Thursday, September 25, 2014

Famous Bruxellois

On a very sunny September Saturday morning RSC Belgium members and friends were taken on a fascinating ramble through the centre of old Brussels. Our experienced guide was Sarah Strange and the two-hour stroll proved to be entertaining and informative in equal measure.

The starting point for our Saturday morning excursion was the Ravenstein entrance of the Bozar at 10h00 sharp and our route took us through the Park and Sablon area eventually terminating in Grand Place just after noon.


Brussels has always been a meeting point of celebrities from all walks of life and myriad nationalities. The city boasts 300 foreign embassies, more than anywhere else! Many foreign visitors have left their mark on local and world history and sometimes their impressions of Belgium in writing, but there are many “locals” who deserve to be put in the limelight. In this two-hour walking tour the term “citizen” is used loosely and encompasses those who have just passed through as well as lived in Brussels.


Our grand tour brought us into contact with the Bronte sisters, Lord Byron, Walter Scott, the Dukes of Brabant, Godfrey du Boullion, Thomas Gresham, Reubens, Voltaire, Jacques Brel and Edith Cavell to mention just a few!


Poetry in Motion
Our guide Sarah Strange is also an author and, in particular, has been writing poems since she was seven years old. She finds inspiration all around: nature, people, life events, current affairs, emotions and the quirky side of life. You can find out more about her writing on Sarah's blog.

And this month sees the publication of a beautiful hardback volume of her touching and uplifting poems. Sarah will be giving a reading and signing copies of her book at Waterstones on Friday 10 October from 7pm.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chemistry Challenge 2014 Winners Announced

The results of the RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge 2014 have been announced and the talented prize winners will be picking up their winnings at a special RSC Belgium event on 02 October at the British School of Brussels from 19:30. This year we received 110 eligible entries from eight international schools in this testing challenge of young people's chemical knowledge and initiative.

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 was Charles Wackwitz of the International School of Brussels (ISB).
Joint second were John Eade of the British School of Brussels (BSB) and Alexander Van Tuyll of the European School at Mol (Mol).
And three students tied for third prize: Bram Den Dekker and Pierre-Emmanuel Grimm of ISB and Juan Attard of the European School Brussels 1 at Uccle (EEB1).

Section B: Structured Questions
First was Joe Hawkins of St Johns International School Waterloo (St. Johns).
Second was John Eade of BSB.
Third prize was claimed by four students: Lion Seiffert of the European School Brussels 3 at Ixelles (EEB3), and Bram Den Dekker, Sinan Akosman and Charlie De Backer of ISB.

Section C: Thinking Matters
First was Emily Croasdale (BSB).
Joint second were Julia Clarke and Jamie Burnett (both EEB3).
Joint third were Catalina Poraicu and Juan Attard both at EEB1.

Keith Price Prize
John Eade of BSB also receives the Keith Price Prize for best overall score in sections A and B. First prize winners recieve €50, second €25 and third places €10 with the winner of the Keith Price Prize receiving an additional €100.

Well done to everyone that took part! Every student that entered the competition receives a certificate of participation. We will be running the Challenge again in 2015. And look out for our Top of the Bench International eliminator coming soon!

The Challenge
The Chemistry Challenge competition was devised and compiled by RSC Belgium treasurer Rita Woodward and is open to students from any school in Belgium. The questions are 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 2 hour written test held in school and designed to demonstrate the participants’ knowledge of chemistry and their ability to think logically.

Award event: Origins and evolution
The Chemistry Challenge prizes will be handed out to the winners prior to our next evening lecture event with Dr. Nick Lane on the Origin and Evolution of Life.

Nick Lane is an evolutionary biochemist and writer in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London (UCL). He was awarded the inaugural UCL Provost's Venture Research Prize for his research on evolutionary biochemistry and bioenergetics and his current work focuses on the origin of life, and the origin and evolution of eukaryotes. He was a founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research, and leads the UCL Research Frontiers Origins of Life programme.

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.


Sel_pHies
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.