Saturday, 30 November 2013

RSC holds 'International' TOTB Qualifier!

RSC Belgium held its first ever ‘international’ eliminator heat for the annual RSC Top of the Bench (TOTB) competition on Saturday 23 November at the British School of Brussels (BSB). As ever it was a hard-fought struggle between a total of 12 teams from eight schools including three schools competing for the very first time. In a very close finish the ‘Bromine’ team from the British School of Brussels claimed the Keith Price Cup and the right to represent RSC Belgium in the 2014 final!

This was the third time that the RSC Belgium's TOTB eliminator has been held as an actual 'head-to-head' competition with a practical element and the popularity of this format is clearly growing. In addition to welcoming three new schools to the competition – including one from Luxembourg – the section also welcomed RSC coordinator for the Top of the Bench competition Sue Thompson, who came over from the UK to help with the judging and see how we ran our eliminator.

The full team line up was as follows:
For the SHAPE International School, the International School of Flanders and St George’s International School this year was the first time they had competed in our eliminator.

Foaming conkers
The twelve teams of budding chemists had to complete a short written test on their individual chemical knowledge and data interpretation skills and then show teamwork and problem-solving abilities in a practical chemical exercise.

This year the test involved the use of conkers! The teams were set the task of preparing a detergent from saponin – a component of conkers – and then produce a certain volume of chemical foam using a detergent mixture, bicarbonate of soda and a minimum volume of lemon juice.

Teams were judged on their approach to the problem, teamwork, the quality of the recording of their work and the accuracy and precision of their observations.

This format closely reflects the format of the competition that the winners will face in the actual RSC–run final. As usual Rita Woodward devised this cunning competition and set the questions.

Close competition
All twelve teams consisted of four students aged 14 - 16 and were accompanied by teachers. When teams had worked out their own solution, their efforts were timed by judges Prof. Bob Crichton, Dr. Ian Carson, Dr Becki Scott, Sue Thompson and Gavin Brown.

The overall winners were determined by their team placing in both written and practical parts of the 'eliminator'.

The final result was very tight with the winners being the Bromine team from BSB, followed by the Argon team also from BSB and in third place Nitrogen from newcomers St Georges International School in Luxembourg. The winning teams are pictured above having been presented with the Keith Price Cup by branch chairman Prof Bob Crichton. The team will now represent Belgium in the (inter)national final in the UK in 2014.

In addition the Nitrogen team (above) from St. George’s received RSC tee-shirts as they came top in the written part of the competition. All the students who took part in the competition will also receive certificates.

Clearly everyone who took part in the competition had a very enjoyable time with both students and teachers very enthusiastic about this competitive format. RSC Belgium looks forward to an even bigger and better Belgian TOTB eliminator next year.

Our thanks to all the teachers and students (see below) who took part in a really fun afternoon of chemistry!

RSC Belgium explores Mars!

On Tuesday 26 November a packed Swoosh Lounge at the British School of Brussels heard about the exploration of Mars from Dr. Ann Carine Vandaele of the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomie (BISA). The fascinating talk took RSC members and friends through the long history of humanity’s missions to Mars. And then brought us up-to-date with the next planned explorations in which Ann herself is involved.

Ann (below) is Head of Planetary Aeronomie at the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomie based at the Uccle Observatory and is the Principal Investigator for the NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery) spectrometer suite that will identify components of the Martian atmosphere on board the planned 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter Mission.

Ann started her talk by comparing the Earth and Mars and their atmospheres and then outlined the history and objectives of the various missions that have been sent to Mars since the 1960s – including some heroic failures and the many notable successes.

The first flights to Mars were made by Soviet craft but the first real success was the US Mariner 9 flight in 1971. The Viking landers followed in 1975 and the Spirit and Opportunity rovers in 2003. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) first mission was the Mars Express in 2005.

All these missions have given us growing evidence that there was a large amount of water on Mars in the past and, indeed, there is a reasonable supply on the planet still – just not on the surface.

The latest mission is of course the NASA Curiosity rover with its powerful array of chemical instruments in what is essentially a mobile science lab.

The ExoMars (Exobiology on Mars) is the next major scientific mission to Mars and will be searching for that elusive ‘biosignature’ of Martian life past or present. The Viking missions sent back data that may or may not have indicated that (bacterial) life is present now on Mars. The ExoMars mission is currently under development by the European and Russian Space Agencies (ESA and Roscosmos) having been originally planned as a NASA-ESA joint venture. The ExoMars programme includes several elements that will probably be sent to Mars on two launches in 2016 and 2018.

NOMAD, the “Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery” European instrument was selected as part of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission for 2016. It will conduct a spectroscopic survey of the atmosphere of Mars in the ultraviolet (UV), visible and infrared (IR) spectral regions. Its primary objective will be to improve our knowledge of the vertical structure and composition of the atmosphere of the ‘red planet’.

All in all this was an extremely interesting talk that kept an audience of well over 40 members and friends enthralled. Plenty of questions were asked and the discussion continued over drinks and light refreshments.

Monday, 18 November 2013

G4G IV: The Global Experiment

At the start of the RSC's Chemistry Week RSC Belgium took the RSC Global Experiment 2013 to the fourth Greenlight for Girls Day in Brussels on Saturday November 16. In all around 100 girls took part in the experiment in two packed workshop sessions. The venue for G4G IV was the International School of Brussels in Watermael-Boitsfort. The RSC team had a great time running the workshops in which the girls measured the vitamin C content of fruits and vegetables.

Puctured above is the RSC Belgium team for the day with a couple of G4G enthusiasts. The RSC Belgium team consisted of (from left to right above) ElisaMaupas, Sophie Hollanders, Kim Eekelers and RSC executive committee member Becki Scott with section secretary Tim Reynolds (behind the camera). 

Each of the workshops brought together around an enthusiastic group of fifty young women aged 11 to 15. Most participants were anglophone but the RSC Belgium team was ready and able to work with the girls in French and Dutch too. 

Each of the students got to do the RSC Global experiment calibrating for vitamin 'C' and then assessing the vitamin in  a range of fruit and vegetable: apple, kiwi fruit, oranges, cauliflower and broccoli. Amazingly, despite the vast numbers, no one painted themselves in iodine! 

"The kids had a really good time," said Tim Reynolds. "It was challenging to get everything done in the 45 minutes allocated to the workshop sessions - but everyone got to do some 'hands-on chemistry' - and we all had some good fun."

Other chemical based workshops offered during the day included sessions on cosmetics and fragrances, 'bath bombs' and experiments from the hit TV series the 'Big Bang Theory'. Other workshops focused on IT, physics, engineering and biotechnology.

Over 200 young ladies attended the day had all had a great time taking some fantastic memories, a goody bag and their own personalised labcoats. RSC pens, stickers and fluffies were in great demand! 

About G4G
The Greenlight for Girls organisation is a Brussels-based, international non-profit organization that works to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to girls of all ages and backgrounds. The main aim is to stimulate greater participation of girls, young women and career-age women in STEM-related studies and careers. To achieve this mission, G4G carry out a range of activities around the world, with a special focus on reaching less-advantaged communities.

RSC Belgium has supported the GreenlightforGirls initiative from its inception in Brussels and provided workshop session at all four of the annual events so far. 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Chemistry World Science Communication Competition 2013

Are you passionate about science and keen to communicate to the widest possible audience? Think you could get your message across in fewer than 800 words or a five minute recording? Then the Chemistry World science communication competition 2013 is for you!

The competition offers a fantastic opportunity to show your skills and passion for communicating science. And there is a cash prize on offer too!

There are two categories in this year's competition: written and multimedia storyboards. Your chosen topic should be related to the chemical sciences and incorporate this year's theme: openness in science. The judges are looking for a modern, clear and concise style that will convey the significance and interest of the topic to the global readership of RSC's Chemistry World magazine.

The competition is open to students, postgrads and early career scientists anywhere in the world. And the competition is only open to new science writers; those people whose main source of income is through science writing or who have professional (paid) science writing experience are ineligible.

The competition closes on the 31 January 2014 and winners will be announced at a prize giving event at Burlington House in London on 5 March 2014.

To find out more, go to

Monday, 21 October 2013

Following on from Baekeland

A large audience of RSC Belgium members and friends found out about the history and applications of phenolic resins on the evening of 17 October in Tervuren. Gabriele Badini, Research Director of Momentive Specialty Chemicals GmbH also gave us some insights into how research and innovation is managed in the chemical industry.

The venue for Gabriele’s talk was the Hotel Rastelli in Tervuren. This brand new hotel is situated in Hornzeelstraat, Tervuren and had a good sized meeting room adjacent to the bar.

Phenolic resins are synthetic polymers obtained by the reaction of phenol (or substituted phenol) with formaldehyde. They are used in a wide variety of applications from circuit boards to pool balls, and as coatings and adhesives. One of the first phenolic resins was Bakelite – the world’s first 100% synthetic commercial plastic – and brainchild of Belgium-born chemist Leo Baekeland in 1907.

Inspiration and innovation
Baekeland’s initial inspiration in formulating a synthetic resin was to produce a novel and cheap insulating material for application in the then burgeoning electricity supply industry. What he discovered was a material that had literally thousands of applications.

Gabrielle (above) took the audience through a range of applications for modern phenolic resins focusing on their chemistry and uses. Gabriele then described the research behind these products and how industrial chemical companies work to squeeze out new features and develop novel innovative products from chemistries that have been employed for decades.

He looked at how R&D projects are selected, what steps are required to drive an ‘Innovation Culture’ in a company and how the portfolio of R&D projects was managed.

He concluded that getting the right people and developing them to maximise their potential was the secret of success.

The talk concluded with a lively question and answer session.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Prizes, Metals and Metabolism

RSC Belgium opened its Autumn 2013 programme on 19 September at the British School of Brussels with a prize giving ceremony for the winners of the section's Chemistry Challenge 2013 competition . The ceremony was followed by a lecture from section chairman Prof. Bob Crichton on biological inorganic chemistry.

Well over 70 members and friends of the section attended and applauded the winners of the Chemistry Challenge in BSB's Brel theatre. To achieve top marks in the challenge, set by RSC Belgium Treasurer and former BSB teacher Rita Woodward,  needed exceptional knowledge of chemistry and a sharp mind.

The Chemical Challenge has three sections:  a chemistry multiple choice paper, a structured questions on chemistry, and a 'Thinking Matters' paper that is not chemistry based. 

Multiple choice
In the multiple choice section joint first were Jeannine Heetmeyer and Nathan Boydell of the European School Brussels 3 at Ixelles (EEB3). Joint second were Tim Overeem, Owen Tyers and Hangkuon Yi of the International School of Brussels (ISB) with Camila Nagoda of the European School Brussels 1 at Uccle (EEB1) and third was Kazuma Matsumoto of the British School of Brussels (BSB).

The prize winners able to be at BSB on 19 September are pictured below with Section Chairman Prof. Bob Crichton:

Structured Questions
In this very tough part of the Challenge first was Tim Overeem of ISB, with Ryan Moore of St John's International School Waterloo (St Johns) in second and third was was Patricia Martin (St Johns).

The three prize winners are pictured below with Prof. Crichton.

Thinking Matters
Our third section gives the non-chemists a chance but the questions are not easy and require some lateral thinking! In this section first prize went to Sofie Thiel (EEB3) with joint second prizes to Patricia Martin (St Johns) and Wendelin Lutz (EEB3) with Caitriona Murphy of the European School Brussels 2 at Woluwe (EEB2) in second place.

The prize winners able to be at BSB on 19 September are pictured below with Section Chairman Prof. Bob Crichton:

Keith Prize Prize
Tim Overeem of ISB (pictured below right) also received the Keith Price Prize from Bob Crichton for best overall score in sections A and B. First prize winners receive €50, second €25 and third places €10 with the winner of the Keith Price Prize receiving an additional €100. Who says chemistry can't make you rich!

Well done to all the students who participated in 2013 and to their teachers who supervised the Challenge at each of the schools. We will be running the Challenge again in 2014.

Whistle-stop tour
Biological inorganic chemistry is key to understanding almost all of the complex chemical processes underpinning biology and therefore our health. Following the prizes Prof Bob Crichton took his audience on a whistle-stop tour of the two dozen or so main metal ions that have a major role in metabolism.

The metals often have a complex role in the chemical processes that underpin life and recent discoveries that metal ions, such as zinc and copper, play a direct role in the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and BSE has created renewed interest in their role in biology.

Bob’s talk was largely based on the recently published second edition of his textbook: Biological Inorganic Chemistry. This revised and expanded second edition was the winner of a 2013 Texty Award from the Text and Academic Authors Association.

Further pictures
The event was followed by the usual question and answer session and an informal networking drinks reception.

The BSB photographer was present throughout the ceremony and lecture and there is an excellent gallery of photos from the 19 September event available on the BSB Flickr website.

Friday, 6 September 2013

2013 Chemistry Challenge Winners Announced

The results of the RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge 2013 have just been announced and the talented prize winners will be picking up their winnings at a special RSC Belgium event on 19 September at BSB starting at 19:30. This year we received 85 eligible entries from seven international schools in this testing challenge of young people's chemical knowledge and initiative.

The RSC Belgium Chemical Challenge has three sections:

  • A chemistry multiple choice paper
  • A structured questions on chemistry, and
  • A 'Thinking Matters' paper that is not chemistry based

And the top results were as follows:

Section A: Multiple choice

Section B: Structured Questions

Section C: Thinking Matters

Tim Overeem of ISB also receives the Keith Price Prize for best overall score in sections A and B. First prize winners recieve €50, second €25 and third places €10 with the winner of the Keith Price Prize receiving an additional €100.

Well done to everyone that took part! We will be running the Challenge again in 2014.

The Chemistry Challenge competition was devised and compiled by RSC Belgium treasurer Rita Woodward and is open to students from any school in Belgium. The questions are set in English, but may be answered in English, French, Dutch or German.

The competition is open to school students in their penultimate year of High School (usually aged 16 – 17), and consists of a 2 hour written test held in school and designed to demonstrate the participants’ knowledge of chemistry and their ability to think logically.

Try it yourself!
Now you can test your chemical knowledge and problem solving ability. The 2013 Chemistry Challenge paper can be viewed here. Tell us how you get on!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A Right Royal Tour of Mechelen!

On the morning of Saturday June 1st a gaggle of RSC Belgium members and friends were treated to a right royal tour of the Flemish city of Mechelen. In company of no less a person than Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of vast swathes of both the 'old' and 'new' Worlde, we got to visit and admire many of the historical points of Mechelen - and to learn of a very good reason to return in the not-too-distant future.

Our group met up for the morning guided tour for a ten o'clock start. The tour was over two hours long and our host, Charles V (see below), was accomplished in his knowledge of the Englishe language. Mechelen had its heyday in the late 15th/early 16th century when it was the centre of Burgundian power over the Low Countries and the seed point for the Renaissance in the region.

Our tour started in the Grote Markt accompanied by the sounds and smells of the traditional Saturday Mechelen market and enlivened by a series of 'happy couples' and their entourages arriving via a wide variety of transports, from high-powered sports cars to butcher's bikes, to be wed at the Town Hall.

Town hall
Our tour started at the Town Hall where we were introduced to its distinct architectural styles and fabulous tapestries and continued to St. Rhombouts Cathedral with its renowned bells and carillon and the Palaces of Margaret of Austria and Margaret of York (below).

Charles V was full of anecdotes about his time in Mechelen and the history of Flanders, Spanish Netherlands and the lands beyond; not to mention his escapades with our own Henry VIII and his wars with France. All together a very merrie olde time was had by all.

Having said been bade farewell with a song by the Emperor (aka the excellent Mr. Rudi De Mets), the RSC group made for the Carlton Brasserie on Grote Markt where we warmed up and enjoyed some Flemish specialties including a taste of Mechelse Koekoek, the local poultry dish and a regional brew: Gouden Carolus beer - which is actually a 'brun'.

After lunch a few of the group carried on to visit Technopolis, the Flemish “hands-on”-centre for science and technology on the edge of the town. Technopolis offers young people aged 4 to 100 the chance to take part in a variety of experiments and experiences, including bridge building, riding a bicycle on a high wire five metres above the ground, having their hair stand on end and much much more.

Reason to return
A great time was had by one and all in Mechelen and a very good reason to return at the end of the summer was also revealed by old Charles V: the Hanswijk Cavalcade.

This historical religious procession is staged every 25 years so it is a rare treat to behold and the next Hanswijk Cavalcade will wend its way through the streets of Mechelen on Sunday 25 August and Sunday 1 September 2013. Traditionally the event is rounded off with the Mechelen Ommegang, which features the family of giants recognized as a UNESCO world heritage resource.

The Hanswijk Procession has made its way through the streets of Mechelen every year since 1273. On that day Mechelen's historic centre becomes the setting for a unique and colourful spectacle with hundreds of volunteers dressed in authentic costumes acting out historical and religious scenes. Since 1738 the Hanswijk Procession has celebrated its jubilee every twenty-five years in the form of the Cavalcade. See you there?

Friday, 31 May 2013

Woluwe at TOTB 2013!

This year's representatives from RSC Belgium to the annual Top of the Bench (TOTB) Chemistry Competition in the UK were from Woluwe European School in Brussels. The final took place at Loughborough University on 20 April. We have just received this report from the Woluwe team.

"Four students from the Anglophone section of European School Brussels (II) based in Woluwe recently took part in the grand Final of the Royal Society of Chemistry's Schools competition known as “Top of the Bench”. The event was held at the University of Loughborough in the UK and attracted teams from thirty schools from all parts of the British Isles.

The Woluwe student team (above), made up of Justinas Sakas, Hannah Falconer-Teer, Giacomo Goldsmith Ganzerli and Austeja Linartaite, had been selected to represent the Belgium section of the RSC at a qualifying competition held in December last year at the British School of Brussels.

The competition in Loughborough involved a full day of tasks, including individual pen-and-paper tests, and two problem-solving practical exercises that required teamwork as well as experimental skills.

In the final result, our team was placed 16 out of 30, which is extremely pleasing given that the European School Science programme is different to the British curriculum followed by all other competitors. The team was also proud to have finished ahead of several well-known selective private schools, including King Edward’s School Birmingham, The Manchester Grammar School and Cheltenham Ladies College!

Many congratulations to the students, not only on the great result, but for being excellent ambassadors for the school and RSC Belgium. And for keeping us all laughing on the long train journey there and back!

Julie Deegan
Chemistry teacher, European School Brussels II (Woluwe)"

Belgium eliminator 2013
The Woluwe school gained their place at the UK final in a competitive eliminator held by the section in November 2012. The formula we use to select schools is attracting attention at RSC HQ and this year's eliminator may see RSC TOTB coordinator Sue Thompson attending to see what we do!

We are also hoping to attract one or two more schools for an even more exciting afternoon of chemistry fun! Look out for details in the beginning of the next academic year!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Chemists own the Future!

“The future belongs to chemistry and chemists” that was the inspiring message given by Dr. Mike Pitts (below, left) of the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to a packed house of members and Friends at our meeting on 15 May at the British School of Brussels. Mike outlined the major societal challenges facing our world today and in the near future. He then showed how chemistry has a vital role to play in providing solutions to these issues – but also how the success of these solutions depends on a change of mindset in manufacturing and society in general.

In the near future – say by 2050 - we will need to enable 9.5bn people to live well within the resources of a single planet. This is a significant challenge.

By 2050 we will also have three billion new middle class in the developing world all looking to embrace the ‘western’ consumer lifestyle. In addition we will all be living longer with huge implications for how we manage chronic diseases. As Mike put it: “By 2050 in the UK, on the current model for care of the ageing population, all 18 year olds will have to become care nurses by law!” He also pointed out that the majority of babies born today in the EU will live past 100 and the first person to live to 150 has most probably already been born.

At the same time we tend to take our modern technology for granted. A modern smartphone contains a great range of elements that we have only recently begun to exploit. The amounts are small per application but very widespread in use. There are now more mobile phones on the planet than people and each one contains half the periodic table: around 40 elements.

Chemical solution?
The key to a sustainable future is to base our thinking around resource and energy efficiency. Mike showed how by closing the loop in manufacturing we can minimise waste and maximise reuse and recycling and therefore help provide the goods and services that our growing population need.

This will need a significant mindset change. “Chemists are trained to make ‘white powders and clear liquids’” he pointed out, but consumers don’t really purchase products any more they purchase effects or services. This change in perception can help drive forward the materials cycle to minimise waste.

Most importantly we have a generation growing up now with an inherent understanding of sustainability and a desire to see a more resource efficient world claims Mike. He believes that the process industries will need to engage widely with other disciplines as they realise our importance and the importance of chemistry in general.

Mike was a very entertaining and inspiring speaker and there was a very lively discussion after his presentation. How do we make the products and services that we need truly sustainable? And what is chemistry’s role in ensuring this happens? Questions we all need to ponder deeply.

Mike left us with a great quote from a leading UK designer and sustainability expert that we should all be shouting from the rooftops: “Chemists own the future!”

Sustainability expert
Dr. Mike Pitts is an expert in chemical aspects of sustainability. Before joining the TSB, he was Sustainability Manager with the Chemical Innovation Knowledge Transfer Network (CIKTN) leading the development of CIKTN’s Sustainable Design Guide.

Mike is an organic chemist by training (BSc, University of Loughborough and PhD, University of Exeter) and worked as a postdoctoral associate at the University of Vienna. He is great enthusiast for chemistry and a trustee of the excellent Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Widnes.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Go Becki! Go Bob!

A couple of RSC Belgium committee members are in awards mode: our Chairman Prof Bob Crichton has just won a prestigious award for one of his text books and Dr. Becki Scott is entering the 'X-Factor' of science - 'I'm a Scientist, Get me out of Here'.

Prof Crichton's award is for his tome entitled 'Biological Inorganic Chemistry - A New introduction to Molecular Structure and Function (Second Edition)' - see picture right' that has been chosen by the panel of judges as the recipient of the 2013 "Texty" Textbook Excellence Award awarded by the Text and Academic Authors Association (TAA).

The association created the Textbook Excellence Award in 1992 to recognize current textbooks and learning materials. To be nominated, a work must carry a copyright date for the previous or current year. TAA designed the award, called the Texty, because text materials did not have awards of their own. Entries are not limited to books but may include learning materials in all mediums.

The award ceremony will take place in Reno, Nevada on 22 June during the Association's 26th annual conference. Unfortunately Bob cannot be there in person to pick up the accolade.

Meanwhile committee member Becki Scott has registered for ‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here!’ - a free online event where school students get to meet and interact with scientists. The concept is a free X Factor-style competition between scientists, where the students are the judges.

Students challenge the scientists in intense, fast-paced online live 'chats'. They then ask the scientists all the questions they want to, and vote for their favourite scientist. The winning scientist wins a prize of £500 to help them communicate their work with the public.

The 2013 event will be taking place from Monday 17 to Friday 28 June. Teachers and scientists, sign up now to take part!.

Take a look at the 60 second video on the I’m a Scientist site to get a feel for the competition.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Dr. Norman Cecil Lloyd CChem FRSC

Dr. Norman Cecil Lloyd CChem FRSC
6 June 1928 to 17 March 2013

Members and Friends were sadden to hear the news of the sudden death of Dr. Norman Lloyd who passed away in the early hours of Sunday 17 March at home in Lasne. ‘Uncle Norm’ had a long and distinguished global career with Dow Corning and was a fervent supporter of RSC Belgium including as an active committee member from 2001 to 2006.

Always full of ideas and enthusiasm for chemistry, among many other achievements, he was responsible for organizing a number of excellent excursions (aka Lloyd’s Tours) for the section: including a memorable trip to Luxembourg in 2004.

Norman will be greatly missed by his wife Setsuko, children Kazumi and Michiko, his extended family, and his many friends and colleagues.

Norman’s funeral will take place at on Saturday afternoon, 23 March. A service of thanksgiving will take place at the All Saints’ Church in Waterloo at 15:00

All Saints’ Church, Waterloo
Chaussée de Charleroi 2

This will be followed by a gathering with friends and family at the Lloyd’s house in Lasne.

The Norman C. Lloyd scholarship
In lieu of flowers, Setsuko and the family would like donations to be made in the name of ‘Norman C. Lloyd’ to a scholarship fund that is being established by the Royal Society of Chemistry, Belgium section.

A donation would have special meaning for the family as the new scholarship fund is intended to support and encourage students to study chemistry, a subject very close to Norman’s heart.

Details of how to make a donation are given below.

Account name:
RSC Belgium Section
ING Bank
Account no.:
IBAN BE91 3630 8144 4876    BIC: BBRUBEBB
The Royal Society of Chemistry Belgium Section
Rue Sainte Anne 13
1300 WAVRE

Please indicate that the donation is for the ‘Norman C. Lloyd fund’

Friday, 15 March 2013

White Gold at BSB

A good crowd of RSC Belgium members and friends braved some wintry weather on 14 March to hear a fascinating talk from forensic archaeologist Dr. Andrew Shortland of Cranfield University in the Swoosh Lounge at the British School of Brussels. Andrew described the work of his group in characterising porcelain - the 'white gold' of antiquity. 

Andrew started with the story of the 'Ruislip Vase' a seemingly modest piece of porcelain discovered in a very ordinary house in north-east London in 2010. Having been used recently as a bookend it was recognised as an 18th-century porcelain vase made for the Qianlong Emperor of China. Valued initially at £1 million it sold at auction for over £ 50 million: a world-record for such an artefact. However, the object was not collected or paid for by the purchaser and the vase has recently been finally sold by auctioneers Bonhams for a more modest - but still substantial - £20 - 25 million.

Clearly porcelain is truly a 'white gold'. This reputation has held true across the centuries and recently the volume of sales of antique porcelain has increased rapidly. And, of course, this attracts the interest of 'entrepreneurs'. Dr Shortland brings the techniques of modern analysis to porcelain with the aim of identifying copies and fakes in Chinese and European porcelain.

Art of porcelain
The production of the thin glass-like ceramic known as porcelain probably began in China in the first millennium BC, but the earliest fine examples date from circa 650 AD. From the early medieval period Chinese porcelain was being exported and was greatly prized throughout the royal courts of the old world.

There was huge competition to create porcelain in Europe to rival those pieces produced in East Asia and in the early years of the eighteenth century this was accomplished, first at Meissen and then throughout Germany, France, England and elsewhere. Early examples of both Chinese and European porcelain are rare and growing in value - as witnessed by the Ruislip vase story. They have therefore been extensively copied, both by the factories themselves and by others seeking to imitate their wares.

Andrew's talk showed how two modern non-destructive analytical techniques - hand held X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) and Laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) can distinguish between genuine early objects and later copies and fakes in both Chinese and European porcelains. His research has been conducted with a number of the world's leading auction houses who - obviously - have a keen interest in the findings.

The insights provided by Dr Shortland was appreciated by our audience and there was a very good discussion after his presentation about the determination of the true provenance of antiques and art objects.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

RSC Belgium launches 2013 Chemistry Challenge

Following a small pilot run in 2010 and two highly successful full runs in 2011 and 2012, RSC Belgium Section is happy to announce its Schools Chemistry Challenge 2013. 

The RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge competition is open to students from any school in Belgium. The section is looking to make the 2013 Challenge an even bigger chemistry competition! In 2012, well over 100 students took part.

Details of the 2013 competition format can be accessed here. The Chemistry Challenge questions will be set in English, but may be answered in English, French, Dutch or German.

The competition is open to school students in their penultimate year of High School (usually aged 16 – 17) and consists of a total of two hours of written test papers held in individual schools and designed to demonstrate the participants’ knowledge of chemistry and their ability to think logically.

Two formats
For 2013 the Challenge can be taken in two ways: either as a single two-hour paper (as for 2012) or split into three stand-alone, separate sections (Section A 30 minutes, Section B 60 minutes and Section C 30 minutes) which teachers might find easier to work into their timetable constraints. Teachers would need to decide on their preference by the time they tell us the approximate numbers of students that will participate in the 2013 challenge from their school.

To get a taste of the Challenge you can access the 2012 papers here.

There are plenty of attractive cash prizes on offer for the highest scoring entries, as well as certificates acknowledging participation for everyone who takes part.

We have found that students find that participation in the Challenge is a valuable ‘plus point’ when completing University application forms, clearly demonstrating an ‘extra curricular’ interest in science.

More information
For further information, please contact our challenge coordinator Rita Woodward via email and section secretary Tim Reynolds as soon as possible.

The common curriculum on which the competition will be based will be circulated for validation by teachers in the near future. The Challenge papers will then be distributed to participating schools in mid-May with completed papers to be returned to Rita during June.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Powering Ahead with the President

RSC Belgium was delighted to welcome RSC President Prof Lesley Yellowlees to the section on the evening of Monday 4 March. Lesley’s talk on Solar Power in the Brel Theatre at the British School of Brussels (BSB) was well received and topped off a hectic long weekend for her on RSC business in Brussels.

Prof. Yellowlees is the first woman to hold the Presidency of the Royal Society of Chemistry. She held a personal chair in Inorganic Electrochemistry at the University of Edinburgh and is currently Vice Principal of the University and Head of the College of Science and Engineering. Lesley’s research interests include inorganic electrochemistry, epr spectroscopy, novel processes for carbon dioxide conversion and solar energy: her topic for discussion on Monday evening.

Just over 60 members and friends heard Lesley describe the problems posed by the ever increasing demand for electricity from an ever increasing global population. To meet these demands will require sustainable renewable energy sources. For Prof Yellowlees this means solar power and this is an area where chemistry is making a big contribution.

Solar and chocs
Lesley outlined how Dye Sensitised Solar Cells work and the research that she has undertaken in Edinburgh to characterise such cells using techniques such as uv/vis and epr spectroelectrochemistry in the search for optimised formulation that can provide us with cheap solar power. Lesley’s presentation from 4 March is available here.

A recent RSC Policy document on Solar Fuels and Artificial Photosynthesis shows how current and future science and innovation could change our future energy options.

Following Lesley’s talk members and friends enjoyed a special drinks reception featuring a ‘chocolate tasting’ courtesy of Centho Chocolates.

Lesley was accompanied on Monday evening by RSC CEO Robert Parker. The two were in Brussels following the major triennial RSC Editors Symposium that had been held in the city over the weekend involving some 300 editors of RSC publications and 80 RSC staff. RSC Belgium chairman Bob Crichton and section secretary Tim Reynolds had been invited to the symposium banquet on Sunday evening at the Concert Noble

CSA visit
Lesley and Robert were also able to meet at the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Prof Anne Glover on Monday morning. The meeting was arranged by Tim Reynolds and they discussed a number of issues where RSC could support or input to Commission initiatives, including topics such as diversity and promoting the value of science education to school students.

Prior to taking up her position as at the Commission Anne Glover was CSA to the Scottish government and Anne still has a laboratory and personal chair in at Aberdeen University, so Lesley and Anne have known each other for a number of years. Anne, like Lesley, is a passionate believer in the need to ensure science – and factual evidence in general – is at the core of policy making. Clear communication of science is a key element of this.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Healthy Science Prize

The 2013 RSC Bill Bryson Prize Competition has just been announced. The prize is designed to recognise and encourage excellent science communication in schools and colleges. The prize is supported by well-known writer and commentator Bill Bryson (above) who is also involved with the judging process.And there is an international category – so entries from Belgium are welcome!

The competition is open to all students aged 5-18 with entries accepted in any format as long as they accurately communicate science appropriate for their chosen audience. Entries could be in the form of videos, podcasts, posters, or cartoons and poems. Use your imagination – your creative idea is the key to success in this competition!

This year the question posed by the RSC Bill Bryson Prize is: ‘How does science keep us healthy?’

Students aged 5–18 around the world will be thinking up creative answers to this question. Competition entries can be submitted in any format, from posters to puzzles to podcasts, as long as the content fits with the 2013 theme.

Closing date
This popular competition will be judged in three categories, primary school, secondary school and international, with both individual and group entries accepted. The closing date for entries is 31 March 2013.

The best entries from each category will receive a prize of £500 (~€625) for their school, and £100 (~€125) for the winning students to share. Bill Bryson will present UK winners with their prizes in the Houses of Parliament.

Visit the RSC website for more information and details of how to enter. A promotional poster for the competition can be downloaded here.

Chemistry Week 2013
The theme of the Bill Bryson Prize fits with the theme of this year’s Chemistry Week, which will take place between 16 and 23 November 2013. The overall theme is ‘Health’ covering topics such as Ageing, Hygiene, Lifestyle, Nutrition and Future Health.