Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Third Norman Lloyd Scholar announced

RSC Belgium is proud to announce that the third recipient of the Dr Norman C. Lloyd Scholarship at Cardiff University has been selected and is enjoying their first year at the university. Jessica Powell hails from Llandovery and started her MCheM degree in Chemistry at the end of September.

Pictured below in one of Cardiff’s chemistry laboratories Jessica Powell, who originally comes from Llandovery, is enjoying living and studying in the Welsh capital. The scholarship is given to new students to the Cardiff School of Chemistry who are of high academic standing and a resident of Wales.

Upon receiving this award, Jessica said: “I would like to take this opportunity to pass my sincere thanks to the family of Dr Lloyd, the Royal Society of Chemistry in Belgium and the staff of the University on the panel for awarding me the 2017 Scholarship."

"Having read Dr Lloyd’s biography on the Royal Society in Belgium website, I am proud to be associated in a small way with keeping his memory alive – he was indeed a very special chemist," she continued. "Coming from Llandovery, a small town in West Wales it has been a big change coming to Cardiff however I am enjoying the challenges of Chemistry at Cardiff University and can’t believe how fast the first year is passing.  I have already identified further reading for next year and it is my intention to put the scholarship money towards new books and equipment."

We all wish Jessica every success in her studies at Cardiff.

The scholarship
The Norman Lloyd scholarship was set up by RSC Belgium in collaboration with Norman’s family and Cardiff 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 Norman Lloyd scholarship fund, please contact the RSC Belgium secretary.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Copernicus: the EU's Earth Observation Success Story

RSC Belgium members and friends were treated to an excellent overview of the European Union's Copernicus programme on Valentine’s Day at the British School of Brussels. On the evening of Tuesday 14 February Dr Peter Breger talked to an enthusiastic crowd about Europe's Earth Observation system and its Sentinel satellites. The talk was fascinating and illustrated with many impressive images of the Earth.

Few people are aware of the wealth of data and insights provided by Earth observation satellites. Fewer still know how successful Europe has been in realising the most ambitious Earth observation programme yet: Copernicus.

In a personal view, Dr. Peter Breger (above) presented the progress made over the last decade, gave a brief overview of the satellites flying, what they measure and what information they already make available to all of us on a daily basis, for free.

Public services
Peter gave examples of the various public services Copernicus provide covering will be shown. Supporting emergency response during natural catastrophes has been one of the early success stories. The programme also tracks land use and its changes, which aids better management of our environment. Together with its forecasts of air quality and ocean dynamics it can inform us of impending pollution events, and support marine and maritime applications. He also briefly alluded to the non-public defence and security role of Copernicus.

Copernicus' latest addition - a climate change service - compiles projections of climate change and their impacts on environment and thus on economic activities. For an example consider the map below that shows the potential for wine making in the UK in 20250!

Peter certainly showed how the service provides  a mass of authoritative data, of particular significance and importance in this current era that seems to be beset by 'post truth' and 'alternative facts'.

Wealth of links
If you want to know more about the Copernicus programme and how to access its wealth of data see the links below that Peter has provided. And you can download Peter's presentation here (7.2 MB file).

The main website is at and you can follow the programme on Twitter:    @CopernicusEU and Facebook Copernicus EU too

All the Copernicus services links can be found here:
or individually at:
The European Union's Space Strategy for Europe (2016)

The Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) database of satellites:

Ocean modelling and satellite observations by EUMETSAT

Other links of interest
Baltic Algal bloom and nutrient circulation

Air quality forecasts

Climate change service – proof of concept tools for exploring ideas

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Collaborative research: what next for the EU and the UK?

RSC Belgium's first event of 2017 was a Café Chimique entitled “The Future for Collaborative Research and Innovation in Europe”. Our three speakers addressed this issue in general terms and also in the specific context of the UK's likely exit from the EU, before taking questions from the audience. The event took place on the evening of Tuesday 24 January in the relaxed atmosphere of the Auderghem Cultural Centre.

Following the Brexit referendum in June 2016, attitudes have been divided over the impact this may have on scientific research both in the UK and Europe. While the British government has promised to guarantee funding for existing EU projects, potential future collaborations with EU scientists still hang in the balance.

The introductory presentations focused on the role and opportunities for chemical sciences in the Commission’s Horizon 2020 successor that has the working title FP9 and addressed the range of research fields and schemes that the European Commission and European nations currently organise. The speakers also gave their views on where the UK fits into this in a (presumably) post-Brexit future.

Our first speaker was Prof David Cole-Hamilton (second left above) who is President of the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS) and Irvine Professor of Chemistry at the University of St. Andrews. His presentation can be accessed here.

The RSC line was then put by Dr Mindy Dulai (second right above), Senior Programme Manager (with responsibility for Brexit issues) at the Royal Society of Chemistry HQ in Cambridge, UK. Mindy has worked in many areas of the RSC and was been a Programme Manager in Environmental Sciences and also Physical Sciences, before her current role. The RSC response and priorities for Brexit are outlined here.

Finally Dr Peter Chisnall, Business Process and Risk Management Coordinator at the EUREKA Secretariat in Brussels (standing right above) gave his view of the situation from the point of view of a independent pan-European research network. Peter's presentation can be accessed here.

The event was moderated by Tim Reynolds, Chair of RSC Belgium.

The floor was then open to the audience and an extensive question and answer ensued that lasted for over an hour. Questions which were explored included: 'How can we improve EU collaborative research in this field in the next FP?', 'How can UK chemical scientists remain involved and contributing post-Brexit?' and 'What new forms of collaborative structures are required? '

As with our previous debates the audience was seated in a café-style format (small tables with 6 seats) and a bar and light refreshments/nibbles were available throughout the event and afterwards.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Read about Becki's Caribbean Adventure

RSC Belgium’s section secretary Becki Scott is a post-doctoral researcher with the NWO Island Networks project at Leiden University and is currently on a month long archaeological holiday mission in the Caribbean! There she is using her trusty phaser pXRF machine (see right) on ceramics and sampling clay deposits. And what is more she is keeping a daily blog diary so we can keep up with her Caribbean adventure!

Becki has a BA in Archaeology and an MA in Cultural Landscape Management from the University of Wales, Lampeter, and an MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology. She was awarded her PhD in 2011 in Archaeological and Forensic Glass Analysis from Cranfield University and joined the RSC Belgium section when she moved to KU Leuven in Belgium as a as a post-doctoral researcher on the ERC funded ARCHGLASS project analysing the effects of recycling on Roman glass compositions.

During this time, she developed an interest and expertise in the use of portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (pXRF) for the non-destructive analysis of archaeo-materials: a skill that Becki has used in a variety of projects for museums, archaeological units, and heritage institutions.

Island Networks
While working for KU Leuven, Becki began collaborating with the HERA Carib Connections project, developing a method for analysing the composition of indigenous ceramic objects from the Lesser Antilles. Becki's work helped identify the provenance of ceramic objects in the field, whilst working in Grenada. Her current role on the NWO Island Networks project continues this work to cover other islands in the Lesser Antilles.

The focus of the NWO Island Networks programme is the inter-community social relationships and transformations of island networks in the Lesser Antilles across the historical divide. The period AD 1000-1800 represents an archaeologically understudied and turbulent era during which the islands’ inhabitants came under increasing influence from South America and the Greater Antilles and participated in the last phase of indigenous resistance to colonial powers.

Caribbean archaeological research has focused on patterns of regional and pan-regional mobility of peoples and the exchange of goods and ideas during the pre-colonial period (pre-1492). Recent investigations have for the first time provided insights into early colonial period indigenous archaeology in the Lesser Antilles through the discovery of 16-18th century Amerindian settlements and associated material culture repertoires.

These discoveries offer a unique opportunity to study continuity and change in inter-community social relationships, and transformations of island networks at the advent of European colonialism using a multi-disciplinary approach.

Other interests
As well as being the secretary of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Belgium Section, Becki is also a member of No Man's Land (NML) the society for Great War Archaeologists and she was a winner in the 'I'm a Scientist, get me out of here' online science communication competition and is in the process of developing an 'Archaeometry' card game.

You can read Becki’s blog here and she is also on Twitter! Alternatively you could catch up with Becki’s adventures at our AGM on Friday 10 February at Les Amis Dinent Restaurant in Wezembeek-Oppem.

Monday, 23 January 2017

St. George's retain the Keith Price Cup

The results of the RSC Belgium Top of the Bench (ToTB) eliminator for 2016 have been confirmed and the winners announced. And the winner of the Keith Price Cup (pictured right) for 2016 - and the Belgian representative in the TOTB grand final in the UK in 2017 - will be team Vanadium from St. George's International School in Luxembourg! St. George’s made a winning debut in the competition last year and now retain the cup for 2017. 

We were unable to hold our usual practical Saturday event in 2015, due to the Brussels security lock down, so it was a great relief to get back to normal on 3 December and welcome 11 eager teams from six schools to the chemistry labs at the British School of Brussels (BSB) for our ToTB ‘international’ eliminator.

The teams completed individual written question papers and then enjoyed a challenging team Practical Problem Solving Exercise. As usual both the 'hands-on' practical and the paper-based component were developed by our resident competition guru, Rita Woodward. The competition was designed to really test the teams’ chemistry knowledge and problem-solving abilities and (hopefully) encourage young talented chemical scientists to consider further education and careers in Chemistry.

The individual scores from the written paper were added together for each team with the placings from the practical to give an overall score. And for the second year in a row a team from St. George’s won out- the Vanadium team. Members of the winning team (pictured below) each received a RSC heat sensitive mug and the school will hold the TOTB Keith Price Cup during 2017.

Two teams were joint runners up: the Scandium team from BSB and a second team (Gallium) from St. George’s with members receiving a RSC phone battery charger. Every student that took part in the competition received a certificate.

 The two teams from St George's are pictured above with the Keith Price Cup, their prizes and certificates. 

Full results
As ever, the RSC Belgium ToTB eliminator was a close-fought competition with a total of 11 teams from six schools taking part.

The full line up of participating teams for the 2015 competition is listed below:

The TOTB Finals will take place in Loughborough in the UK during Spring 2017 and RSC sponsors the travel arrangements for our winning team. The RSC Belgium team is usually the only competing school team not based in the British Isles. 

St. George's Hydrogen team had a great time at the 2016 finals so we wish good luck to the Vanadium team from St. George’s in 2017! Our next TOTB Eliminator Round will take place in Q4 2017.

Iron Man

On the evening of 18 November 2016 RSC Belgium members and friends enjoyed a 'A Journey through the World of Iron' with our recent past Chairman Prof Bob Crichton. This special public lecture was part of a two-day symposium on the role of iron in biochemical and biomedical environments organised to celebrate Prof Crichton's significant contributions to this field. The lecture was followed by a RSC Belgium sponsored reception in Bob's honour.

The venue for our sponsored lecture was Theatre Lavo 51 in the Lavoisier Building at the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve and celebrated 50 years of research into the biochemistry and metabolism of metalloproteins and also marked the 75th birthday of the speaker, UCLouvain's Emeritus Professor, and ex-RSC Belgium Chairman, Robert R. Crichton (below).

During the Symposium, world experts in the biochemistry and metabolism of metalloproteins, especially iron-containing proteins, delivered keynote lectures on their most recent achievements in this area. The lectures presented biochemical studies of iron metabolism, novel therapeutic opportunities and diagnostics, the search for new metal chelators and their crucial importance, together with the results of worldwide research on inflammation and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Metalloproteins, especially iron-containing proteins, play a crucial role in numerous diseases, including cancer.

The symposium and public lecture enabled us to celebrate the achievements of Prof Bob Crichton who was appointed as a professor of biochemistry at the Université catholique de Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve in 1973 and introduced biochemistry as an mandatory part of the teaching of all chemists at the university. Bob's achievements in the biochemistry of iron proteins have been recognised at international level and he is worldwide leading figure in this important area of science.

After the public lecture an excellent reception was held including a special cake to celebrate Bob's birthday. Bob's long-time colleague at UCLouvain, Prof Istvan Marko, spoke very warmly of Bob's achievements to much applause.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Adventures in Chemical Computing

On the evening of 20 October RSC Belgium members and friends welcomed our immediate past RSC president, Prof Dominic Tildesley to the British School of Brussels to talk to us about his chemical career and give us some insights on what the future holds for chemistry and computing. He also was able to present 'gold' RSC badges to three long term members of the society.

Prof Dominic Tildesley’s deep interest in computing, and software in particular, began in the summer of 1973. As a young undergraduate chemist at the end of his second year, he had the opportunity to take a summer job at IBM Hursley Park. Here he learnt to programme in their Development Laboratory and this experience captivated him and convinced him to take a PhD at Oxford University that would combine chemistry and his newfound appreciation of the computer.

In the 70s this involved a trek from the Chemistry Department to the Computing Centre in Oxford carrying a box of 500 punched cards as input for a 20 minute of run time overnight – and this was the state-of-the-art!

Following his doctorate Dominic went on to undertake postdoctoral research at Penn State and Cornell universities in the US before returning to the University of Southampton as a lecturer and then Professor of Theoretical Chemistry. He moved to Imperial College London in 1996 as Professor of Computational Chemistry.

Unusually Dominic then began an industrial career when in 1998 he took the role of Head of the Physical Science Group at Unilever Research at Port Sunlight. He remained there until 2012 when he was appointed Director of the European Centre for Atomic and Molecular Computation at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

Modelling first
Dominic was elected President of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2014. In his inaugural speech as President he suggested that:
"the speed and development of computers is now so rapid, and the advances in modelling and informatics are so dramatic that in 15 years’ time, no chemist will be doing any experiment at the bench without trying to model it first." 
The main part of Dominic's talk took us through his reasoning behind that statement that is based on four pieces of evidence he has observed over his career.
  1. The massive (continuing) increase in the power of computing - he has seen a 1011 increase in computational power and a corresponding increase in storage in his time. As an interesting aside Dominic said that a current top-end petaflop computer (a petaflop is a unit of computing speed equal to one thousand million (1015) floating-point operations per second) needs a 10MW power supply!
  2. The imagination of theorists has brought forth significant methodological breakthroughs (such as computations of force fields) realised through robust software applications.
  3. Big data trumps the Hamiltonian equation by which he meant the new paradigm of machine learning and the use of data models to capture trends in experimental and simulated output.
  4. The involvement of industry and their hunger to use these computational methods as a tool for economic growth.
Dominic believes that despite the fact that chemistry is essentially and absolutely an experimental science, from this point forward, it will always be decorated and enhanced by modelling. And following his talk I think his audience at BSB now believes it too.

Gold membership
Before the talk Dominic presented 'gold' membership badges to three long-time RSC members: Brian Sutcliffe (pictured on right below), John Swift (on left below) and Rita Woodward.

Gold badges signify over 40 years membership of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Congratulations to our recipients!