Monday, 24 November 2014

X-rays illuminate Year of Crystallography

RSC members and friends were treated to a whistle-stop tour of the evolution of x-ray crystallography on 18 November at the British School of Brussels. Dr Gordon Leonard from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble outlined the origins and history of crystallography from X-ray tubes to X-ray lasers and took a look at the future of this important analytical technology. The lecture was RSC Belgium's contribution to the International Year of Crystallography in 2014. Dr Leonard is one of European leading crystallographers. 

Ever since the W.L. Bragg reported the first crystal structures, thus inventing the field of X-ray Crystallography, crystallographers have been seeking, and exploiting, more and more powerful sources of X-rays with which they can probe the structures of molecules in the crystalline state.

In his lecture Gordon (pictured above during his lecture and below with RSC Belgium chairman Prof Bob Crichton) traced the history of facilities for X-ray crystallography from the first X-ray tubes of 1896 and described how the practice of X-ray crystallography has evolved in the last 100 years with a particular emphasis on Macromolecular Crystallography.

Gordon's talk included insights on the increasing automation of X-ray facilities and looked forward to the possibilities that will be afforded to crystallographers by latest generation ultra-short pulsed X-ray Free Electron Lasers and fourth Generation synchrotron sources - such as the proposed upgrade for ESRF.

The International Year of Crystallography 2014 (IYCr2014) commemorates not only the centennial of X-ray diffraction, which allowed the detailed study of crystalline material, but also the 400th anniversary of Kepler’s observation in 1611 of the symmetrical form of ice crystals, which began the wider study of the role of symmetry in matter.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

First Time Team wins TOTB Thriller

RSC Belgium held its annual eliminator heat for the RSC Top of the Bench (TOTB) competition on Saturday 15 November at the British School of Brussels (BSB). In a close finish the Bromine team from the European School in Laeken claimed the Keith Price Cup in their first ever entry in the competition. The team will also represent RSC Belgium in the 2015 final in the UK!

This was the fourth time that the RSC Belgium's TOTB eliminator has been held as an actual 'head-to-head' competition with a practical element. This format is a clear ‘hit’ with both the students and teachers who take part.

As ever it was a hard-fought struggle between a total of 12 teams from six schools including two teams from the new European School Brussels IV based in Laeken.

The full team line up was as follows:
Juicy problems
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 teams were set the task of producing electrical power from fruit! A selection of fruit and a variety of metals and other lab equipment were provided for each team and they were asked to produce a 'battery' that gave a reproducible voltage of 5.0 volts using the least number of fruit 'cells' and no more than three different fruit varieties.

The challenge provided a range of responses, but all the teams got there in the end! 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.

The format of our TOTB event closely reflects the format of the competition that the winners will face in the actual RSC–run final in the UK. 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 assessed by judges from RSC Belgium: Dr. Ian Carson, Dr Becki Scott, and Rita Woodward (who also set the tasks for the TOTB). We were also greatly assisted by three postgraduate students from KU Leuven - Kim Eekelers, Niels Hulsbosch and Sofie Hollanders - who volunteered to help out with supervision and judging.

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

The final result was very tight with the winners being the the Bromine team from Laeken, with runners up being the Argon team also from Laeken and the Gallium from the European School Brussels III in Ixelles. The winning team is pictured above having been presented with the Keith Price Cup by branch treasurer and chief problem-setter Rita Woodward. The Bromine team with their teacher Mary Jaeger are are pictured below. The team will now represent Belgium in the (inter)national final in the UK in Spring 2015.

All the students taking part in our Top of the Bench competition receive certificates of participation.

Clearly everyone who took part in the competition had a very enjoyable time with both students and teachers very enthusiastic about this competitive format. The top three teams are pictured below. Our thanks to all the teachers, technical staff and students (see below) who took part in a really fun afternoon of chemistry! #chemistryisfun.

You can find more information on RSC school competitions and activities here.