to apply to become the permanent CEO. Ian as secretary of RSC Belgium at the time had issued that invitation.


Ian (above, left) received a Long Service Award from Dr Robert Parker (above, right) in recognition of his ten-year service on the RSC Belgium committee and his tremendous efforts to organise many significant events for the section including the recent major tour of Belgian schools by Prof Averil Macdonald and our annual Cafe Chimque events.

RSC Belgium section chairman, Tim Reynolds, said: "It was really pleasing to see Ian get this long service award from Robert Parker. It was a special occasion. Ian has done so much for the section in Belgium."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Gelato to Gun Cotton

24 March 2015 saw an exciting chemistry extravaganza at the British School of Brussels as RSC Belgium welcomed RSC Council member Prof Sir John Holman of the University of York to deliver one of his famous demonstration lectures. His absorbing lecture covered a wide range of chemical sciences from instant ice cream making to explosive gun cotton and was highly appreciated by the packed audience of over 90 people.

Lectures by Prof Sir John Holman, who is nominated to be the next RSC President, are fun and dramatic, filled with the traditional chemical bangs and flashes, but always informative and relevant. And the performance on 24 March was no different with, in addition to ice cream and explosives, Sir John burning banknotes, making jelly babies scream, producing fireflies and even turning water into wine!


Sir John was assisted throughout the lecture by students from BSB (see above) and audience participation was also encouraged - especially when there was freshly made ice cream to be tasted!

Great feedback
Feedback from the audience showed that the show was very well appreciated by chemists and non-chemists alike.


For example RSC Belgium secretary Becki Scott commented: "My four students (who are all from an archaeological, non-science, background) loved the talk! They have spent all morning asking myself and Patrick (my boss) whether we can make ice-cream in the office by liberating liquid nitrogen from the SEM. They were amazed by the colour change experiments, and the whole talk was a real eye-opener for them. John completely hit the mark with them, it was their first real interaction with main-stream chemistry (outside of high school). Although some of the theory was alien to them, John made it understandable and fun. I think they finally began to realise that you can engage and enjoy chemistry and science at any age, and that you don’t need to be a specialist. I also think his talk really encouraged them to consider further the role of science in archaeology.I totally understand why his lectures are so popular, it was a really good evening."

Clearly, the talk was a total success and after the lecture Sir John was mobbed by audience members of all ages asking questions.


The event was well organised and very well received. The whole audience thoroughly enjoyed the event: it was a very visual and entertaining method of explaining science. Our thanks go to Brian Sutcliffe, Rita Woodward, Bob Crichton, and Phil Wilson and his team at BSB for their help in organising the event.

Sir John
Sir John Holman  is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of York and Senior Education Advisor to The Wellcome Trust. He is also the chair of the Management Committee of the York Science Outreach Centre and was a founding director of the Salters Advanced Chemistry programme. He has been involved with science outreach and education for a number of years, covering a wide range of ages and abilities.  In 2006 he was appointed the first National STEM Director and in 2010 received a knighthood for services to education. He is RSC Council's nominated candidate for the next RSC President

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fantastic Plastic! Fantastic Success!

In the last week of February RSC Belgium organised a demo lecture tour of schools and a public lecture with Prof Dr Averil Macdonald emerita professor at Reading University and her famous 'Fantastic Plastic' lecture. The tour visited five schools: the European Schools at Mol, Brussels Laeken, Brussels Woluwe and Brussels Ixelles, and the British School of Brussels -  where we also held a public lecture on the evening of 26 February.

The lectures were a fantastic success with a total audience approaching 1000 students, RSC Belgium members and friends. Feedback from teachers at all the schools venues indicated that the lecture had certainly made an impact on the audiences and moved many to think more seriously about their future options for a science career.

Prof Macdonald (below) is Professor of Science Engagement at the University of Reading and is also a leading advocate for encouraging young women to get interested in science and engineering and seek science-based careers. Amongst many other roles she is a Trustee of the London Science Museum and chairs the UK Expert Group for Women in Science.


She has recently published a report on the issues around encouraging women into science, technology and engineering (STEM) - and why the current messaging is not right. Most girls decide that jobs and careers in science are “not for people like me”. The report shows why STEM outreach and engagement activities have a limited impact on girls and other young people who are under-represented in the STEM workforce and recommends a fresh approach.

You can download the report here.

Top lecture
Prof Macdonald's lecture explores the links between Lego™ blocks, zero pollution cars, disposable nappies, liquids that flow up hill, and false legs! She also shows how this links with the perfect recipe for slime - and shows how science and innovation can be used to make you a Millionaire!

Prof Macdonald's lecture gives a brief overview of the great variety of physical properties of plastics that make them suitable for various intriguing and surprising applications. She then introduces the concept of polymers consisting of long chain molecules, their ability to exist as solid and liquids and their ability to exhibit the properties of both (as in slime).


Lively demonstrations show the effects of increasing temperature, cross linking molecules, "tangling up" the polymer chains, and dissolving them in liquids. Some examples are given to show how by controlling what happens at the molecular level, the characteristics of the final material are determined. Averil focuses as much on enterprise and business opportunities as she does on the chemistry and properties of polymer molecules with plenty of interest for both budding engineers and entrepreneurs! And our audiences clearly loved it!

Big thanks
As well as huge thanks to all the schools, RSC Belgium acknowledges the invaluable help and expertise of Fabio Lucaccioni and Istvan Marko from Univerisite Catholique de Louvain in procuring and preparing the chemicals used in the lecture tour, the staff of the chemistry department at BSB for providing glassware and other vital equipment, and a special thank-you to our own Dr Ian Carson who took on the lion's share of organising and facilitating this very successful venture.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cafe Chimique on Climate Change 2015

27 January saw RSC Belgium's first event of 2015: a Cafe Chimique on Climate Change at the Auderghem Cultural Centre. A large and lively audience of RSC members and the general public listened to brief opening remarks from our two speakers - Prof Ted Shepherd of Reading University and Prof Istvan Marko - before we launched into an informed audience-led debate.

Climate change and its consequences are rarely out of the news and the RSC has recently issued a statement on climate change and the role for chemistry in its mitigation as part of its new ‘Global Challenges' initiative. So our Cafe Chimique debate was timely and provoked a large number of questions.


The speakers were introduced by new section Chairman Tim Reynolds (second right above). Prof Ted Shepherd (right) is the inaugural Grantham Professor of Climate Science at the Department of Meteorology at Reading University of Reading and has led scientific assessments of both climate (IPCC) and stratospheric ozone (WMO/UNEP). He has also worked in the World Climate Research Programme.

Prof Istvan Marko (left above) leads the Laboratory of Organic and Medicinal Chemistry at the Universite Catholique de Louvain and presented a sceptical view on climate change. The debate itself was moderated by Prof Bob Crichton (second left above).

The discussion ranged over many aspects of the science of climate change from extreme weather events to chaos theory. To follow the arguments outlined you can read a short summary of ideas from Ted Shepherd here and follow Istvan Marko's thoughts via an interview (in French) with La Libre from 2014 or get a copy of the climate-sceptic book 'Climat: 15 vérités qui dérangent' (also in French) which Istvan edited.

Feedback from the audience after the debate indicated, once again, that the Cafe Chimique format is a winner providing a great format for debate in an informal environment.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Silver Jubilee AGM Report

Les Amis Dînent restaurant in Wezembeek-Oppem was once again the location for the section's Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Annual Dinner on 16 January 2015. The 2015 Committee was elected and reports on the activities of the section in 2014 and the state of the section's finances were received. Tim Reynolds was elected as the new section chairman and Becki Scott becomes the new section secretary. Outgoing chairman Bob Crichton received a vote of thanks for his excellent leadership over the past six years. And we discovered that 2015 is the section's silver jubilee year!

Following the announcement of apologies and noting of those section members who had asked the chairman to act as their proxy during the meeting, the minutes of the previous AGM held on 17 January 2014 were reviewed and approved.

Tim Reynolds then gave the 2014 secretary's report on section activities. "2014 had been another successful and busy year for the section," he said. "During year the section had organised seven public events, a Saturday social excursion and participated in a number of other activities fulfilling our charitable objectives to provide popular (chemical) science lectures for our members and the public and raise the profile of the chemical sciences  schools."

2014 Highlights
Among highlights of the year were the Café Chimique on Energyon 27 January, Dr Hal Sosabowski’s series of demonstration lectures for schools and the public at the beginning of April, our guided walk discovering a range of former famous residents of Brussels led by Sarah Strange, Nick Lane’slecture on the origins of life and our International Year of Crystallography event with Gordon Leonard of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility. The section had run another ‘mega’ Top of the Bench qualifier in November with 12 teams from six school. And the winning team was from a new entrant: the European School Brussels IV in Laeken. This year’s Chemical Challengecompetition also attracted increased participation with prizes given out at Nick Lane’s event in October.

Tim also noted that the first Norman Lloyd scholarship atCardiff University had been awarded in November to Ms Dale Lyons.

Financial Report
Rita Woodward presented the 2014 financial report and accounts. Rita estimated that the sections activities in 2014 has been supported by 450 adults and over 500 young people. At the beginning of the year the net assets of the society had been at an all-time high (€18600 but this included over €6300 in the Norman Lloyd fund). During 2014 the section made a net deficit of €4700 leaving us with total net assets of €7564 as of 31 December 2014. An amount much more in line with our historical level of assets.

Chairman’s Remarks
The Chairman thanked Rita and Tim for their reports and all members of the executive committee during 2014 for their hard work and support during this year and the previous five years of his chairmanship. He felt that the section now was more dynamic, had much greater reach and was doing more activities with younger audiences than ever before. He highlighted the contribution 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.

A formal vote of thanks was made to Bob for his work and inspiration as Chairman over the past six years.


Elections
The elections for the new RSC Belgium Executive Committee saw some changes as well as continuity. Mr. Tim Reynolds was elected as Chairman, Mrs. Rita Woodward was re-elected as Treasurer, and Dr Becki Scott was elected as Secretary. Elected as members of the committees were Prof Bob Crichton, Prof Brian Sutcliffe, Dr David Terrell and Mr. John Swift. Dr Ian Carson is also an elected member of the committee in the middle of his two-year term. 

The full composition of the 2015 Executive committee can be found here. The first meeting of the new Executive will be on 19 February where co-opted members for 2015 will be confirmed.

The Treasurer expressed her gratitude to our auditor, Ralph Palim, and announced that he had agreed to be appointed as auditor for the section accounts for 2015.

David Terrell moved a vote of thanks to Tim Reynolds for his work as section secretary over the past five years.

Jubilee year!
During discussion under any other business it was realised that 2015 would be the section’s Silver Jubilee year. So we will need to think if some special events to celebrate!

Following the close of the meeting at 19:43, the 2015 Annual Dinner of the RSC Belgium section (see pictures above - courtesy of Ian Backhouse - and below - courtesy of Helen Lee) took place. The draft minutes of the 2015 AGM can be found here.