Monday, 4 December 2017

2018 Belgium Top of The Bench results

Our annual 'international eliminator' for the Royal Society of Chemistry's Top of the Bench (ToTB) competition was held at the British School of Brussels (BSB) on Saturday 18 November 2017 with ten teams from six schools taking part. An exciting afternoon of chemical problem solving ended with the announcement of the 2017 winner of the Keith Price Cup: Team Selenium from BSB. They will now represent RSC Belgium at the TOTB grand final in the UK in 2018.

As ever our TOTB eliminator was a close run competition with only a few marks between the top four teams on the individual written quiz components and five out of the ten competing teams correctly classifying the three mystery solutions in our 'Can you tell your acid from your alkali' practical challenge.

Wining formula
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 with BSB team Selenium coming out on top just a head of Team Vanadium from St. Johns International School (St John’s) in second place and Team Strontium from European School Brussels 2 (EEB 2).

Members of the winning team (pictured below with Rita) each received a RSC heat sensitive mug and the school will hold the TOTB Keith Price Cup during 2018. All the student participants will receive a certificate.

Our huge thanks to all the teachers and other volunteers involved to prepare and organise the event, in particular William Darnley and Luke Stagno Navarra from BSB, and, of course, Rita.

The full line up of participating teams for the 2018 competition was:

Cadmium - British School of Brussels (Tervuren)
Calcium - International School of Flanders (Rhode St Genese)
Krypton - International School of Flanders (Rhode St Genese)
Mercury - European School Brussels 3 (Ixelles)
Nickel - European School Brussels 2 (Woluwe)
Rubidium - European School Brussels 4 (Laeken)
Selenium - British School of Brussels (Tervuren)
Strontium - European School Brussels 2 (Woluwe)
Tellurium - European School Brussels 4 (Laeken)
Vanadium - St Johns International School (Waterloo)

The TOTB Finals will take place in the UK on Saturday 3 March 2018 at Birmingham University (TBC) 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.

Our next TOTB Eliminator Round will take place in Q4 2018. Get your school involved!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

2017 Chemistry Challenge Winners announced

The results of the RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge 2017 were announced and the talented prize winners picked up their winnings at a special RSC Belgium event with Dr Matthew Andrews of NATO on the evening of 27 September at the British School of Brussels (BSB). We once again received over 100 entries from international and European schools in Brussels and beyond for 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 place was shared by Jakob Bull and Tom Valenduc from BSB. Second place was a three-way tie with the prizewinners being Caroline Di Vittorio from the International School of Brussels (ISB) and Caio Hansen and Vrushal Mody, both from BSB. Third place was awarded to James Tissot of ISB.

Section B: Structured Questions
In this section first prize was awarded to Aleksander Ziolkowski from St Johns International School (St. Johns) and second prize was claimed by Nekane Medrano Cuetos of ISB. Third prize was shared by Jakob Bull and Emma Brown, both of BSB. Some of the prizewinners are pictured above with RSC Belgium Chairman Tim Reynolds.

Section C: Thinking Matters
Here first place was awarded to Gabriela van Bergen from BSB (now in Madrid), with a tie for second place between Medhir Dillum and Vrushal Mody, both also from BSB.  Leo Sheils from Antwerp International School (AIS) took third prize.

Keith Price Prize
Jakob Bull of BSB, pictured above with RSC Belgium chairman Tim Reynolds, also received the Keith Price Prize for best overall score in the chemistry focused sections (A and B). First prize winners received €50, second €25 and third places €10 with the winner of the Keith Price Prize receiving an additional €100.

Well done to everyone who took part in this year's Chemistry Challenge! Every student that entered the competition receives a certificate of participation. We will be running the Challenge again in 2018. 

Energetic Materials: Preventing Unexpected Bangs at BSB

On 27 September 2017 RSC Belgium members and friends were treated to a demo lecture at the British School of Brussels (BSB) on Energetic Chemistry from Dr Matt Andrews of NATO. This lecture had been rearranged from earlier in the year and featured some of the more ‘vigorous’ aspects of chemical reactions. It was also the evening when we presented prizes to the winners of our Annual Chemistry Challenge competition for school students (see separate article).

Dr Matt Andrews' lecture was entitled: “Safety of Energetic Materials: Preventing Unexpected Bangs”. Dr Matthew Andrews is a Technical Specialist Officer (TSO) at the Munition Safety Information Analysis Centre (MSIAC) based at NATO with a specialism in Energetic Materials.

With over 16 years experience in the field of energetic materials Matt (pictured above) was well placed to take the audience in the BSB's Brel Theatre through numerous topics relating to energetic materials ranging from the fundamentals of the chemistry to the Forensic Investigation of Explosives.

His talk provided a brief history of explosives, the ever present safety risks, and what happens when accidents do occur. To comprehend the risk that energetic materials present, he emphasised the need to understand the different mechanisms that can result in the uncontrolled release of stored chemical energy, contained within all explosives. An understanding of these mechanisms allows scientists to design safer explosives, to better test and screen materials, and to define processes and procedures to manage the risk to acceptable levels. The talk went on to discuss some of these test methods and show how it is possible to handle, transport and use these materials safely.

A big thanks to everyone involved in organising the lecture - in particular to the Chemistry team at BSB, especially RSC Belgium exec members Jane Downing and William Darnley (above with Matt)
- for supplying the chemicals and logistics to enable the lecture to take place.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Marvellous Brewery visit in Mechelen

The first event of our 2017-2018 programme took place on Saturday 16 September with an informative and entertaining guided tour around the Het Anker Brewery in Mechelen. Some 22 members and friends enjoyed the tour, which was completed with a tasting of the final product and 18 of the group stayed on for a hearty lunch featuring locally sourced products including the famous Mechelen 'cuckoo'.

The brewery is a family run business that started in the Grand Beguinage in Mechelen five generations ago. It has since developed into an internationally renowned brewery and is home to the famous Gouden Carolus dubbel beer (a recent World Champion beer) and a range of other brews including a Belgian whiskey. In fact it is believed that brewing has featured on the site since at least 1471 as documentary evidence shows that the Nuns of the Beguinage wear brewing at that time.

The tour of the brewery started at 12 noon and lasted around 90 minutes and took us through the full brewing process and the ingredients used, the history of the family business and the recent diversification into spirits.

The history of the Beguinage site begins in the 15th century, although the brewery was bought and modernised by the Van Breedam family in 1872. The family run company continued to grow and in 2010 the 17th century family farm (at Blaasveld) was transformed into a whiskey distillery, the whiskey launched three years later has already won several international awards. In fact before acquiring the brewery the Van Breedam family had been renowned gin distillers.

It was agreed by all that the visit was a great success and highly enjoyable. Cheers!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Dr Ian G Carson 1943 - 2017

RSC Belgium members and friends will be saddened to learn of the death of one of our most active and energetic committee members and an excellent professional chemical scientist: Dr Ian Carson.

Ian died peacefully on 27 June 2017 at his home in Chaumont-Gistoux with his family around him. A memorial service was held for him at the Champ de Court crematorium near Court Saint Etienne on 4 July 2017. Ian served on the RSC Belgium section committee from 2004 until the end of last year and was section secretary in 2010-2011 and also membership secretary for many years.

At the service RSC Belgium chairman Tim Reynolds gave the following tribute to Ian on behalf of the section:

"For me, Dr Ian Carson was the epitome of a professional chemical scientist: he knew his subject inside out and he was a lifelong enthusiast for chemistry – and polymer chemistry in particular. He was diligent and thorough, but also creative.
Ian’s chemical career started with a first class honours degree in chemistry from Strathclyde University in Glasgow in 1965, swiftly followed by a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) studying applied and polymer chemistry in 1968.
After a year as a Royal Society Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Institute of Industrial Chemistry at the University of Genova, Italy from 1969 Ian embarked on a 32 year career with petrochemical giant - Shell - working in initially in the UK, then in Holland, and finally from the early 1990’s in Belgium.
He worked on a wide range of topics from scaling up catalyst systems to providing technical advice to business units and investigating marketing applications for polymers.
In his final ten years with Shell Research Ian was based at Louvain La Neuve, where he was Manager Polyesters responsible for research and technical service provision including work on, the now ubiquitous, PET plastic bottle and various polymers for use with textiles. 
It is worth considering that it is highly likely that all of us today will wear or, certainly, will touch an object that is made from a material that Ian was intimately involved in refining or creating. That was Ian’s chemistry.
Ian retired from Shell at the end of 2001 and became a Polymer Consultant continuing to use his knowledge and skills for the benefit of a portfolio of companies and society.
And, fortunately for us, he also found time to bring the benefit of his experience and enthusiasm for chemistry to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Belgium section. Ian had been a member of the RSC since 1967 – eventually clocking up over 50 years as a member of the society, and from 2004 he joined our executive committee.
Ian was as diligent and creative for RSC Belgium as he had been for Shell. Researching event ideas, contacting potential speakers and – most importantly – making things happen!
His contributions to RSC Belgium were wide ranging, but in particular I remember his shepherding of our demonstration lecturers in their tours of schools around Brussels and beyond, his language skills enthusing younger people from different communities about chemistry in our work with the Greenlight4Girls initiative and our own Top of the Bench competitions, and his organising work for our annual Café Chimique events.
But Ian was a very unassuming person – not one to blow his own trumpet as we might say – so it was particularly pleasing that we were able to recognise Ian’s contributions to RSC Belgium in 2015 with a Long Service Award – recognising his 10 years’ service to the section – and as a special mark it was presented in person to Ian at a dinner in Brussels by the Society’s CEO Dr Robert Parker (see photo above). Ian truly deserved the award.
We thank Ian for his contributions to chemistry. We will miss him. We already do."
If you wish to give a donation in Ian's memory, please donate to the 'Fondation St. Luc'. Their bank account number is BE41 1910 3677 7110 and please mention Ian's name on the transfer.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

RSC fund raises for Norman Lloyd studentships at BSB Proms Night

RSC committee volunteers, Rita Woodward, William Darnley (pictured below) and Tim Reynolds were behind the bar at the RSC's stall at the 2017 British School of Brussels Summer Concert on 16 June. Selling a range of alcoholic and soft drinks they helped quench the thirst of the prom audience and also raised funds for our Norman Lloyd studentship initiative and BSB charitable causes.

The Sun was shining on BSB on this Friday evening, burgers were cooking and the various singers, bands and dancers were limbering up. Our contribution to this year's BSB Summer concert was a bar selling a range of beers and soft drinks - all ice cool.... or at least they were at the start of the evening!

The excellent weather certainly helped sales with best sellers being Jupiler beer, Orangina and - surprisingly Canada Dry Ginger Ale. In all sales totalled over EUR 600! The actual surplus still needs to be calculated but we anticipate a healthy and very useful boost for our charitable causes.

Well done to all involved - and it was fun too!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Mariemont by Torchlight!

Our Spring social event this year was a guided tour around the Musée Royal de Mariemont on the morning of Saturday 13 May. The Mariemont describes itself as a dialogue between art, culture, and nature, with unique collections evoking the Orient and the Occident, the past and present, fauna and flora. And our two hour anglophone guided tour around the museum had an added quirk: it was conducted by torchlight!

RSC Belgium members and friends gathered at the entrance to the entrance to the Mariemont Park at 10 sharp and then proceeded to the Museum itself to meet our delightful guide for the morning: Aline Peremans - seen describing some Pompeian villa frescoes to our group below.

Since the end of April, a temporary exhibition called the “Invisible collections” has been open and highlights some of the objects held in the museum’s vast (and unseen) collection. During this exhibition, that runs until 26 November 2017 the museum’s main galleries are plunged into darkness to ensure the delicate exhibits are not damaged through a rare exposure to daylight!

Dark galleries
Within the darkened galleries the new artifacts are under the spotlight and the rest of the collections are in the shadow, victors are given torches to explore the rooms – and for us Aline wielded the light source! A very unusual and extraordinary way to discover the Museum!

The museum collections were gathered by Raoul Waroqué, a local fabulously wealthy industrialist, and are currently housed in a modern building inaugurated in 1975 and built by the Belgian architect Roger Bastin.

Raoul Waroqué devoted most of his fortune to acquire works of art works from the classical antiquity. He was also interested by ceramics and Eastern philosophies and brought back a huge number of Chinese and Japanese works. A favourite object for many RSC visitors was an incredibly intricate ivory object consisting of a dozen or more nested spheres (see below).

Our two hour trip around the Museum was both very informative and entertaining and – if you couldn’t join us on the day – a visit to the Mariemont and its very fine park is highly recommended.
After the visit many of the RSC Belgium party had a relaxing lunch at the Museum’s brasserie.
Our thanks to Ian Carson for the initial idea to visit this museum and to Rita Woodward who put in the main work to actually organise the event.

More about Mariemont
Mariemont includes a 45 hectare park in the style of an English landscape garden; an arboretum; the ruins of Charles of Lorraine’s palace; the museum; major art collections; the most complete collection of Chinese antiquities in Belgium; a tea house and numerous collections from Japan, Korea, and Vietnam; archaeological and historical collections covering everything about the region; rare manuscripts; and many other treasures. For more information, please visit the museum’s website.

The Musée Royal de Mariemont is situated at Chaussée de Mariemont 100, 7140 Morlanwelz

Top tip: On the first Sunday of every month, access to the permanent collections and any temporary exhibitions is free!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Redox active Polymers: The Future for Batteries?

On 27 April 2017 RSC Belgium members and friends gathered at the British School of Brussels to hear Prof Jean-François Gohy from the Université catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain) give a very informative talk on 'Redox active polymers: the future for batteries?' Jean-Francois' presentation focused on modern battery technologies and advances that may be possible through research in polymer science.

The presentation described the development of novel energy storage systems with enhanced performances using original, organic, electro-active, material chemistry and engineering approaches. Jean-Francois' primary target is to decipher the fundamental flaws in current technologies and build better organic batteries.

His long-term goal is to develop sustainable all-carbon-based batteries. The research aims to design and develop novel electro-active organic materials and architectures in order to develop faster, safer, and longer-lasting organic batteries, capacitors, and their hybrids.

Jean-François Gohy is Professeur Ordinaire at UCLouvain within the Institute for Condensed Matter and Nanosciences and Bio and Soft Matter. His research interests include the synthesis of polymers including: “living” and “controlled” polymerisation techniques; ionic polymers; liquid crystals; surfactants; supramolecular chemistry; self-associating polymers, stimuli-responsive materials, nanomaterials; adsorption of polymers on substrates; nano patterned surfaces; lithium-polymer batteries; and sustainable and green processes for battery materials.

Jean-François was awarded his Master degree in Chemistry from the University of Liège and continued his studies at Liege under Prof. Robert Jérôme obtaining his PhD in 1999. Then following postdoc positions with the Belgian FNRS (Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique) and at Eindhoven University of Technology he moved to the UCL in 2002.

He is first author or coauthor of more than 40 papers in international journals. He is member of the "Research Centre in Micro and Nanoscopic Materials and Electronic Devices" (CERMIN) and member of the Steering Committee of the European Science Foundation SUPERNET programme (Experimental and Theoretical Investigation of Complex Polymer Structures).

March for Science Belgium - We were there!

On Saturday 22 April there were Marches for Science organised all around the world. In fact over 600 places around the globe saw scientists and members of the public gathering together to stand up for science. Of course Brussels and Belgium were no exception and RSC Belgium chairman Tim Reynolds was involved with the organisation of the March for Science Brussels.

The event in Brussels took place from 2pm on Saturday April 22 at Place de l'Albertine close to Gare Centrale and the Mont des Arts in central Brussels. Our compere for the event was Flemish science comedian and TV star Lieven Scheire (pictured below with the European Commission's Director General for DG Research Robert-Jan Smits.

Our speakers included climate scientist Prof Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (below).

Sofie Vanthournout of Sense about Science (below),

Satu Lipponen emeritus president of EUSJA (the European Science Journalists Association)

and RSC Belgium member Cesar Alejandro Urbina Blanco (pictured left below)from Ghent University.

Some 600 people turned up to show their support for facts and that science-based evidence should be the basis for policy-making.

You can find more information and photos from the day on the March's Facebook page:

RSC Belgium 2017 AGM report

The section's Annual General Meeting (AGM) took place on Friday 10 February 2017 at Les Amis Dinent Restaurant in Wezembeek-Oppem at 19h30 and was followed by the section's Annual Dinner from 20h00. The meeting opened at 19:30 with nine members present but a further ten members, who were unable to attend the AGM in person, had asked the Chairman to act as their proxy for the meeting if a vote was required thus achieving our quorum.

Following recording of apologies received, the minutes of our previous AGM of 15 January 2016 were approved with no corrections.  The section secretary, Becki Scott, then gave the Committee Report on the Section’s 2016 Activities. During the year the section organised seven public events, one Saturday social excursions, two schools events and the Chemistry Challenge. Total section membership stood at 133 – a net increase of one over the year.

Among highlights of the year, reported by Becki, were the Café Chimique on the changing public perceptions of chemistry, Andrew Hanson’s series of colourful demonstration lectures for schools and the public in March, a lively stand-up comedy science show by Dr Jack Heal, and a guided tour of Namur led by Sarah Strange. The Chemistry Challenge competition attracted good levels of participation with prizes given out at Jack Heal’s event in October. Feedback had been received from Cardiff University that Mr Rhodri Evans (the second recipient of the Norman Lloyd scholarship) had performed well in his first year. The 2016-2017 recipient had just been named as Jessica Powell. The report was unanimously approved.

Section Finances
Outgoing section treasurer Rita Woodward presented the 2016 financial report and accounts. On the 1st January 2016, the net assets of the RSC Belgium Section were €6350 approx. The Annual Grant from RSC UK for 2016 had been €6200, less than the requested amount. Expenditure for the year was significant, but less than the previous year. With careful management the deficit for the year was only €440 approx. The committee aims to keep our account balances at around €7000, due to Belgian regulations where the section officers are responsible for any deficit. A grant for 2017 activities of €7000 will be requested from HQ. The section wished to thank immediate past president Prof Dominic Tildesley who covered many of his own expenses during his visit to the section. The accounts had been audited by the auditor Ralph Palim. The meeting unanimously adopted the audited accounts and the Treasurer’s Report.

The Treasurer expressed her gratitude to Ralph Palim and announced that he had agreed to be appointed as auditor for the section accounts for 2017.

Chairman’s Remarks
Section chairman Tim Reynolds thanked the committee for their hard work and support during a rather difficult year. The section had hosted an interesting programme and survived financially despite a lower grant than requested. With the visit of immediate past president, Prof Dominic Tildesley, the section maintained its tradition of hosting the RSC presidents.

The chairman thanked the three committee members who were stepping down and acknowledged their many years of service on the committee: Brian Sutcliffe (4 years), Ian Carson (11 years), David Terrell (27 years). It is hoped that David can be co-opted on to the committee for the coming year. Thanks weer also given to Rita Woodward who is stepping down as Treasurer. The Chairman also extended a welcome to the newly elected committee members and the incoming Treasurer and looked forward to a varied and interesting programme for the coming year.

Committee elections
Following elections the RSC Belgium Executive Committee for 2017 has the following membership: 

Elected members
Mr. Tim Reynolds (Chair)
Ms. Julie Tuppeny (Treasurer)
Dr. Becki Scott (Secretary)
Prof. Bob Crichton
Mr. William Darnley
Mr. John Swift
Mrs. Rita Woodward

Co-opted members
Ms. Jane Downing
Dr. David Terrell

The co-opted members were confirmed at the first meeting of the executive committee on 7 March 2017.

Closing remarks
Bob Crichton noted that the new structure of taking the demo lectures to the respective schools appeared to work better than the previous structure whereby a single location was found for the demo lectures and the students were transported to the venue. It was agreed that this approach will be continued as far as possible.

Special thanks were made to Dr Ian Carson for the enormous amount of work he has done for the section during his years of service. He was especially thanked for his help in arranging the very successful travelling demo lectures to schools.

There being no other business, the meeting closed at 19h55 and was followed by the 2017 Annual Dinner of the RSC Belgium section.

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.