Monday, 4 December 2017

2018 Belgium Top of The Bench results

Our annual 'international eliminator' for the Royal Society of Chemistry's Top of the Bench (ToTB) competition was held at the British School of Brussels (BSB) on Saturday 18 November 2017 with ten teams from six schools taking part. An exciting afternoon of chemical problem solving ended with the announcement of the 2017 winner of the Keith Price Cup: Team Selenium from BSB. They will now represent RSC Belgium at the TOTB grand final in the UK in 2018.

As ever our TOTB eliminator was a close run competition with only a few marks between the top four teams on the individual written quiz components and five out of the ten competing teams correctly classifying the three mystery solutions in our 'Can you tell your acid from your alkali' practical challenge.


Wining formula
The teams completed individual written question papers and then enjoyed a challenging team Practical Problem Solving Exercise. As usual both the 'hands-on' practical and the paper-based component were developed by our resident competition guru, Rita Woodward. The competition was designed to really test the teams’ chemistry knowledge and problem-solving abilities and (hopefully) encourage young talented chemical scientists to consider further education and careers in Chemistry.

The individual scores from the written paper were added together for each team with the placings from the practical to give an overall score with BSB team Selenium coming out on top just a head of Team Vanadium from St. Johns International School (St John’s) in second place and Team Strontium from European School Brussels 2 (EEB 2).

Members of the winning team (pictured below with Rita) each received a RSC heat sensitive mug and the school will hold the TOTB Keith Price Cup during 2018. All the student participants will receive a certificate.


Our huge thanks to all the teachers and other volunteers involved to prepare and organise the event, in particular William Darnley and Luke Stagno Navarra from BSB, and, of course, Rita.

The full line up of participating teams for the 2018 competition was:

Cadmium - British School of Brussels (Tervuren)
Calcium - International School of Flanders (Rhode St Genese)
Krypton - International School of Flanders (Rhode St Genese)
Mercury - European School Brussels 3 (Ixelles)
Nickel - European School Brussels 2 (Woluwe)
Rubidium - European School Brussels 4 (Laeken)
Selenium - British School of Brussels (Tervuren)
Strontium - European School Brussels 2 (Woluwe)
Tellurium - European School Brussels 4 (Laeken)
Vanadium - St Johns International School (Waterloo)

The TOTB Finals will take place in the UK on Saturday 3 March 2018 at Birmingham University (TBC) and RSC sponsors the travel arrangements for our winning team. The RSC Belgium team is usually the only competing school team not based in the British Isles.

Our next TOTB Eliminator Round will take place in Q4 2018. Get your school involved!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

2017 Chemistry Challenge Winners announced

The results of the RSC Belgium Chemistry Challenge 2017 were announced and the talented prize winners picked up their winnings at a special RSC Belgium event with Dr Matthew Andrews of NATO on the evening of 27 September at the British School of Brussels (BSB). We once again received over 100 entries from international and European schools in Brussels and beyond for this testing challenge of young people's chemical knowledge and initiative.
The RSC Belgium Chemical Challenge has three sections:
  • A/ A chemistry multiple choice paper
  • B/ A structured questions on chemistry, and
  • C/ A 'Thinking Matters' paper that is not chemistry based
And the top results were as follows:

Section A: Multiple choice
First place was shared by Jakob Bull and Tom Valenduc from BSB. Second place was a three-way tie with the prizewinners being Caroline Di Vittorio from the International School of Brussels (ISB) and Caio Hansen and Vrushal Mody, both from BSB. Third place was awarded to James Tissot of ISB.



Section B: Structured Questions
In this section first prize was awarded to Aleksander Ziolkowski from St Johns International School (St. Johns) and second prize was claimed by Nekane Medrano Cuetos of ISB. Third prize was shared by Jakob Bull and Emma Brown, both of BSB. Some of the prizewinners are pictured above with RSC Belgium Chairman Tim Reynolds.

Section C: Thinking Matters
Here first place was awarded to Gabriela van Bergen from BSB (now in Madrid), with a tie for second place between Medhir Dillum and Vrushal Mody, both also from BSB.  Leo Sheils from Antwerp International School (AIS) took third prize.


Keith Price Prize
Jakob Bull of BSB, pictured above with RSC Belgium chairman Tim Reynolds, also received the Keith Price Prize for best overall score in the chemistry focused sections (A and B). First prize winners received €50, second €25 and third places €10 with the winner of the Keith Price Prize receiving an additional €100.

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 2018. 

Energetic Materials: Preventing Unexpected Bangs at BSB

On 27 September 2017 RSC Belgium members and friends were treated to a demo lecture at the British School of Brussels (BSB) on Energetic Chemistry from Dr Matt Andrews of NATO. This lecture had been rearranged from earlier in the year and featured some of the more ‘vigorous’ aspects of chemical reactions. It was also the evening when we presented prizes to the winners of our Annual Chemistry Challenge competition for school students (see separate article).

Dr Matt Andrews' lecture was entitled: “Safety of Energetic Materials: Preventing Unexpected Bangs”. Dr Matthew Andrews is a Technical Specialist Officer (TSO) at the Munition Safety Information Analysis Centre (MSIAC) based at NATO with a specialism in Energetic Materials.


With over 16 years experience in the field of energetic materials Matt (pictured above) was well placed to take the audience in the BSB's Brel Theatre through numerous topics relating to energetic materials ranging from the fundamentals of the chemistry to the Forensic Investigation of Explosives.


His talk provided a brief history of explosives, the ever present safety risks, and what happens when accidents do occur. To comprehend the risk that energetic materials present, he emphasised the need to understand the different mechanisms that can result in the uncontrolled release of stored chemical energy, contained within all explosives. An understanding of these mechanisms allows scientists to design safer explosives, to better test and screen materials, and to define processes and procedures to manage the risk to acceptable levels. The talk went on to discuss some of these test methods and show how it is possible to handle, transport and use these materials safely.


A big thanks to everyone involved in organising the lecture - in particular to the Chemistry team at BSB, especially RSC Belgium exec members Jane Downing and William Darnley (above with Matt)
- for supplying the chemicals and logistics to enable the lecture to take place.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Marvellous Brewery visit in Mechelen

The first event of our 2017-2018 programme took place on Saturday 16 September with an informative and entertaining guided tour around the Het Anker Brewery in Mechelen. Some 22 members and friends enjoyed the tour, which was completed with a tasting of the final product and 18 of the group stayed on for a hearty lunch featuring locally sourced products including the famous Mechelen 'cuckoo'.


The brewery is a family run business that started in the Grand Beguinage in Mechelen five generations ago. It has since developed into an internationally renowned brewery and is home to the famous Gouden Carolus dubbel beer (a recent World Champion beer) and a range of other brews including a Belgian whiskey. In fact it is believed that brewing has featured on the site since at least 1471 as documentary evidence shows that the Nuns of the Beguinage wear brewing at that time.


The tour of the brewery started at 12 noon and lasted around 90 minutes and took us through the full brewing process and the ingredients used, the history of the family business and the recent diversification into spirits.


The history of the Beguinage site begins in the 15th century, although the brewery was bought and modernised by the Van Breedam family in 1872. The family run company continued to grow and in 2010 the 17th century family farm (at Blaasveld) was transformed into a whiskey distillery, the whiskey launched three years later has already won several international awards. In fact before acquiring the brewery the Van Breedam family had been renowned gin distillers.

It was agreed by all that the visit was a great success and highly enjoyable. Cheers!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Dr Ian G Carson 1943 - 2017

RSC Belgium members and friends will be saddened to learn of the death of one of our most active and energetic committee members and an excellent professional chemical scientist: Dr Ian Carson.

Ian died peacefully on 27 June 2017 at his home in Chaumont-Gistoux with his family around him. A memorial service was held for him at the Champ de Court crematorium near Court Saint Etienne on 4 July 2017. Ian served on the RSC Belgium section committee from 2004 until the end of last year and was section secretary in 2010-2011 and also membership secretary for many years.

At the service RSC Belgium chairman Tim Reynolds gave the following tribute to Ian on behalf of the section:


"For me, Dr Ian Carson was the epitome of a professional chemical scientist: he knew his subject inside out and he was a lifelong enthusiast for chemistry – and polymer chemistry in particular. He was diligent and thorough, but also creative.
Ian’s chemical career started with a first class honours degree in chemistry from Strathclyde University in Glasgow in 1965, swiftly followed by a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) studying applied and polymer chemistry in 1968.
After a year as a Royal Society Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Institute of Industrial Chemistry at the University of Genova, Italy from 1969 Ian embarked on a 32 year career with petrochemical giant - Shell - working in initially in the UK, then in Holland, and finally from the early 1990’s in Belgium.
He worked on a wide range of topics from scaling up catalyst systems to providing technical advice to business units and investigating marketing applications for polymers.
In his final ten years with Shell Research Ian was based at Louvain La Neuve, where he was Manager Polyesters responsible for research and technical service provision including work on, the now ubiquitous, PET plastic bottle and various polymers for use with textiles. 
It is worth considering that it is highly likely that all of us today will wear or, certainly, will touch an object that is made from a material that Ian was intimately involved in refining or creating. That was Ian’s chemistry.
Ian retired from Shell at the end of 2001 and became a Polymer Consultant continuing to use his knowledge and skills for the benefit of a portfolio of companies and society.
And, fortunately for us, he also found time to bring the benefit of his experience and enthusiasm for chemistry to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Belgium section. Ian had been a member of the RSC since 1967 – eventually clocking up over 50 years as a member of the society, and from 2004 he joined our executive committee.
Ian was as diligent and creative for RSC Belgium as he had been for Shell. Researching event ideas, contacting potential speakers and – most importantly – making things happen!
His contributions to RSC Belgium were wide ranging, but in particular I remember his shepherding of our demonstration lecturers in their tours of schools around Brussels and beyond, his language skills enthusing younger people from different communities about chemistry in our work with the Greenlight4Girls initiative and our own Top of the Bench competitions, and his organising work for our annual Café Chimique events.
But Ian was a very unassuming person – not one to blow his own trumpet as we might say – so it was particularly pleasing that we were able to recognise Ian’s contributions to RSC Belgium in 2015 with a Long Service Award – recognising his 10 years’ service to the section – and as a special mark it was presented in person to Ian at a dinner in Brussels by the Society’s CEO Dr Robert Parker (see photo above). Ian truly deserved the award.
We thank Ian for his contributions to chemistry. We will miss him. We already do."
If you wish to give a donation in Ian's memory, please donate to the 'Fondation St. Luc'. Their bank account number is BE41 1910 3677 7110 and please mention Ian's name on the transfer.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

RSC fund raises for Norman Lloyd studentships at BSB Proms Night

RSC committee volunteers, Rita Woodward, William Darnley (pictured below) and Tim Reynolds were behind the bar at the RSC's stall at the 2017 British School of Brussels Summer Concert on 16 June. Selling a range of alcoholic and soft drinks they helped quench the thirst of the prom audience and also raised funds for our Norman Lloyd studentship initiative and BSB charitable causes.


The Sun was shining on BSB on this Friday evening, burgers were cooking and the various singers, bands and dancers were limbering up. Our contribution to this year's BSB Summer concert was a bar selling a range of beers and soft drinks - all ice cool.... or at least they were at the start of the evening!


The excellent weather certainly helped sales with best sellers being Jupiler beer, Orangina and - surprisingly Canada Dry Ginger Ale. In all sales totalled over EUR 600! The actual surplus still needs to be calculated but we anticipate a healthy and very useful boost for our charitable causes.

Well done to all involved - and it was fun too!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Mariemont by Torchlight!

Our Spring social event this year was a guided tour around the Musée Royal de Mariemont on the morning of Saturday 13 May. The Mariemont describes itself as a dialogue between art, culture, and nature, with unique collections evoking the Orient and the Occident, the past and present, fauna and flora. And our two hour anglophone guided tour around the museum had an added quirk: it was conducted by torchlight!

RSC Belgium members and friends gathered at the entrance to the entrance to the Mariemont Park at 10 sharp and then proceeded to the Museum itself to meet our delightful guide for the morning: Aline Peremans - seen describing some Pompeian villa frescoes to our group below.


Since the end of April, a temporary exhibition called the “Invisible collections” has been open and highlights some of the objects held in the museum’s vast (and unseen) collection. During this exhibition, that runs until 26 November 2017 the museum’s main galleries are plunged into darkness to ensure the delicate exhibits are not damaged through a rare exposure to daylight!

Dark galleries
Within the darkened galleries the new artifacts are under the spotlight and the rest of the collections are in the shadow, victors are given torches to explore the rooms – and for us Aline wielded the light source! A very unusual and extraordinary way to discover the Museum!

The museum collections were gathered by Raoul Waroqué, a local fabulously wealthy industrialist, and are currently housed in a modern building inaugurated in 1975 and built by the Belgian architect Roger Bastin.


Raoul Waroqué devoted most of his fortune to acquire works of art works from the classical antiquity. He was also interested by ceramics and Eastern philosophies and brought back a huge number of Chinese and Japanese works. A favourite object for many RSC visitors was an incredibly intricate ivory object consisting of a dozen or more nested spheres (see below).


Our two hour trip around the Museum was both very informative and entertaining and – if you couldn’t join us on the day – a visit to the Mariemont and its very fine park is highly recommended.
After the visit many of the RSC Belgium party had a relaxing lunch at the Museum’s brasserie.
Our thanks to Ian Carson for the initial idea to visit this museum and to Rita Woodward who put in the main work to actually organise the event.

More about Mariemont
Mariemont includes a 45 hectare park in the style of an English landscape garden; an arboretum; the ruins of Charles of Lorraine’s palace; the museum; major art collections; the most complete collection of Chinese antiquities in Belgium; a tea house and numerous collections from Japan, Korea, and Vietnam; archaeological and historical collections covering everything about the region; rare manuscripts; and many other treasures. For more information, please visit the museum’s website.

The Musée Royal de Mariemont is situated at Chaussée de Mariemont 100, 7140 Morlanwelz

Top tip: On the first Sunday of every month, access to the permanent collections and any temporary exhibitions is free!