Thursday, 10 March 2016

The Road to Loughborough – The Belgian Top of the Bench Experience 2015

Every year RSC Belgium runs an eliminator competition for schools in Belgium to choose a team to participate in the RSC’s Top of the Bench competition in the UK. The eliminator is usually held in November in Belgium to select a team to compete in the TOTB final held in the UK in the following spring.

In 2014 the winning Belgium team was Team Boron (pictured below) from the European School Brussels IV at Laeken in Brussels. This was the first time that the recently opened school had competed in the RSC Belgium competition. This following essay was written by team member Carlo Stella and recounts his experiences of the competition in Belgium and at the final in the UK in April 2015.

The RSC Belgium team selected to participate in the 2016 final is St Georges School from Luxembourg.

RSC Belgium TOTB
The RSC Belgium section was established in the mid 1980’s and has over 100 members. The section organises lectures and visits every year with the majority of activities, including extremely popular annual demonstration lectures, held in or around the Brussels area. However, group expeditions, both professional and social, are also organised throughout Belgium and beyond!

The section is growing its links with schools, both in the Anglophone educational community and the wider Belgian and European language communities, through poster and essay competitions and other outreach activities. And the section runs a national elimination round to select a team from Belgium to attend the annual RSC Top of the Bench (TOTB) in the UK.

Schools were invited to select up to two teams of four students per school to compete to represent RSC Belgium in the Top of the Bench National Final to be held at Loughborough University in the UK on 25 April 2015.

The Eliminator Competition included individual tests of factual chemical knowledge and data interpretation with a team-based practical problem solving activity.

In the UK Final, prizes are given for the best overall school performance and runner up teams. The Jacqui Clee Award is given for an outstanding individual contribution to the day. Travel and accommodation expenses are covered by RSC UK for the selected team and one accompanying teacher.

Team selection
Before forming a group there was an internal elimination round to make up the two groups which will participate in the RSC Belgium eliminator that was held at the British School of Brussels. We started planning in November when our Chemistry teacher announced the possibility to join a team for a Chemistry competition.

TOTB teams are composed as follows: one year S5, one S4 and two S3 students. Only two teams from the European School Brussels IV at Laeken (EEB4) could enter.

There were about 10 candidates in S4 EN. We had to pass a preliminary test as only two S4 students could participate. I was very surprised when they told me I’d made it through. Two teams were formed: Team Boron (Samuil Iskarov S3, Kristian Iliev S3, Carlo Stella S4, Deyan Pehlivanov S5) and Team Argon (Leo Tyrpac S3, Daniel Spasic S3, Victor Elgersma S4, Timothy Rhein S5).

Belgian competition
To qualify to participate in the TOTB final in the UK, we had to compete against other schools from Belgium and Luxembourg. The competition took place in the British School of Brussels. There were a total of 15 teams from all over Belgium and Luxembourg. We had to complete a written test and then perform a practical experiment.

At the end of the day it was announced that team Boron was the first place winner! At first I couldn’t remember who team Boron was. Then they called our names and we received a cup. The other EEB4 team (Argon) was in third place. It was the first time EEB4 had entered the competition and both of our teams had done really well! We were all very happy.

Loughborough final
It was announced that the winning team had to go to Loughborough University to compete in the final. There would be 32 teams participating!

We departed on Friday 24 April on the Eurostar with our team and our exceptional Chemistry teacher Mrs. Mary Jaeger. Then we took an East Midlands Train Service to Loughborough town. The journey was quite long but we finally made it there.

The University campus was gigantic covering almost half of the town. On Saturday morning we got a briefing about the events. The topic of the tests was ‘Chemistry in Food- Organic Chemistry’. We passed a 30 minute individual test in a big university lecture hall. The test was extremely hard and contained topics which were studied in first or second year university courses. I saw many people leaving blank questions.

The second part of the test consisted of a group laboratory experiment. They made us visit the University labs, which were fabulously equipped. The material was set already for each team. The countdown started. Now, this experiment was really impossible. We had with us a 20 page booklet featuring the ‘Procedures’ and some apparatus on the table. However, in the pages they gave us, they told us what to do but not how to do it so we had to figure out how to perform the tasks.

Team work
There was a lot of team work required as it was a very difficult task and on top of that there were judges (senior chemistry teachers) walking around observing every action we made. We distributed out the roles. We were confronted with tasks and problems and we had no idea how to handle them. After a few tries we got the first part right, but then we still had to do the second part of the booklet. We got mostly through the second part but suddenly we were out of time. I am not supposed to tell you what questions they asked us, but I can tell you it was far too hard!  The experiment involved specialised university machines with light spectrum frequencies analysers… I guess the whole point of the competition was testing our ability to react towards unknown content.

I know we have done our best and I am confident that we will be in the first half of the teams. Unfortunately, we know we are not in the top six but we don’t know yet what rating we obtained. Due to the difficulty of the task I would be very content rating in the middle.

After missing the East Midlands train due to a slow taxi driver we finally managed to return back to Brussels a few hours later. We had a very brief stop in the Science Museum in London. I went straight up to the last floor to see the aviation part of the museum (the best part). Then we took the Eurostar back.

I encourage everyone to take part in the RSC competitions because you will never forget nor regret it! It has definitely been the BEST trip I’ve ever had! Special thanks to Mrs. Jaeger for promoting Chemistry throughout the Secondary students and of course for engaging us in competitions!

“Colour is Fun” brightens up Brussels

In the first week of March, RSC Belgium organised for Andrew Hanson from the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, U.K. to tour a number of schools and give a public presentation of his well-known lecture “Colour is Fun”. Andrew visited the European School Brussels II at Woluwe, St. John’s International School in Waterloo, the European School Brussels III at Ixelles, the British School of Brussels at Tervuren and the International School of Flanders (ISF) in Sint-Genesius-Rode, and gave an evening public presentation at the Universit√© Catholique de Louvain’s Woluwe campus in Brussels on 2 March. At each location the lecture met with an enthusiastic reception from the audience, staff and pupils.

Andrew is Outreach Manager and Senior Research Scientist at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK's National Measurement Institute, and a world-leading centre of excellence in developing and applying the most accurate measurement standards available. For over 25 years he has been professionally measuring colour there, from evaluating the appearance of ornamental plants, to building the world’s first national standards telespectroradiometer to calibrate the colour of visual display units and a machine to measure the shininess of cats!

Colour measurement
His lecture tour brightened up a grey week at the end of winter for his audiences with its many colourful and animated slides. The lecture showed how colours are formed by splitting white light into the different wavelengths which we see as colour, how these are absorbed or reflected by the materials we see and the mechanism by which the eye transmits colour messages to the brain.

Equipment for colour measurement was described and how this enabled the definition of any particular colour, important for quality control in many different areas. Several demonstrations revealed how the eye can retain a reverse colour image when the image is removed – Andrew ‘magiced’ the Belgian flag from white, indigo and duck egg blue stripes. Drawing attention to how our perception of colour is determined by the surroundings of that colour, by the end of the lecture the audience was convinced that what had appeared to be four distinctly different colours at the start were in fact the same.

Whilst Andrew is a physicist, his lecture also highlighted the role of chemistry in determining the colour of materials, and in the development of new dyestuffs and colours.

Shiny cats! 
And, yes, there was an image of a shiny cat! And do not be surprised if the next lecture makes reference to the colour of the Belgian chocolate which Andrew took home with him…
In total, the Andrew’s lectures were enjoyed by over 600 students, staff and members of the public. ISF have reported the event on their Facebook page.

We have to thank the NPL for making Andrew’s time available to conduct this lecture tour, and the staff members at the schools who organised the event on the ground.