Thursday, 11 February 2016

Changing Perceptions of Chemistry

What do the general public and policy-makers think about when they think about chemistry and chemists? Chemistry and chemicals are essential to life and our modern society - everything is chemistry! But we often see consumer products that claim to be 'chemical-free' and it can seems like chemophobia is widespread in society. Public perceptions of Chemistry and Chemicals and how we talk about chemistry have been hot topics for many years. But what is the real picture? What do the public and policy-makers really think? And how can we best convey the excitement, potential and benefits of chemistry better?

To explore these questions further the RSC Belgium 2016 Café Chimique was entitled “Changing Perceptions of Chemistry and Chemicals”. The event took place on Thursday 4 February in the relaxed atmosphere of the Auderghem Cultural Centre main bar.

RSC Belgium Chairman Tim Reynolds (above left) moderated a panel of three speakers:

  • Jon Edwards (above far right) who is Strategic Communications Manager for the Royal Society of Chemistry who outlined the main findings of the recent RSC survey on public attitudes to chemistry in the UK (#chemperceptions)
  • Dr Anna Gergely (above centre left) who is Director EHS Regulatory at law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Anna talked about the regulatory environment in which chemistry has to operate and how policy-makers perceive chemistry and chemicals
  • Nuno Bacherel (above centre right) who is Editor-in-Chief of the Your Formula website and is Communication Manager, Public Affairs at the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC). Nuno talked about the philosophy behind the Your Formula initiative and his work to change perceptions of chemistry and chemicals

Great debate
As usual the three panel speakers gave short presentations of around ten minutes each before launching into an audience-led debate. Seating was in a café-style format and the usual free bar and nibbles were available throughout the event and afterwards.

As ever there was a very lively debate that lasted well over an hour.

Jon Edwards outlined the main findings of the recent RSC survey on public attitudes to chemistry in the UK. The results showed that the UK public's perception of chemistry and chemicals is far more positive than professional chemists believe, although there is some confusion in the public mind about what a chemist is and what a chemist does. Overall it appears that there is an appetite for people to know more about chemistry; but this will entail a change of attitude for chemists and experts working in the sector. You can find Jon's presentation here (3.28 MB).

Concrete examples and factual data are the added value that scientists and chemists bring to the table when discussing regulatory issues, and this value needs to be positively and widely communicated, without fear, stated Dr Anna Gergely. You can find Anna's presentation here (454 kB).

Initiatives such as Your Formula, bring together people to discuss key sustainability topics, and look to change the public's perceptions. The Your Formula platform is a Cefic initiative where young scientists and researchers with an interest in sustainability share expertise and experience. The platform allows a different way of communicating chemistry and science, with contributors sharing personal activities and high interaction rates through social media explained Nuno. His main message was to: "Be Passionate, Keep it Simple and Make it Personal." Changing public perceptions of chemistry will be a long road, but progress appears to be happening!

More information
You can find all the results and further commentary on the RSC's public attitudes survey on the #chemperceptions pages of the RSC website.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Luxembourg to represent Belgium in Top of the Bench!

The results of the RSC Belgium Top of the Bench (ToTB) eliminator for 2015 have been announced. And the holder of the Keith Price Cup (pictured right) for 2016 - and the Belgian representative in the TOTB grand final in the UK - will be team Hydrogen from St. George's International School in Luxembourg!

This year we were unable to hold our usual practical Saturday event - scheduled for 21 November - due to the Brussels security lock down that came into force on the morning of our event. Fortunately we were able to inform all our competing teams before any of them started to travel to the British School.

Unfortunately it was not possible to find a Saturday afternoon slot to re-schedule the TOTB Eliminator Round before the RSC HQ deadline date for submission of team details of 31 January 2016. So a modified form of the Eliminator was held at each competing school.

This consisted of a written question paper and a challenging Practical Problem Solving Exercise. Although the competition this year did not involve any 'hands-on' practical work the format developed by our resident competition guru, Rita Woodward, gave the students more than just a standard paper and pencil test of their chemical know-how. Students from the Oxygen team at the SHAPE International School are pictured above taking part in the competition at their school.

Members of Hydrogen, the winning team from St George’s Luxembourg, each received a RSC heat sensitive mug and the school will hold the TOTB Keith Price Cup during 2016.

St. George's School Principal, Dr Christian Barkei, was really pleased with the team's success and the win has been reported in some Luxembourg newspapers: 'Young chemists set eyes on prize in UK contest'  ( and 'St George’s Hydrogen Team Wins Royal Society of Chemistry Regional Event in Belgium' (

The Runner–Up team was team Calcium from the European School Brussels 4 in Laeken (EEB4) and Calcium team members each received a RSC phone battery charger as did those students who scored the top mark in the written paper for each of the three year groups that form the TOTB teams. Every student that took part in the competition received a certificate.

The winning Team Hydrogen from St George's are pictured above with the Keith Price Cup and their certificates. Pictured from left to right are team members Alexios Valsamidis, Alistair Reid, Yi-hua Lim and Ethan Utting.  Mark Stenton, Head of Science at St. George's said all the team were very pleased with the trophy, their certificates and their additional gifts!

Full results
Despite our troubles and tribulations the eliminator was, as ever, a close-fought competition with a total of nine from six schools taking part.

The full line up of participating teams for the 2015 competition is listed below:
The TOTB Finals take place in Loughborough in the UK on 16 April 2016 and RSC sponsors the travel arrangements for our winning team. The RSC Belgium team is the only competing school team not based in the British Isles.
Our next TOTB Eliminator Round will, hopefully, take place in November 2016.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

RSC Belgium 2016 AGM report

The section's Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Annual Dinner took place at Les Amis Dinent restaurant in Wezembeek-Oppem on the evening of Friday 15 January 2016. The meeting opened at 19:35 with 10 members and 1 co-opted committee member. In addition sixteen members who were unable to attend the AGM had asked the Chairman to act as their proxy for the meeting if a vote was required. This enabled a working quorum for the meeting to be obtained under our section rules.

Following approval of the minutes of the previous AGM that took place on 16 January 2015 section Secretary Becki Scott presented the Committee Report on the Section’s 2015 Activities.

2015 Highlights 
During the year the section organised five public events, two Saturday social excursions, and a visit from the RSC's CEO: Robert Parker. Total section membership stood at 132 – a net increase of six over the year.

Among highlights of the year were the Café Chimique on Climate Change, Prof Avril MacDonald’s series of demonstration lectures for schools and the public in February, a lively demonstration lecture by Prof Sir John Holman and two guided tours: one of the Waterloo Battlefield in May and the other of the WWI front lines in September. The 2015 Chemistry Challenge competition had attracted increased participation with the prizes given out at Peter Atkins’ event in October.

Feedback had been received from Cardiff University that Ms Dale Lyons (the first recipient of our Norman Lloyd scholarship) had performed exceptionally well in her first year and the next recipient had been selected: Rhodri Evans.

Financial aspects
Rita Woodward presented the 2015 financial report and accounts. In general, 2015 had been a good year for schools events. The section made a net deficit of just over 1200 euros with a remaining balance of c. 6000 euros. The committee aims to keep the account at around 7000 euros due to Belgian regulations meaning that the section officers are responsible for any deficit. A future grant of 9000 euros will be requested from HQ. The accounts had been signed off by the auditor Ralph Palim. Ralph had also a greed to continue as auditor for the section.

Our Chairman, Tim Reynolds, thanked the committee for their hard work and support during the year. He highlighted the “Fantastic Plastic” events that had been taken to the schools, rather than all the schools visiting a set location. This had proven extremely successful and was something the section is hoping to repeat with Andrew Hanson’s “Colour is Fun” events in March 2016. The Chairman thanked Ian Carson for his input, hard work, and organisation with these events. Ian also thanked UCL, Fabio, and BSB for their help with the chemicals etc used in the “Fantastic Plastic” talks. Tim went on to report that John Holman’s talk had also proved to be a very popular event. He also acknowledged that the section had a disappointing end to the year, with the cancellation of two events due to the security situation in Brussels. He went on to say that a good programme was coming together for 2016 and he thanked all members for their continued support of the section.

Following elections the RSC Belgium Executive Committee for 2016 has the following membership: Mr Tim Reynolds (Chairman), Mrs Rita Woodward (Treasurer), Dr Becki Scott (Secretary), Prof Bob Crichton (elected committee member), Prof Brian Sutcliffe (elected committee member), Dr David Terrell (elected committee member), Mr John Swift (elected committee member, and Dr Ian Carson (elected committee member).

The first meeting of the new Executive will be on 17 February 2016 where co-opted members will be confirmed.

International issues
Bob Crichton brought to the attention of members the proposed regulations of the RSC's Outreach Working Group (OWG) which will affect the way international sections operate. Prof David Evans of the Beijing section who sits on the OWG had approached the Belgium section committee for their opinion and feedback on the proposed regulation changes. The section felt that the move to restrict the amount of the budget spent on outreach to 50% could be very limiting to the range of activities which we undertook. The discussions at the OWG indicated that all local section representatives were opposed to the changes. It is felt that these changes will undermine the work of the individual sections. We have also been asked to clarify the numbers of members and non-members attending events. This is a worrying precedent because many of our events have a large non-member attendance. Many local sections rely on the support of volunteers.

Tim, as the Chair of the International Steering Group, will communicate directly with HQ and the networks over this issue.

There being no other business, the meeting closed at 19:58. The AGM was followed by the 2016 Annual Dinner (see above) of the RSC Belgium section.