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