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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Constraining the Origin and Evolution of Life

On 2 October RSC Belgium was proud to present a fascinating talk on the Bioenergetic Constraints on the Origin and Evolution of Life from Dr Nick Lane of University College London. The event was also the prize giving ceremony for our 2014 Chemistry Challenge.

Nick Lane is an evolutionary biochemist and writer in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at 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.

Common ancestor
All complex life on Earth is eukaryotic, and all eukaryotes (the cells found in plants and animals) share a common ancestor that was already a complex cell explained Nick. Despite their biochemical virtuosity, prokaryotes (cells found in bacteria) shown no tendency to evolve eukaryotic traits or large genomes over the huge timescale that they have existed.

Nick (above) argued that prokaryotes are constrained by their membrane bioenergetics, for fundamental reasons that stem from the very origin of life. Eukaryotes arose in a rare symbiosis between two prokaryotes, which broke the energetic constraints on prokaryotes and gave rise to mitochondria - often described as power plants for our cells. Loss of almost all mitochondrial genes produced an extreme genomic asymmetry in eukaryotes, in which tiny mitochondrial genomes support, energetically, a massive nuclear genome, giving eukaryotes 3 to 4 orders of magnitude more energy per gene than prokaryotes. The requirement for endosymbiosis radically altered selection on eukaryotes, potentially explaining the evolution of unique traits, including two sexes, germline, speciation and ageing.

As our audience appreciated Nick is an excellent communicator and the author of three critically acclaimed books on evolutionary biochemistry, the most recent of which, Life Ascending, won the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. His other two popular publications are ‘Power, Sex, Suicide’ and ‘Oxygen’. Our friends at Waterstones bookshop were present for the post talk drinks and networking with copies of Nick's books for sale. They also took some excellent photos!

Keith Price Prize
Before the lecture the highest scoring entries in our 2014 Chemistry Challenge were presented with their prizes. This year John Eade of BSB (pictured below right with section chairman Prof Bob Crichton) received the Keith Price Prize for best overall score in sections A and B (the two more chemically-orientated elements of our three-part challenge). For the three individual sections first prize winners received a €50 cash prize, second places got €25 and third places €10 with the winner of the Keith Price Prize receiving an additional €100.

Well done to everyone who took part! Every student that entered the competition received 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!

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.

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.