Friday, 8 January 2021

St George's retain RSC Belgium TOTB trophy

Despite the challenges and restrictions due to COVID, RSC Belgium successfully organised and ran its annual 'international eliminator' for the Royal Society of Chemistry's Top of the Bench (TOTB) competition in 2020 - and the results are now in. This year, the competition was run remotely during late November and early December with the results evaluated over the Christmas holiday period. The winning team, who will now represent Belgium in the TOTB grand final in March, is Team Phosphorus from St. Georges International School in Luxembourg. The school therefore retains the Keith Price Cup as their Team Sulfur was Belgium's TOTB winners in 2019.

Our 2020 TOTB eliminator retained the usual elements of the competition: a written test component for individual team members and a practical group exercise. Also as usual the questions were set by RSC committee member Rita Woodward.

TOTB teams need to be composed of four students with two students from Year 9 (UK equivalent to 3rd year or Grade 8), one student from Year 10 UK (4th year or Grade 9) and one student from Year 11 (5th year or Grade 10). With COVID restrictions/ bubbles this added an extra complication to the event.

The competition itself was managed remotely by the participating schools and consisted of a Multiple-Choice ‘Written’ Section, with questions and marking schemes tailored to the three age groups that was delivered in an appropriate 'timed' manner at the schools and a practical element with input from all four team members. The practical task for 2020 was to construct a calibration graph and use it to determine the percentage of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) present in a commercially produced baking powder. Practical kits were sent to participating schools.

Challenging event

In the end four teams from two schools were able to complete and return a full set of results for evaluation. The participating teams were teams Barium and Nitrogen from the International School of Flanders (ISF) in Waterloo and teams Magnesium and Phosphorus from St. George's International School in Luxembourg.

The competition was close but the overall winner - ranked first in the practical test and second in the written test - was the Phosphorus team from Luxembourg.

Our congratulations to Team Phosphorus and our thanks to everyone who took part in the TOTB eliminator this year. RSC goodies are on the way to participants at ISF and St. George's. Thanks to St. George's for providing photos from their eliminator.

Monday, 14 December 2020

Women in their element

On the evening of 12 November, Dr Brigitte van Tiggelen gave a virtual talk to the section on 'Women in Science' and in particular their contribution to the chemical sciences. Brigitte is joint editor of a recent significant book on the subject -'Women in their Element' - that traces the contributions of many women to shaping the chemical sciences and the evolution of the Periodic Table.

When telling the history of the periodic system, it often seems that only (white and often bearded) men contributed. Women however are far from absent. Brigitte’s talk focused on a number of significant female contributions, beyond the well-known personalities such as Marie Curie or Lise Meitner, with the aim of making historical women chemists more visible, and also to shed light on the multifaceted character of their work on the chemical elements and their periodic relationships. Her stories of female contributions looked to create new stories that may contribute to a better understanding of the collaborative nature of science as opposed to the traditional depiction of the lone genius.

The stories of female scientific input illustrated by Dr van Tiggelen also provided a spectrum of 'recognition' covering the full range from universal fame to invisibility. For instance, Marie Skłodowska-Curie and her discovery of polonium and radium in collaboration with her husband Pierre Curie are well celebrated by the general public: she rose to fame, even during her lifetime, as the awardee of two Nobel prizes, among other achievements. The same goes, to a lesser extent, for Lise Meitner or Irène Joliot-Curie. But others, like Harriet Brooks, Stefanie Horovitz, Erika Cremer or Yvette Cauchois are known only to specialised circles of scholars despite their important contributions. Indeed many female contributions have remained almost invisible, for example Toshiko Mayeda or Maria Del Carmen Brugger and Trinidad Salinas, even though they spent most of their life working at the laboratory bench, and participating actively to their field of interest.

Brigitte Van Tiggelen is Director for European Operations at the Science History Institute, Philadelphia, USA and member of the Centre de Recherche en Histoire des Sciences, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

Her latest book is devoted to Women’s contribution to the Periodic System: Women in Their Element, ed. with Annette Lykknes, published in August 2019.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Seventh Norman Lloyd Scholar announced

Cara Watkins (pictured below) has been selected as the seventh recipient of a Dr Norman C. Lloyd Scholarship at Cardiff University. Cara has just started her first year at Cardiff on a MCheM degree course. The Norman Lloyd Scholarship is given to a new student in the Cardiff School of Chemistry who is of high academic standing and resident in Wales.

Cara was absolutely delighted to be selected for the award.

"I am very grateful to be selected as the beneficiary of the Dr Norman C Lloyd Scholarship for this year," says Cara. "As an aspiring chemist I believe this will help me significantly invest in the resources I need to complete my degree. It is an honour to be associated with Dr Norman C Lloyd as he has achieved many great things and is an inspiration for Welsh students."

"I first started to consider a career in chemistry after watching a detective drama when I was younger," she continues. "It was through this that I was introduced to how chemistry is much more than just reactions and elements and opened my eyes to how chemistry can be used in areas outside of research science. Ever since then I've dreamt of becoming a forensic scientist and I believe a degree in chemistry will bring me closer to achieving this. I'm sure that the skills and experience I gain through my degree will play a pivotal role in my success in becoming a CSI."

Our best wishes to Cara and our congratulations on her selection for the scholarship. We will hope to follow her progress with interest and wish her every success for the future.

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.

Monday, 2 November 2020

Sixth Norman Lloyd Scholar report is in!

Annabel Hendley-Jones (pictured below), the sixth recipient of a Dr NormanC. Lloyd Scholarship at Cardiff University, completed her first year of her MCheM degree in Chemistry at the university and she has submitted an end of year report. The Norman Lloyd Scholarship is given to a new student to the Cardiff School of Chemistry who are of high academic standing and resident in Wales.

What degree are you undertaking and why did you choose the course here?

Currently, I am in my second year studying Chemistry (MChem) at Cardiff University. I chose to undertake chemistry as a degree as it incorporates many appreciated skills such as critical and analytical thinking, a strong dedicated work ethic which allows you to be composed in tough situations, academic and practical strengths and knowledgeable about a wide range of specialties. I chose to do the degree at Cardiff University due to its state-of-the-art laboratories, lecturers, research projects, investment for the future and sandwich year placement opportunities which all stood out to me more than any other university I considered. Since coming to study here in September 2019 it has exceeded all expectations.

What’s the best thing about studying at Cardiff?

The best thing about studying in Cardiff is the strong sense of a community in and around the university that is a very present and large part of the fabric of the city. It’s an exciting and safe place to live and study with large open parks and all shops desired all within a stone’s throw of the university buildings and accommodation and not much further out are areas of great natural beauty from beaches to mountains. These great attractions mixed with the strong academic lectures and research Cardiff University and the Chemistry degree provide mean Cardiff is a fantastic place to study. 

Do you have a particular career in mind after you graduate?

I have taken particular interest over the past year in environmental and energy resources chemistry. Seeing how chemicals created in our environment interact with each other either around us in the air or below in the soil or water sources and how humanity can affect and be affected by these reactions and chemicals has really engaged me, in particular atmospheric chemistry. I hope to specialise more to this area of chemistry during my masters with the hope to go into either analytical testing or lab development regarding atmospheric environmental chemistry after my graduation.

Do you have any hobbies outside of studying?

Outside of studying play for the chemistry netball team based in the university’s IMG league, where I am on the committee and hold responsibilities covering social sessions for players and leading coronavirus safety and hygiene whilst training. I enjoy taking time to relax by sketching and doing art as well as further unwinding by going on runs 4 times a week. I have also begun a beginner’s course in Welsh for All to learn the Welsh language as an extra skill and for a hobby centred around my country.

What difference has the Norman Lloyd scholarship made to you?

The scholarship has made a greatly positive change to me. It allowed me to access extra resources and specific academic books that previously I would not have bought due to financial limitations. For example, I purchased Atkins’ ‘Elements of Physical Chemistry’ which was popular at the library and so owning it personally allowed me to take my time to read and fully appreciate its contents more competently than having to return it in a specific time-frame. The scholarship also allowed me to think more freely about pursuing a year abroad placement with more monetary savings to achieve this goal and feel comfortable doing so.

If you could say something to the fund donors, what would it be?

Thank you very much, it was a great surprise when I found out I was the recipient of the Dr. Norman C. Lloyd scholarship and continues to be a great gift and an honour to this day. It has given me a newfound confidence in my chemistry learning and future allowing me more opportunities to explore and eventually accomplish.

We all wish Annabel every success as she continues 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.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Elements in Danger!

On the evening of Thursday 24 September from 19h30 RSC Belgium presented its first ever webinar event. The subject was ‘Elements in Danger’ and our speaker was Professor David Cole-Hamilton, Past President of the European Chemical Society and Irvine Professor of Chemistry at the University of St. Andrews. The webinar was also the occasion for the announcement of our prizewinners in our 2020 Chemistry Challenge and this year’s winner of the coveted Keith Price Award.

The webinar was run via Microsoft Teams with our Chairman and master of ceremonies Bob Crichton in a seminar room at Universite Catholique Louvain with technical maestro Fabio Lucaccioni and Prof Cole-Hamilton (pictured below at a previous RSC Belgium event) 'broadcasting' from his home in St. Andrews.

A couple of rehearsals were arranged before the event itself to iron out any technical glitches and the systems worked well on the night. 


As part of their contribution to the International Year of the Periodic Table, the European Chemical Society produced a new Periodic Table (see below).

It is an amazing thought that everything we see, touch, and smell is made up of only 90 building blocks: the 90 naturally occurring chemical elements. The new periodic table only displays those 90 elements + technetium and promethium.

The area occupied by each element relates to its abundance in the earth’s crust and in the atmosphere (on a log scale) and the colour indicates how long we shall be able to use these elements if we carry on as we are. Four elements are coloured black because they can come from mines where wars are fought over mineral rights.

31 of the elements are used in making smartphones (indicated by a phone symbol). All four conflict minerals are included amongst the elements in a phone and six will be dissipated within less than 100 years unless we do something.

Prof Cole-Hamilton presented the new Periodic Table and discussed selected elements with a view to understanding how we can continue to have the lifestyle we have and protect the 90 vital elements that make up our beautiful and diverse planet.

More details on the new Periodic Table including notes for teachers and learners, translations into most European languages and a link to a new Video Game 'Elemental Escapades - A Periodic Table Adventure' can be found at on the EuCheMS website.  

Revisit the webinar

The webinar was recorded using the Teams software and is now available to view whenever you want.

You can also access a copy of the powerpoint presentation used by Prof Cole-Hamilton here

Chemistry Challenge 2020 results announced

The results of the RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge 2020 were announced at our first webinar event on the evening of 24 September 2020. Due to the COVID19 restriction, this year's Chemistry Challenge was also a virtual event that was undertaken remotely by students.

For the 2020 Challenge, we received some 50 entries from six international and European schools in the Brussels area and beyond for this testing challenge of young people's chemical knowledge and initiative. This year the more chemistry orientated questions in Section A and B were a little more accessible, which resulted in more prize winners than for previous years. A selection of our participants are pictured below!

And the 2020 winner of the Keith Price Prize for best overall performance in terms of chemical knowledge came from a school that has not won previously.

The RSC Belgium Chemical Challenge has three sections:

  • A chemistry multiple choice paper (Section A)
  • A structured questions on chemistry (Section B), and
  • A 'Thinking Matters' paper that is not chemistry based (Section C)

The top results were as follows:

Section A - Multiple choice

First prize for this section was shared by Maria Stanescu and Mia Williams from European School Brussels IV in Laeken (EEB4) and Riana Sadretdinova of St John’s International School in Waterloo (St John's) who each received a €50 award. There were seven winners of €25 second prizes: Ashling Neill from EEB4, Yosra Al Hayani of the ISF International School in Waterloo (ISF), Louis Baranger and Matteo Pourbaix, who both study at St John’s, Nefeli Giannaloo from the European School at Mol (ES Mol), and Sofia Mori and Martin Prucha both from the British School of Brussels in Tervuren (BSB). Third prizes of €10 went to Alia Meek of St. George’s International School in Luxembourg (St George's), Nicholas Smits and Issie Bentley from BSB, and Tyler McGee and William Dobney both at ES Mol.

Section B - Structured questions

In this section the first prize of €50 was awarded to Yosra Al Hayani from ISF with Martin Prucha of BSB picking up the second prize worth €25. Three third prizes of €10 were awarded to Nicholas Smits of BSB, Alia Meek from St George’s and Louis Baranger of St.John’s.

Section C - Thinking Matters

For this section the top prize of €50 went to Matteo Pourbaix of St John’s, with ESMol's Tyler McGee picking up a second prize of €25, and two third places worth €10 awarded to Alia Meek of St George’s and Nefeli Giannaloo ES Mol.

The Keith Price Award

With an excellent performance in both chemistry sections, Yosra Al Hayani from ISF, pictured below, also received the prestigious Keith Price Prize for the best best overall score worth an additional €100. This is the first time that a student from ISF has won our Chemistry Challenge.

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 2021 and look forward to widening participation!

Sun shines on Norman Lloyd fundraiser

On Saturday 12 September RSC Belgium held an appropriately socially-distanced fundraising event for our Norman Lloyd Scholarships. The afternoon picnic event kicked off from 16h00 in blazing sunshine and continued into the early evening. The event was well-attended and supported with some EUR 870 raised for the fund on the day!

The venue for the fundraiser was Section Treasurer Julie Tuppeny's house in the countryside near Lasne, south of Brussels. Her house is a renovated old water mill and with gardens and other outside spaces at multiple levels that enabled us to organise a 'COVID-compliant' event.

Prior registration for the event was required and the number of participants was limited to comply with COVID19 regulations. But for a suggested contribution of EUR 25 per person to the fund, a sumptuous spread was provided with free drinks etc. Julie was the main caterer for the event but section secretary Tim Reynolds also provided his famous Timms aperitif and some blackberry ice cream to accompany Julie's Lemon pavlova. 

Members of the committee also provided drinks and prizes for a top-notch prize raffle. The raffle was drawn by Setsuko Lloyd, Norman's wife and a special friend of the section.

The Norman Lloyd Scholarships

The Norman Lloyd Scholarship Fund was established by RSC Belgium in memory of Dr Norman Lloyd one of our founding members and a great supporter of our activities. So far, the Fund has supported six first year Chemistry students at Cardiff University with scholarships worth £1000. The funds raised at this event and those from previous activities will ensure that the scholarships can continue.

If you were unable to come to the event, but would like to make a donation to the Norman Lloyd Fund, then you can do so by making a bank transfer to the RSC Belgium ING account BE91 3630 8144 4876 with the message ‘Norman Lloyd Fund donation’. Thank you.