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.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Paper Industry shows how Innovation should be done!

Innovative Chemistry and the Paper Industry was the subject of the final RSC Belgium event of 2014 on 11 December at the Hotel Rastelli in Tervuren. Marco Mensink (pictured below), Managing Director of CEPI (the Confederation of European Paper Industries) presented the results of the CEPI “Two Team Project” competition: an initiative that has brought dynamic and innovative thinking into the sector with a potentially 'game changing' impact for European operations.

The Two Teams challenge looked to identify breakthrough technology concepts that could give the European paper industry the required dynamic for a successful sustainable future in Europe. Eight breakthrough concepts were identified including the use of deep eutectic solvents and supercritical CO2. Marco's talk provides fascinating insights into how fundamental principles of chemistry can help an industry face up to the challenges of the future and also how innovative thinking per se can make an impact.


Roadmap
In November 2011 CEPI launched the Forest Fibre Industry 2050 Roadmap, which looked at how the sector might reduce its fossil-based CO2 emissions by 80% while at the same time creating 50% more added value.

One of the key conclusions was that breakthrough technologies would be needed by 2030 to achieve these targets. So, in 2012, CEPI set up the “Two Team Project” to identify breakthrough technology concepts that would give the industry the required dynamic for a successful future in Europe.

The competition challenged two teams to be as creative and imaginative as possible while focusing on practical technologies and solutions that were appropriate for wide-scale use across the sector.

Eight concepts
The process resulted in eight candidate breakthrough technologies that could help to revolutionise the European paper and pulp industry with the overall winner being the use of Deep Eutectic Solvents that could open the way to the production of pulp at significantly lower temperature and atmospheric pressure resulting in major energy and emissions savings.


Marco was a very dynamic and entertaining speaker and gave a fascinating insight into how fundamental principles of chemistry can help an industry face up to the challenges of the next four decades.

You can find out more on all the eight final projects here.




Monday, November 24, 2014

X-rays illuminate Year of Crystallography

RSC members and friends were treated to a whistle-stop tour of the evolution of x-ray crystallography on 18 November at the British School of Brussels. Dr Gordon Leonard from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble outlined the origins and history of crystallography from X-ray tubes to X-ray lasers and took a look at the future of this important analytical technology. The lecture was RSC Belgium's contribution to the International Year of Crystallography in 2014. Dr Leonard is one of European leading crystallographers. 

Ever since the W.L. Bragg reported the first crystal structures, thus inventing the field of X-ray Crystallography, crystallographers have been seeking, and exploiting, more and more powerful sources of X-rays with which they can probe the structures of molecules in the crystalline state.


In his lecture Gordon (pictured above during his lecture and below with RSC Belgium chairman Prof Bob Crichton) traced the history of facilities for X-ray crystallography from the first X-ray tubes of 1896 and described how the practice of X-ray crystallography has evolved in the last 100 years with a particular emphasis on Macromolecular Crystallography.

Gordon's talk included insights on the increasing automation of X-ray facilities and looked forward to the possibilities that will be afforded to crystallographers by latest generation ultra-short pulsed X-ray Free Electron Lasers and fourth Generation synchrotron sources - such as the proposed upgrade for ESRF.


The International Year of Crystallography 2014 (IYCr2014) commemorates not only the centennial of X-ray diffraction, which allowed the detailed study of crystalline material, but also the 400th anniversary of Kepler’s observation in 1611 of the symmetrical form of ice crystals, which began the wider study of the role of symmetry in matter.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

First Time Team wins TOTB Thriller

RSC Belgium held its annual eliminator heat for the RSC Top of the Bench (TOTB) competition on Saturday 15 November at the British School of Brussels (BSB). In a close finish the Bromine team from the European School in Laeken claimed the Keith Price Cup in their first ever entry in the competition. The team will also represent RSC Belgium in the 2015 final in the UK!

This was the fourth time that the RSC Belgium's TOTB eliminator has been held as an actual 'head-to-head' competition with a practical element. This format is a clear ‘hit’ with both the students and teachers who take part.

As ever it was a hard-fought struggle between a total of 12 teams from six schools including two teams from the new European School Brussels IV based in Laeken.

The full team line up was as follows:
Juicy problems
The twelve teams of budding chemists had to complete a short written test on their individual chemical knowledge and data interpretation skills and then show teamwork and problem-solving abilities in a practical chemical exercise.


This year the teams were set the task of producing electrical power from fruit! A selection of fruit and a variety of metals and other lab equipment were provided for each team and they were asked to produce a 'battery' that gave a reproducible voltage of 5.0 volts using the least number of fruit 'cells' and no more than three different fruit varieties.


The challenge provided a range of responses, but all the teams got there in the end! Teams were judged on their approach to the problem, teamwork, the quality of the recording of their work and the accuracy and precision of their observations.

The format of our TOTB event closely reflects the format of the competition that the winners will face in the actual RSC–run final in the UK. As usual Rita Woodward devised this cunning competition and set the questions.

Close competition
All twelve teams consisted of four students aged 14 - 16 and were accompanied by teachers. When teams had worked out their own solution, their efforts were assessed by judges from RSC Belgium: Dr. Ian Carson, Dr Becki Scott, and Rita Woodward (who also set the tasks for the TOTB). We were also greatly assisted by three postgraduate students from KU Leuven - Kim Eekelers, Niels Hulsbosch and Sofie Hollanders - who volunteered to help out with supervision and judging.

The overall winners were determined by their team placings in both written and practical parts of the 'eliminator'.


The final result was very tight with the winners being the the Bromine team from Laeken, with runners up being the Argon team also from Laeken and the Gallium from the European School Brussels III in Ixelles. The winning team is pictured above having been presented with the Keith Price Cup by branch treasurer and chief problem-setter Rita Woodward. The Bromine team with their teacher Mary Jaeger are are pictured below. The team will now represent Belgium in the (inter)national final in the UK in Spring 2015.


All the students taking part in our Top of the Bench competition receive certificates of participation.

Clearly everyone who took part in the competition had a very enjoyable time with both students and teachers very enthusiastic about this competitive format. The top three teams are pictured below. Our thanks to all the teachers, technical staff and students (see below) who took part in a really fun afternoon of chemistry! #chemistryisfun.


You can find more information on RSC school competitions and activities here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

First Norman C Lloyd Scholarship announced

RSC Belgium is proud to announce that the first recipient of the Dr Norman C. Lloyd Scholarship at Cardiff University has been selected. Ms Dale Lyons hails from Swansea and started her BSc degree in Chemistry at the end of September this year.

Pictured below with Prof Ruedi Allemann, Head of the School of Chemistry at Cardiff (left), and Dr Chris Morley, Director of Teaching and Learning at Cardiff, Dale said: “I’m so happy, pleased and honoured to have been awarded this scholarship. It has made me even more determined to succeed well in my Chemistry degree and do my best throughout the year.”


“I will put the scholarship towards my fees for this year and also use it to buy some of the chemistry books I will require. This will be a great help to me as it has surprised me how the cost of everything adds up so quickly and I can now get all the books and resources I require which will be vital for my studying, hopefully helping me achieve a good grade,” she continues.

“I would like to thank you so much for you generosity and kindness as this scholarship will really make a big difference for me. It was such a wonderful surprise to find out that I had been awarded it. It has not only eased some of my financial concerns but has made me more determined to do well in my degree and make the most of every opportunity that becomes available to me. I cannot wait to start my studies of chemistry at Cardiff University. Thank you,” concludes Dale.

I am sure you will all join Norman's wife Setsuko and the rest of his family and friends in wishing Dale every success in her studies at Cardiff. We look forward to hearing about her progress over the coming year.

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.

If you would like to donate to the fund follow this link. More information on the scholarship can be found here.