Thursday, 18 October 2018

A Kind of Blue

On the evening of Wednesday 17 October, RSC Belgium welcomed science and art fans to the Performing Arts Centre at St. Johns International School in Waterloo to hear from David Dobson, Professor of Earth Materials at University College London (UCL). The subject was  'Blue'.

The colour blue has been the rarest and most expensive pigment, for centuries reserved  for emperors and gods. Even today modern blue pigments command a premium and finding a good all-round blue is an ongoing area of research.  Blue minerals are very rare - the commonest colour-producing element, iron, normally makes greens, yellow and reds. As a consequence, this was the available pallet for most of human history, but with increased travel in the late Middle Ages and the development of synthetic technologies at various times in our history blue became available to the richest patrons. 

David (pictured above) discussed the history and technology of blue pigments in western art, from pre-Roman right through to the 21st century with a couple of chemical demonstrations to illustrate particular points.  He also described his work to develop a new blue modelled on the mineral structures which exist 500 kilometres deep beneath our feet. 

Scientist and artist
David's scientific career, working with colleagues at UCL and the Bayerisches Geoinstitut in Bayreuth Germany, involves very high- pressure experiments on deep Earth materials; the synthesis and properties of new iron-alloy phases relevant to the Earth’s core; transport properties of mantle mineral rocks and minerals; and deep seismicity.

In January 2017 David also became the first ‘Scientist in Residence’ at the Slade School of Art in London being based within the school for one year. The residency was a result of an ongoing Materials Research Project at the Slade, which highlights the role of materials within the creative and artistic process and The Pigment Timeline - a collaborative, cross-disciplinary research project that investigates and establishes connections across all departments at UCL that involve pigment and colour in any aspect of their research.

David's talk was particularly thought provoking and raised many questions from an audience on aspects of science and art. David is also an engraver and mountaineer and you can find images covering all his enthusiasms at: 

Chemistry and the Future of Life on Earth

On Thursday 20 September RSC Belgium welcomed Prof David Cole-Hamilton of St Andrews University and current vice-president of EuChemS, the European Chemical Society, to the British School of Brussels to give us his view on 'Chemistry and the Future of Life on Earth'. David also helped had out the prizes for our 2018 Chemistry Challenge competition and gave the audience one of the first public views of EuChemS new version of the periodic table of the elements. Next year, 2019, will be the United Nations / IUPAC Year of the Periodic Table.

David (pictured below) described some of the major problems facing the world and what Chemistry can do and is doing to alleviate them.

The future of life on earth is threatened by a whole range of potential problems, many of them man-made. They range from ones that have been around since biblical times such as famine, pestilence, disease and war to the more modern ones of pollution of the land seas and sky, depletion of natural resources and the population explosion. In his lecture David examined the role of chemistry in combating all of these problems.

New periodic table
2019 will be the UN/ IUPAC Year of the  Periodic Table (IYPT2019) and EuChemS has devised a unique Periodic Table (see below) that highlights the issue of element scarcity and was officially launched on 19 September. The new Periodic Table is available for free download now and a video game based on it will be available from 22 January 2019.

During a networking reception after the awards and lecture, a collection for our Norman Lloyd Scholarship Fund was taken that yielded over EUR 110. This will enable us to top up the fund to just over £ 2 000 and ensured that we can fund two more scholars in academic years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. The fund will have supported six first year chemistry students at Cardiff University by the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.