Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Shape and Form in Biology

On the evening of Thursday 14 March 2019, new section chairman Prof Bob Crichton gave the  opening talk of our 2019 programme with a description of the progress made in elucidating 'Shape and Form in Biology' at the British School of Brussels (BSB).

The shape and form of biological objects has long intrigued scientists, particularly in how they determine biological function. The world of structural biology has been dramatically changed in the last few years with the advent of new developments in electron microscopy and crystallography of biological macromolecules.

Bob's lecture outlined recent advances in two areas - cryo-electron microscopy (the 2017 Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson "for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution”) and the use of X-ray free electron lasers (the EUR 1.25 billion XFEL at the Deutsche Electronische Synchotron in Hamburg has just come on beam), supplementing existing synchrotron facilities for protein structure determination. This enables structure determination from nanocrystals, thereby overcoming some of the biggest hurdles of traditional crystallography (radiation damage) through the principle of diffraction-before-destruction, as well as simultaneously opening a new era of time-resolved (femtosecond) structural studies.

The section is organising a trip to the XFEL facility and the neighbouring DESY synchrotron in Hamburg on 28 June. Find out more here.

Prof Robert (Bob) Crichton has had a long and distinguished career in biochemical research. He graduated in Biochemistry from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, in the mid-sixties and after carrying out postdoctoral research at the Max Plank Institut für Biochimie in Munich, Germany, he moved to the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium in 1973, where he has been a professor of Biochemistry in the Department of Chemistry. His main research interests are in the inorganic biochemistry of iron and related metals and he is author of the book on iron metabolism -  'Iron Metabolism: From Molecular Mechanisms to Clinical Consequences.'

Of course, Bob has also been a mainstay of the RSC Belgium section for many years, giving one of its first ever talks and he has just started his third stint as Chairman of the section.

Process waste water oxidation

On the evening of Tuesday 9 April, our second talk of 2019 took place at St. Johns International School with Raf Dewil who is Professor at the Process and Environmental Technology Lab (PETLab) at KU Leuven. PETLab is a research group within the Chemical Engineering Department at KU Leuven based at the Campus de Nayer site north of Mechelen. The title of Raf's talk was 'Advanced oxidation processes: from the lab to a Chemical Plant-on-a-Truck' and dealt with the various methods to treat on-site hazardous water generated by various industrial and chemical processes.

Over the past ten years, the PETLab group has established a broad expertise in resource recovery and the production of renewable chemicals and energy carriers from waste, side and biomass streams and it specialises in waste- and wastewater treatment processes, mixed-culture microbial processes, chemicals from low-cost feedstocks, and model-based optimisation of processes.

Within their facilities at the KU Leuven Campus de Nayer, PETLab combines a broad range of analytical equipment with extensive lab- and pilot-equipment. With numerous industrial collaborations, PETLab aims at combining fundamental knowledge with a hands-on philosophy to tackle real-life problems that industry is confronted with. 

Raf's talk focused on a range of oxidation methods for the degradation of organics from hazardous wastewater streams and how laboratory work is scaled up to full sized units including an innovative modular system that combines chemical and biological oxidation treatments.

Raf's talk ended with a video outlining the 'Plant on a Truck’ concept operating at Janssen Pharmaceutica’s chemical production site in Geel. that treats process waters from the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients in a cost-effective and sustainable way.

Prof Dewil is also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Environmental Management and his main research interests span advanced biological and chemical wastewater treatment, advanced Oxidation Processes (AOP), sludge treatment and disposal, anaerobic digestion processes, and production of renewable chemicals from biomass and waste.

RSC Belgium 2019 AGM Report

The section's Annual General Meeting (AGM) took place on Friday 15 February 2019 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 ten members present but a further nine 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 the recording of apologies received, the minutes of our previous AGM of 2 February 2018 were approved with no corrections. The section secretary, William Darnley, then presented the Committee Report on the Section's 2018 Activities. 2018 had been another good year for the section, with 10 events, of which six were public lectures, two social trips and our two annual school outreach events. The committee once again attended inter-section curling in Kent, where victory had been claimed! Membership stands at 131, a minor increase over last year.

The year kicked off with an evening with Prof. Sir Martyn Poliakoff – our highest attended event of the year with in excess of 50 people! And ended with another favourite: Dr. Urbina-Blanco’s talk on using CO2 as a chemical building block. In between these fabulous events were scattered throughout the year other, equally fantastic events, with a social outing to the highly interesting “Trainworld” train museum in Schaerbeek. We also took a trip to the Duvel brewery to the keen interest of many members. Other highlights included lectures on the duality of Music and Chemistry in April and a lecture on the history, importance and of course the chemistry of the colour blue.

We have our 5th Norman Lloyd scholar this year, William Cawdell. Reports from Cardiff are that he is a fantastic student and he intends to become a teacher!

Top of the Bench was yet another cracking event, with 11 teams from six schools and three countries partaking! It was an incredibly close call on the winners, but after reassessing all the teams’ performance in the practical exercise it was decided BSB was this year’s winners! They will be competing in the final in Birmingham in March.

Section finances
The section treasurer, Julie Tupenny, presented the 2018 financial report and accounts. On 1 January 2018, the net assets of RSC Belgium Section had been €8 552. The Annual Grant for 2018 received in June 2018 from RSC UK was €5 000, somewhat less than the requested €7 000. However, with no Café Chimique this year the financial situation is good.

For the Year ending 31 December 2018, the net assets of RSC Belgium Section amount to €10 311. This included part payment of a RSC Outreach Grant for the proposed Kitchen Chemistry tour (see below).

Bearing in mind that under Belgian Law, the status of the RSC Belgium Section holds the three Officers personally liable for debts arising from the activities of the Belgium Section. A grant of €7 000 will be requested from RSC UK to cover all the activities planned for 2019.

On behalf of The Belgium Section, Julie thanked Ralph Palim F.C.A the Hon. Auditor for his thoroughness in auditing and approving the RSC Belgium Section for the year ending 31 December 2018. Ralph has agreed to continue as the section's auditor for 2019.

Chairman’s Remarks
The Chairman, Tim Reynolds, thanked the committee for their hard work and support during the year and during his four years as Chair of the section. As ever we had hosted an interesting and diverse programme including some firsts. He thanked William Darnley for taking on the burden of section secretary.

Looking forward to 2019 he anticipated a challenging year with the fallout from Brexit making all our lives a little more difficult, however he was pleased to announce that the RSC would be launching a free legal service via its Community Fund to all RSC members in the EU who required support over issues such as immigration, residence or nationality as a result of Brexit. The service would cover any member, their partner or dependents and was good news.

The RSC Belgium programme for 2019 was also looking good and pretty much complete. Highlights included a possible trip to Hamburg in June to visit DESY and the new XFEL facility that is set to revolutionise our understanding in the biological sciences; the Kitchen Chemistry schools tour in September that is largely funded by the first RSC Outreach Grant to be awarded to any section outside the UK and Republic of Ireland (another first for RSC Belgium!); and the Istvan Marko Memorial Symposium at Louvain-La-Neuve that the section will be supporting and is attracting some notable speakers.

In anticipation of the elections, the Chair wished Bob Crichton well as the incoming Section Chair and welcomed Matt Andrews to the committee.

Committee elections
Three ordinary members were elected to the committee (Rita Woodward, Matt Andrews, and William Darnley) and the three Section officers were elected with Bob Crichton becoming Chair, Julie Tupenny remaining as Treasurer, and Tim Reynolds moving to the role of Section Secretary.

Election to the committee is for a two-year term and David Terrell and Jane Downing are currently in mid-term on the committee. The full composition of the RSC Belgium section committee can be found here. The first meeting of the 2019 committee took place on 5 March 2019.

All business being completed the meeting adjourned at 19:59 and the Annual Dinner commenced. You can access the full draft Minutes of the 2019 AGM here. These minutes will be presented to the AGM of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Belgium Section in 2020 for approval.