Thursday, 18 October 2018

A Kind of Blue

On the evening of Wednesday 17 October, RSC Belgium welcomed science and art fans to the Performing Arts Centre at St. Johns International School in Waterloo to hear from David Dobson, Professor of Earth Materials at University College London (UCL). The subject was  'Blue'.

The colour blue has been the rarest and most expensive pigment, for centuries reserved  for emperors and gods. Even today modern blue pigments command a premium and finding a good all-round blue is an ongoing area of research.  Blue minerals are very rare - the commonest colour-producing element, iron, normally makes greens, yellow and reds. As a consequence, this was the available pallet for most of human history, but with increased travel in the late Middle Ages and the development of synthetic technologies at various times in our history blue became available to the richest patrons. 

David (pictured above) discussed the history and technology of blue pigments in western art, from pre-Roman right through to the 21st century with a couple of chemical demonstrations to illustrate particular points.  He also described his work to develop a new blue modelled on the mineral structures which exist 500 kilometres deep beneath our feet. 

Scientist and artist
David's scientific career, working with colleagues at UCL and the Bayerisches Geoinstitut in Bayreuth Germany, involves very high- pressure experiments on deep Earth materials; the synthesis and properties of new iron-alloy phases relevant to the Earth’s core; transport properties of mantle mineral rocks and minerals; and deep seismicity.

In January 2017 David also became the first ‘Scientist in Residence’ at the Slade School of Art in London being based within the school for one year. The residency was a result of an ongoing Materials Research Project at the Slade, which highlights the role of materials within the creative and artistic process and The Pigment Timeline - a collaborative, cross-disciplinary research project that investigates and establishes connections across all departments at UCL that involve pigment and colour in any aspect of their research.

David's talk was particularly thought provoking and raised many questions from an audience on aspects of science and art. David is also an engraver and mountaineer and you can find images covering all his enthusiasms at: 

Chemistry and the Future of Life on Earth

On Thursday 20 September RSC Belgium welcomed Prof David Cole-Hamilton of St Andrews University and current vice-president of EuChemS, the European Chemical Society, to the British School of Brussels to give us his view on 'Chemistry and the Future of Life on Earth'. David also helped had out the prizes for our 2018 Chemistry Challenge competition and gave the audience one of the first public views of EuChemS new version of the periodic table of the elements. Next year, 2019, will be the United Nations / IUPAC Year of the Periodic Table.

David (pictured below) described some of the major problems facing the world and what Chemistry can do and is doing to alleviate them.

The future of life on earth is threatened by a whole range of potential problems, many of them man-made. They range from ones that have been around since biblical times such as famine, pestilence, disease and war to the more modern ones of pollution of the land seas and sky, depletion of natural resources and the population explosion. In his lecture David examined the role of chemistry in combating all of these problems.

New periodic table
2019 will be the UN/ IUPAC Year of the  Periodic Table (IYPT2019) and EuChemS has devised a unique Periodic Table (see below) that highlights the issue of element scarcity and was officially launched on 19 September. The new Periodic Table is available for free download now and a video game based on it will be available from 22 January 2019.

During a networking reception after the awards and lecture, a collection for our Norman Lloyd Scholarship Fund was taken that yielded over EUR 110. This will enable us to top up the fund to just over £ 2 000 and ensured that we can fund two more scholars in academic years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. The fund will have supported six first year chemistry students at Cardiff University by the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

2018 Chemistry Challenge Winners announced, top prize shared!

The results of the RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge 2018 were announced and the talented prize winners picked up their winnings at a special RSC Belgium event with Prof David Cole-Hamilton, past president of EuChemS, the European Chemical Society, on the evening of 20 September at the British School of Brussels (BSB). Once again we received some 100 entries from international and European schools in Brussels and beyond for this testing challenge of young people's chemical knowledge and initiative. And for the first time ever we had a dead-heat for the Keith Price Prize for best overall performance in terms of chemical knowledge.

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 place was taken by Faiz Haris Osman from BSB with second place shared by Thomas Groom of BSB and Vincent Sietses from St. Johns International School. Third place was a three-way tie between Linxiao Chen from BSB, Ignacia Bricchi from St. Johns and Maria Tencheva from the European School Brussels IV at Laeken. Some of the prize winners are pictured below with our special guest Prof. David Cole-Hamilton.

Section B: Structured Questions
In this section first prize was awarded to Vincent Sietses from St. Johns with second prize shared by Lara Melloul from the International School of Brussels (ISB) and Faiz Haris Osman of BSB. Two students also shared the third prize: Thomas Groom of BSB and Luan Cruz Pitanattero of the European School at Mol.

Section C: Thinking Matters
Here first place was awarded to Faiz Haris Osman from BSB with Bernard Benz from BSB taking second prize and third place shared between Shahriar Hossain from St. Johns and Natalie Kopp from the European School Brussels III at Ixelles.

Keith Price Prize
For the first time ever, we had a dead-heat for the top spot, the prestigious Keith Price Prize for the best best overall score in the chemistry focused sections (A and B). The joint winners were Faiz Haris Osman from BSB and Vincent Sietses of St. Johns.

First prize winners in each section received €50, second €25 and third places €10 with the winners of the Keith Price Prize receiving an additional €100 each.

Well done to everyone who took part in this year's Chemistry Challenge! Every student that entered the competition receives a certificate of participation. We will be running the Challenge again in 2019.

A Devilish Good Time at Duvel

A sunny Saturday morning greeted the group of RSC Belgium Members and friends who ventured out to visit the Duvel Moortgat Brewery in the Flemish town of Puurs on 15 September 2018. The group were treated to an informative and entertaining guided tour of the brewing and bottling operations of this fiercely independent family business.

The Duvel story started in 1871 when Jan-Leonard Moortgat and his wife founded the brewery on their farm. The beers were developed via a trial and error basis but sales rose and by 1900 Jan-Leonard's two sons Albert and Victor had joined the firm.

A Scottish connection
The First World War brought many English' beers to Belgium with the British army and Albert decided to create a special beer based on the (then current) English model.To do this he needed to acquire specific strains of yeast so in 1918 travelled to the UK, but met some resistance from English brewers. He eventually obtained a sample of yeast from a Scottish brewer - and this strain is still used today to brew Duvel beer.

Using the new yeast the two brothers perfected their recipe and launched it as 'Victory Ale' to mark the end of the war. The name lasted until 1923 when following a 'tasting session' with local dignitaries a shoemaker Mr van De Wouwer was so amazed at the beer's potency that he exclaimed 'This is a real Duvel (Devil)!' And the name stuck.

The famous tulip-shaped Duvel glass first appeared in the late 1960s and was the first of its kind able to take a full 33 cl bottle and allow a more complete experience of the beer's aromas and flavour.

Today the fourth generation of the Moortgat family is keeping the company at the forefront of brewing and expanding their sale internationally while ensuring that quality and sustainability are guaranteed.

Following our guided tour and the group enjoyed a glass or two of the Duvel's production and some other very interesting beers with the help of the skilled beer wranglers at the Brewery's bar.

For more information on the Duvel Brewery and available tours, please visit their website. Highly recommended.

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.