Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Taste of Molecules at BSB

RSC Belgium's last event before the summer break was something different. The evening of May 13 featured journalist and author Diane Fresquez  (right) who joined us to explore her new book : “A Taste of Molecules: In Search of the Secrets of Flavour” in the relaxed surroundings of the Swoosh Lounge at the British School of Brussels (BSB).  The event saw her being interviewed about the book by our section secretary Tim Reynolds and also offered the opportunity for participants to sample some the flavours that Diane describes in her book.

The evening was a great success with an audience of over 50 people and Waterstones Brussels were also there and were selling copies of Diane's book. They also took some great photos of the event (see below)!

In writing her diverting volume Diane undertook a journey of the senses through Belgium and beyond and produced a highly entertaining blend of food stories, memoir and recipes with a hefty helping of food science, nutrition and chemistry. The interview (above) explored how Diane put the book together and looked at some of the aspects of the science behind some of her favourite flavours.

At the event Diane also revealed her next venture: Sel_pHies. Diane will be involved with the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) 2014 in Copenhagen where she will help celebrate over 100 years of the pH scale. The pH scale was invented at the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen in 1909 by their chief scientist Søren Sørensen.

The @sel_pHies concept is to take the pH of any substance - for example your favourite beer and then snap a photo of the substance, the pH strip (and optionally yourself!) and post it to either the Sel_pHies facebook page or twitter account. Good fun!

Before and after the interview itself the audience was able to sample some cheese , wine and Diane's chutney and some very fine mead that are featured in the book.

For more information about 'A Taste of Molecules' visit Diane's website. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BSB boosts Belgium at TOTB Final

On Friday 28 March, 2014, four very excited students from the British School of Brussels (BSB) set out on their journey to take part in the Top of the Bench Final that took place at Loughborough University, UK on Saturday 29 March. The BSB 'Bromine' team represented RSC Belgium following their victory at our Belgian eliminator contest in November. BSB teacher and RSC Belgium exec member Jane Downing sent us this report.

"Throughout the journey they chattered non-stop about their chemistry, each trying to help the other revise the hardest topics. To be frank I think all of them could enter their IGCSE exam this year and pass!

The BSB team consisted of Maria, Jasper, Gabriela and Emma (see below) and did themselves, BSB and the RSC Belgium section proud. The team maintained a high level of enthusiasm throughout the competition, encouraging each other and commiserating when they were not placed in the top six teams.They were tested with practical tasks using High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and Ion Identification, both normally topics for second year university students apparently!

The day finished with a most entertaining lecture 'What has Analytical Chemistry ever done for us?'  by Prof. Colin Creaser. And if you know this field of chemistry then you know what a feat this was!

The students had such an enjoyable time that they spent the return journey, planning their teams for next year's competition!

Many thanks to the RSC(Belgium section)'s support for the team!"

TOTB 2014 
The RSC Top of the Bench 2014 saw 29 teams taking part from across the UK plus, of course, Belgium. The competition was jointly organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry and Loughborough University and tested students' knowledge of chemistry through written and practical exercises.

The overall winner was Ardingly College, from the Downland RSC Local Section who received the TOTB trophy from Professor Ray Jones, President of the RSC's Organic Division and Professor of Organic and Biological Chemistry at Loughborough University.

The winning team members each received gift vouchers and £500 for their school to spend on equipment for the Chemistry department.

The runners-up were from Bolton School (Boys' Division) from the Manchester & District RSC Local Section.

RSC Belgium will be holding our 2014 eliminator during November - so get you teams ready now!

A Better Bang in Brussels

On 7 and 8 April RSC Belgium was delighted to welcome Dr Hal Sosabowski of Brighton University (right, below) and his top team of Dave 'Sideshow' Campbell (centre) and Kurt 'the Driver' Charnock (left) back to Belgium for four explosive demonstration lectures.

The demos were staged in the Roi Baudouin lecture theatres in the Rosalind Franklin Building of the Universite Catholique Louvain (UCL) Woluwe Campus in Brussels.

Three daytime lectures for school audiences (one on Monday 7 April and two on Tuesday 8 April) and an evening public lecture on Monday were staged with the support Air Liquide (for gases), Prof Istvan Marko and Fabio Lucaccioni at UCL Louvain-la-Neuve, and the local team at UCL Woluwe.

Audiences totalled well over 500 over the four shows and everyone left with a smile on their face, inspired and having learnt something new!

Each show lasted well over an hour with questions afterwards and featured classic experiments such as the deadly 'Phosphorus Sun' (above) and the rasping 'Barking Dogs' (below) - the latter involving some infeasibly large test tubes.

Feedback from teachers, members, friends and students was all extremely positive and we'll try not to leave it so long for Dr. Hal's next shows in Belgium.

Monday, March 10, 2014

RSC Belgium announces its Chemistry Challenge 2014

The RSC Belgium Section is pleased to announce its Schools Chemistry Challenge 2014! This stimulating chemistry competition is open to students from any school in Belgium, so please spread the word to any appropriate educational institutions or organisations that you are involved with. We would like to make the 2014 Challenge bigger and better than ever!

Details of the 2014 competition format can be downloaded here. The questions will be 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 total of two hours of written test papers held in individual schools and designed to demonstrate the participants’ knowledge of chemistry and their ability to think logically.

Two formats
The Challenge can be taken in two ways: either as a single two-hour paper or split into three stand-alone, separate sections (Section A 30 minutes, Section B 60 minutes and Section C 30 minutes) which teachers might find easier to work into their timetable constraints. Teachers would need to decide on their preference by the time they tell us the approximate numbers of students that will participate in the 2014 challenge from their school.

The common curriculum on which the competition will be based can be found here. This has been reviewed and validated by teachers in 2012 and 2013.

The Challenge papers themselves will be distributed to participating schools in May with completed papers to be returned during June.

Past papers
For your information the Schools Chemistry Challenge 2012 and 2013 papers are also available online here and here respectively. This will show you the format for each section, but there will be 100% new questions for 2014!

As ever, very attractive cash prizes are offered, as well as certificates acknowledging participation for all students that take part. From our previous experience we have found that students felt that participation was a valuable ‘plus point’ when completing University application forms, clearly demonstrating an ‘extra curricular’ interest in a science subject.

More information
For further information, please contact our challenge coordinator Rita Woodward or via the usual RSC Belgium email address.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Biobased Chemicals, Industrial Sugars and Biorefineries

On the evening of 10 February RSC Belgium members and friends were treated to an overview of the current status and future opportunities for the bioeconomy in Europe from Dr. Adrian Higson, Head of Biorefining at NNFCC Bioeconomy Consultants based in York, UK. The talk attracted a good crowd to the Swoosh Lounge at the British School of Brussels.

The transition to a sustainable, biobased economy is one of the major challenges and opportunities for Europe today. The present economy depends heavily on non-renewable fossil resources, resulting in Europe facing the multiple challenges of resource price volatility and supply security, increasing environmental pressure and climate change. The transition to the biobased economy combines necessity with the tremendous opportunity for sustainable growth and competitiveness based on the development of innovative, renewable materials and products. Adrian's presentation looked at the emerging biobased chemicals industry, its drivers and barriers, and highlighted how biobased innovation is being supported in the UK and Europe.

Adrian (above) made a particular reference to a €6.2 million transnational collaboration initiative with significant Belgian interest: the BioBase NWE project. This project aims to bridge the innovation gap for biobased breakthroughs and accelerate the growth of the biobased economy. It brings EU and regional partners together to provide financial, technological, training, networking and political support to enterprises in North West Europe innovating in biobased products and processes. You can view Adrian's presentation here

Biobased biography
Dr. Adrian Higson is Lead Consultant on Biobased Products at NNFCC and works with global brands to develop their understanding of the opportunities and risks presented by the biobased economy and acts as an advisor to the UK Government on biobased economy development. He coordinates several UK research programmes including the recently launched £45 million IB Catalyst. He is a member of the European Commission Expert Group on Bio-based Products and member of the UK’s Industrial Biotechnology Industry Task Force. Adrian obtained his PhD from the University of Liverpool and subsequently held posts at the Universities of Colorado and Dundee. Prior to joining NNFCC he was a Project Manager at Sigma Aldrich.

Established by the UK Government some 10 years ago as the National Non-Food Crops Centre, the NNFCC initially focused on helping extend the competitive non-food uses of crops. Today NNFCC is an international consultancy providing advice on the conversion of biomass to bioenergy, biofuels and bio-based products. The company is based in the BioCentre on the York Science Park.

NNFCC specialises in providing information and knowledge on the supply of biomass, its use in industrial applications and the fate of biomaterials at their end-of-life. It operates in five specific sectors: Feedstock, Bioenergy, Biofuels, Bio-based products and Biorefining.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Future Energy Supplies for Europe

Energy is vital to our modern society. But where will our future energy supplies be sourced? How do we ensure an adequate energy supply while protecting our environment? And where do the chemical sciences fit into all this? These questions were the subject of a Café Chimique event organised by RSC Belgium on 28 January.

The event took place in the very convivial atmosphere of the Salle des Fêtes in Auderghem Cultural Centre. There an audience of well over 50 RSC members, friends and members of the public listened to short presentations from our panel of four speakers to help the audience understand the issues, possibilities and policy pros and cons.

Energy spread
Our debate speakers represented a wide range of energy perspectives. You can access a short biography for each of our speakers here.

Our first speaker was Peter Botschek (above), Head of Energy at Cefic - the European Chemical Industry body. Peter gave an overview of the energy scene in Europe and its evolution and possible impact on the chemical sector. You can find his presentation here.

Philippe Charlez (above), Unconventional Resources Development Director, from French oil and gas giant Total is an expert in hydraulic fracturing and was able to give an insight on the techniques used to liberate shale gas and oil. His presentation is here.

Jan Duerinck (above) from the Belgian Flemish research organisation VITO is an economist and expert on renewable energy technologies specializing in the development of techno-economic energy–environmental models. He was co-author of the study “Towards 100% renewable energy in Belgium by 2050” published in 2012 that was commissioned by the four Belgian ministers in charge of energy. His slides can be found here.

Finally Richard Ivens (above), Institutional Affairs Director at Foratom – the European Nuclear industry body - talked about the current status of the nuclear energy sector with a special focus on post Fukushima developments. Richard's presentation is here.

High level of debate
Following a short pause to refresh our glasses we launched into an audience-led debate on the future of our energy supplies expertly marshalled by our chairman Bob Crichton.

The questions from the audience were varied ranging from the environmental and economic issues of 'fracking' to the viability nuclear and some renewable technologies to achieve a truly low-carbon energy system.

The mix of technical, economic and political issues raised during the hour-long session kept our panel on their toes and they clearly enjoyed the debate. Commenting afterwards Philippe Charlez said: "It was really a pleasure to participate in this Cafe Chimique. I was impressed by the level of the debate and the quality of the questions."

The issue of how our future energy supplies will be provided is clearly very complex. But following the debate on 28 January  RSC Belgium members and friends now have some valuable insights on the varied challenges and problems that need to be overcome to ensure we 'keep the lights on' across Europe!

Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 AGM Report

Les Amis Dînent restaurant in Wezembeek-Oppem was the location for the section's Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Annual Dinner on 17 January. The 2014 Committee was elected and reports on the activities of the section in 2013 and the state of the section's finances received. In addition to members, committee representatives and friends, the section was pleased to welcome Dr. Hanny Nover director of the European Chemical Regions Network (ECRN) as an observer.

Following notification of apologies the minutes of the previous AGM held on January 25 2013 were reviewed and approved before section secretary Tim Reynolds gave his report. "During 2013 the section organised seven public evening events, a day social excursion and participated in a number of other educational outreach activities," he said.

Among highlights of the year were the Café Chimique on Stem Cells that followed our 2013 AGM in January, the visit of RSC President Prof. Lesley Yellowlees in March and the section’s royal guided tour of Mechelen in June. The section had also participated in its fourth Greenlight for Girls annual event in November and had also run its largest ever Top of the Bench qualifier in that month: a truly international affair with eight schools involved including three new entrants: the SHAPE school, St Georges form Luxembourg and the International School of Flanders.

He also noted the sad loss in March of our friend and supporter Dr Norman Lloyd. However with the help of Norman’s family, friends and colleagues a fund had been established to support a scholarship in his name at Cardiff University for first degree chemistry students.

Small surplus
Our Treasurer Rita Woodward then presented her 2013 report and the sections audited accounts. Rita noted that the section had made a surplus of €537 for 2013. In fact, despite an active year, net expenditure was considerably less than forecast due to the cancellation of a joint meeting with Kent and Chilterns sections; the postponement of the Cafe Chimique on Energy until January 2014 and the anticipated expenditure relating to a second RSC Historical Landmark plaque not happening.

Considering the very healthy state of section assets (€18600 – including the Norman Lloyd fund) and anticipated activities and new initiatives in 2014 a request for a grant equivalent to €5000 would be made to RSC HQ, which was €2000 less than in 2013 Rita stated.

Rita said: "To date over €6300 had been donated to the RSC Norman Lloyd fund." This fund was held in a separate account and during 2014, following the recent completion of a Gift Agreement with Cardiff University, a sum of €6500 would be transferred to fund an annual scholarship starting in 2014 of £1000. The proposed section budget for 2014 was also discussed.

Chairman's remarks
Prof Bob Crichton thanked Rita and Tim for their reports and all members of the executive committee during 2013 for their hard work and support during the year. He highlighted the contributions 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. He also thanked everyone who had participated in events such as the Greenlight for Girls and Top of the Bench events for their time and effort in these important activities.

Two posts were up for election to the executive committee this year and Tim Reynolds was re-elected as Secretary, while Ian Carson was elected as a committee member. The full composition of the 2014 Executive committee can be found here. Rita also expressed her gratitude to our auditor, Ralph Palim, and announced that he was willing to be re-appointed as auditor for 2014.

The draft minutes of the 2014 AGM can be found here.

Following the close of the meeting Members and friends enjoyed the Annual Dinner (see picture above).