Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Our Second Norman Lloyd Scholar completes Year

Rhodri Evans, the second recipient of the Dr Norman C. Lloyd Scholarship at Cardiff University, has just finished his first year at the university. Rhodri (pictured right), who hails from Caernarfon started his BSc degree in Chemistry at the end of September last year. At the end of his exams Rhodri was interviewed by Cardiff University’s Development and Alumni Relations office.

What degree are you undertaking and why did you choose the course here?
I am studying Chemistry simply because it gives a logical explanation to very complicated questions. I'm an individual who always likes searching for answers thus Chemistry seemed the obvious choice for me.

What’s the best thing about studying at Cardiff?
Clearly, the university itself is respected across the entire country, which alone is enough reasoning to be satisfied but I also love the city. It's such a welcoming place which makes studying here all the more better.

Do you have a particular career in mind after you graduate?
As I've only finished my first year, I don't want to tie myself down to a particular career path at this moment in time. There's a lot of different aspects of Chemistry I enjoy, from the physical aspect to biological applications, so any one of these routes would be an exciting career for me.

What’s was your favourite module during your first year of study?
As mentioned above, various aspects of Chemistry capture my imagination thus picking a favourite is very difficult. Having said that, the history behind Inorganic Chemistry and how different theories have been used over the years really makes me appreciate the importance of the degree.

Do you have any hobbies outside of studying?
As university life can get stressful at times, I do love taking my mind off things by doing any form of sports. A great passion of mine is football but since moving to Cardiff, I have been spending more time in the gym.

What difference has this scholarship made to you?
Without a doubt, the biggest impact that the scholarship has made is given me confident in my own abilities. I must admit, moving into a lecture room with nearly 200 students can be daunting at times thus I am thankful for the boost in confidence it gave me.

If you could say something to the donor who gave you this gift, what would it be?
From the bottom of my heart, I am truly grateful for the scholarship. It has enhanced my university experience and that is something I shall cherish.

We wish Rhodri all the best for the future and every success in his future 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. The scholarship is given to new students to the Cardiff School of Chemistry who are of high academic standing and a resident of Wales. The next Norman C Lloyd scholar will be selected in October.

If you would like to donate to the Norman Lloyd scholarship fund follow this link and specify that you wish to donate to the Norman Lloyd Scholarship fund in the comments box.

Friday, 8 July 2016

St George's and the TOTB Dragon 2016

In November, St George’s School in Luxembourg City entered two teams into the RSC Belgium annual ‘Top of the Bench’ (TOTB) competition. This prestigious event is open to all schools in Belgium and Luxembourg region. 

The RSC Belgium ‘eliminator’ took place in unusual circumstances as the planned event in Brussels had to be cancelled at the very last minute (St. Georges were already on the bus from Luxembourg) due to a terrorist threat and the subsequent ‘security lock down’ of Brussels.

So instead of the 'face-to-face' event, each team was sent tests to complete and return to the section for marking. Team Hydrogen from St George's did really well and won the RSC Belgium regional heat! And as a result of this victory they received the Keith Price Cup and entry into the final of the TOTB competition representing RSC Belgium. The following is a short description of their experience at the RSC's main competition in the UK.

The TOTB final was held at Loughborough University, in the UK on Saturday 16 April. It was jointly hosted by the Royal Society of Chemistry and Loughborough University’s Chemistry department. In total 32 teams participated in the event, all of which had made it through their regional eliminator rounds to earn the right to compete against the best schools in the UK (and St George’s).

It was a great event, starting with an individual round – which was essentially a chemistry exam, followed by the main event which was a team round involving a series of very complicated chemistry investigations regarding batteries and energy (see above). To round off the day, students were invited to view interactive presentations from some of Loughborough University’s post-graduate chemistry students on the various research projects that they were working on. All the competing teams were used as a voting panel and asked to decide where they would like to see further funding utilised.

Despite the St. George's team not making it into the top six ranked places, this competition was an excellent opportunity for the students to challenge themselves and see the various avenues of research that university students are taking after studying chemistry.

This event certainly stretched their ability and provided a great insight into teamwork and working under pressure. Overall it was an enjoyable experience for all members involved, including the staff!

The St. George's team (pictured above) consisted of the following students: Ethan – Year 11 (Team Captain); Yi hua – Year 10; Alistair – Year 9; and Alexios – Year 9. The team were accompanied to Loughborough by their teachers Mr Stenton and Mrs Winter. Well done St. George's!

Conserving Historical Artefacts

The evening of 19 May 2016 saw RSC Belgium's last lecture before our normal break for the summer months with a good audience of RSC members and friends enjoying a talk on the 'Conservation of Historical Artefacts' from Dr. Rob Janaway of Bradford University. The venue for the talk was Rubens Hall at the British School of Brussels (BSB) and Dr Janaway explored the various scientific methods available to preserve and restore ancient artefacts retrieved from archaeological excavations around the world.

Rob Janaway explained the various processes that result in the differential decay and preservation of artefacts buried in the soil and also underwater. He then described how, once these materials have been excavated, the various scientific methods that are available to preserve and restore ancient artefacts retrieved from archaeological excavations around the world are used. His talk included case studies of both ancient artefacts and more recent material associated with World War 1 battlefields in Belgium.

Rob (pictured above) is Lecturer in Archaeological Sciences and has more than 35 years’ experience of Archaeology in both the field and the laboratory. He originally qualified in Archaeological Conservation and specialised in the relationship between materials degradation and their depositional environments.

He has worked on a range archaeological sites including, peat bogs, desert sites, and deep stratified urban deposits. He is a specialist on the taphonomy (the study of decaying organisms over time and how they may become fossilised) and has worked on material from cemeteries, crypts and mausoleums.

He has been involved in taphonomy and conservation of material studies for items from WWI sites in Flanders and he is deeply involved in research on the relationship between soil chemistry, land use and the survival of vulnerable metal artefacts from the medieval battlefield of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire. He has also worked on the analysis of textiles and clothing from the wreck of the Mary Rose - Henry the Eighth's flagship.

In addition to a traditional archaeological role he acts as a Forensic Archaeologist. He has worked on more than 25 criminal cases for a variety of British police forces in a variety of roles including excavator and taphonomy consultant and he has acted as an expert witness in court.

Jobs entertaining and interesting presentation led to some extended discussions after the talk.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The Antibiotics Crisis

On the evening of 20 April 2016 RSC Belgium members and friends welcomed Dr. Laura Bowater from the University of East Anglia's Medical School to the Universite Catholique de Louvain (UCL) campus in Woluwe Saint Lambert. Dr Bowater talked about a very hot topic: the growing resistance of bacteria to today’s antibiotics.

Laura's lecture looked at the latest research in this area and how this impending crisis in modern medical treatment may be averted. Laura took us through a potted history of antibiotics from the serendipitous discovery of Penicillin by Alexander Fleming (pictured below) in 1928. In 1941 the microbiologist Selman Waksman used the term ‘antibiotic’ for the first time to describe small molecules that inhibit the growth of microbes and can be used clinically to treat a plethora of bacterial and fungal infections. Between the 1940s and the 1960s was the so-called 'Golden Age of Drug Discovery' with many new and effective drugs being developed.

However as early as December 1945 Fleming had sounded a note of warning in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech saying: “It is not difficult to make microbes resistant to penicillin in the laboratory by exposing them to concentrations not sufficient to kill them […]. The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant."

He was right. Over the last eighty years bacterial pathogens have developed resistance to almost all of the known antibiotics. Laura explained how bacteria carry the information required for antibiotic resistance in their DNA and some bacterial species are resistant to certain antibiotics as a direct result of their genetic make-up, metabolism and cellular structure, while other bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics through either spontaneous mutation in their DNA or directly acquiring resistance from DNA that is transferred from a resistant bacterium. 

Education is key
The more we use antibiotics the more resistant bacteria are becoming. It is less than a hundred years since Fleming ‘discovered’ Penicillin and our reliance on antibiotics to treat life-threatening infections and prevent post surgery infections is at grave risk if we continue to use them inappropriately and with such casual abandon. Antibiotic use in modern agricultural practice and animal husbandry has increased dramatically and an increase in antimicrobial resistance has followed. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses yet antibiotics continue to be prescribed for viral infections and in some countries it is easy to purchase antibiotics without a prescription.

And, unfortunately the Golden Age of antibiotic discovery is long gone; most commonly found antibiotics have been discovered and the discovery of a novel antimicrobial with a clinical impact is now rare. Pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to invest in a drug that is at best prescribed for a short period of time, and at worst kept on a shelf as a ‘reserve antibiotic’ to be used only when all other treatments have been exhausted and ineffective.

Laura believes that effective education, communication, and engagement lie at the heart of any solution to the antibiotics crisis. Thankfully this approach appears to be working on a global basis and resources are being invested to examine the challenges and present potential solutions to the crisis and financial and regulatory incentives are available to initiate research for new antibiotics.

Dr Laura Bowater (picture above right with RSC Belgium Chairman Tim Reynolds) is a Senior Lecturer at the Norwich Medical School in the University of East Anglia and is a Microbiologist with a research interest in the growing problem of Antibiotic Resistance and the role of education in addressing this global concern. 

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 Université 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.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Changing Perceptions of Chemistry

What do the general public and policy-makers think about when they think about chemistry and chemists? Chemistry and chemicals are essential to life and our modern society - everything is chemistry! But we often see consumer products that claim to be 'chemical-free' and it can seems like chemophobia is widespread in society. Public perceptions of Chemistry and Chemicals and how we talk about chemistry have been hot topics for many years. But what is the real picture? What do the public and policy-makers really think? And how can we best convey the excitement, potential and benefits of chemistry better?

To explore these questions further the RSC Belgium 2016 Café Chimique was entitled “Changing Perceptions of Chemistry and Chemicals”. The event took place on Thursday 4 February in the relaxed atmosphere of the Auderghem Cultural Centre main bar.

RSC Belgium Chairman Tim Reynolds (above left) moderated a panel of three speakers:

  • Jon Edwards (above far right) who is Strategic Communications Manager for the Royal Society of Chemistry who outlined the main findings of the recent RSC survey on public attitudes to chemistry in the UK (#chemperceptions)
  • Dr Anna Gergely (above centre left) who is Director EHS Regulatory at law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Anna talked about the regulatory environment in which chemistry has to operate and how policy-makers perceive chemistry and chemicals
  • Nuno Bacherel (above centre right) who is Editor-in-Chief of the Your Formula website and is Communication Manager, Public Affairs at the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC). Nuno talked about the philosophy behind the Your Formula initiative and his work to change perceptions of chemistry and chemicals

Great debate
As usual the three panel speakers gave short presentations of around ten minutes each before launching into an audience-led debate. Seating was in a café-style format and the usual free bar and nibbles were available throughout the event and afterwards.

As ever there was a very lively debate that lasted well over an hour.

Jon Edwards outlined the main findings of the recent RSC survey on public attitudes to chemistry in the UK. The results showed that the UK public's perception of chemistry and chemicals is far more positive than professional chemists believe, although there is some confusion in the public mind about what a chemist is and what a chemist does. Overall it appears that there is an appetite for people to know more about chemistry; but this will entail a change of attitude for chemists and experts working in the sector. You can find Jon's presentation here (3.28 MB).

Concrete examples and factual data are the added value that scientists and chemists bring to the table when discussing regulatory issues, and this value needs to be positively and widely communicated, without fear, stated Dr Anna Gergely. You can find Anna's presentation here (454 kB).

Initiatives such as Your Formula, bring together people to discuss key sustainability topics, and look to change the public's perceptions. The Your Formula platform is a Cefic initiative where young scientists and researchers with an interest in sustainability share expertise and experience. The platform allows a different way of communicating chemistry and science, with contributors sharing personal activities and high interaction rates through social media explained Nuno. His main message was to: "Be Passionate, Keep it Simple and Make it Personal." Changing public perceptions of chemistry will be a long road, but progress appears to be happening!

More information
You can find all the results and further commentary on the RSC's public attitudes survey on the #chemperceptions pages of the RSC website.