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.