Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

7 Reasons to Experiment Abroad

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📥  Comment, Internships & visits

My PhD focusses on improving materials for solar cells. One of the ways we can do this is by understanding more about their fundamental structure. So, in the last days of January I headed out to the Institute Laue-Langevin (or ILL) in Grenoble, where we can use neutrons to peer into the crystal structure of solar cell materials.

As it was my first trip to the ILL I spent my time observing and being trained on how to run the experiment. Although, reflecting on my trip afterwards, how to experiment with neutrons wasn’t the only thing I came away learning. Here are my 7 reasons to experiment abroad:

1) You get to work in places like this; The ILL (Institut Laue-Langevin) a world leading neutron scattering facility...

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2) … and learn cutting edge experimental techniques first hand.

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3) Your coffee breaks look like this.

4) When you set off a 30 hour scattering experiment you have time to go to places with a view like this (the Bastille in Grenoble)….

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5) … and get American tourists to take pictures of you in front of mountains.

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6) Not forgetting the chance for Instagram photos like this.

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7) Then leaving after a week having had a crash course in a new experimental technique, a chance to practice another language and mountains of all important data.

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Bethan is working on her PhD project: 'Structure, spectroscopy and photoelectrochemistry of photovoltaic materials' with Professor Mark Weller, Dr Daniel Wolversonand and Dr Laurie Peter.

 

Boston Materials Research Society Conference

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

Oli Weber (Cohort '13) and Dan Davies (Cohort '14) recently attended the Boston MRS Fall Meeting 2016. This post was jointly written about their experience.


The CSCT was well represented at the Boston MRS Fall Meeting 2016, with myself, Dan Davies, Jemma Rowlandson (previously Cohort ’13, now University of Bristol) and alumnus Dr Adam Jackson (Cohort ’11, now UCL) in attendance. A major international conference can be an overwhelming experience, especially when it spans, conceptually, the whole of materials science and physically, an entire conference venue and the hotel next door. Much of the week was spent dashing between seminar rooms, trying simultaneously to catch the best talks while working off the effects of overlarge food portion sizes.

I embodied an academic stereotype by writing my presentation on the flight on the way to the conference, having being told at the last minute that my poster abstract could be swapped for a talk. I gave my talk on the first day of the conference in symposium ES3: Perovskite Solar Cell Research from Material Properties to Photovoltaic Function. I spent a fair amount of time in the perovskite session, hearing numerous exciting results, though many of my personal conference highlights came from wandering into seminar rooms with tangential or non-existent links to my own research. I heard Shreyas Shah from Bell Labs speak on interfacing nanomaterials with neural stem cells for neural regeneration, by combining visible light-responsive ion channels and upconversion nanoparticles to transform infrared light transmitted through biological tissue into blue luminescence to achieve optogenetic control of neuronal activity.

Oli takes in the sights

Oli takes in the sights

There were many other great talks, including Yi Cui from Stanford, on thin film silicon photovoltaics, Dan Nocera from Harvard, on complete artificial photosynthetic systems and Yuval Goren on the conservation of clay cuneiform tablets in the Negev desert, which are the oldest written records and provide the only external account of the Trojan war.

Meanwhile, Dan presented a poster in the TC2 symposium on high throughput screening of inorganic materials. The poster sessions at the MRS meetings are always very well attended and quite intense – it can feel like giving a two-hour oral presentation! The work went down pretty well though and it was a great opportunity to discuss it with so many researchers with such a broad variety of interests and backgrounds.

Oli, Jemma and Dr Valeska Ting get a photo during the meeting.

Oli, Jemma and Dr Valeska Ting get a photo during the meeting.

Other than that, Dan spent most of his time in the TC1 and TC2 symposia on computational materials chemistry and materials discovery guided by computation. The work presented in TC2 by curators of the Materials Project, Gerbrand Ceder and Kristin Persson, was particularly interesting as a demonstration of the high-throughput calculations that are now possible with modern supercomputers. On the flip side, the TC1 symposium had some really interesting sessions on machine learning, where it was shown how data-mining and statistical analysis techniques are now being used to predict new materials, thereby avoiding costly quantum mechanical calculations altogether. Anubhav Jain from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab presented some new codes he had developed in order to aid materials scientists who are interested in applying data-mining techniques.

The conference also had some excellent sessions on the ‘Broader Impact’ of materials research. For example, the symposium BI1: Today’s Teaching and Learning in Materials Science – Challenges and Advances, featured some very impressive educational studies on the best approaches for teaching undergraduates and graduates materials science topics. These sessions were ideal for picking up transferable knowledge and tips that could be applied in teaching roles as well as in public engagement activities.

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Oli is studying towards his PhD on 'Optimizing energy harvesting processes in metal halide photovoltaics' with Professor Mark Weller and Professor Chris Bowen.

Dan is currently working on his PhD project: 'Interface engineering for indium-free transparent electronics' with Professor Aron Walsh, Dr Duncan Allsopp and Dr Ben Morgan.

 

Chemistry, Capoeira and Coffee at the Copacabana

📥  Internships & visits, Seminars & Conferences

Little did I know when saying goodbye to Brazil back in May, I would be returning to its sunny lands sooner than I thought – in fact six months later. I was thrilled when I heard I would have the opportunity to return and I could not wait to go back there. Three weeks in Brazil during its summer months… count me in!

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However, upon arriving in São Paulo airport I was greeted by a torrential rain storm (think back to the conditions of the Brazilian Grand Prix if you saw it) which lasted for a few days. Not the glorious sunshine I had gleefully expected and what the BBC weather “app” had promised me. So with my excitement slightly dampened and sun cream undisturbed I made my return to the University of Campinas (Unicamp), where I had worked for two months back in spring.

This time my visit saw me out of the laboratory, replacing safety specs for a scientific poster, as I was to attend and talk at the Four Continents University (U4C) Colloquium, along with Jon Chouler and Leighton Holyfield of the CSCT. The event focused on ‘Sustainable Systems and Societies: Energy, Environment and Policy Frameworks’. By bringing together academics and students from around the world it aimed to build a network of research collaborations to help tackle current global challenges in sustainability. The institutions involved in this network are Stellenbosch University (South Africa), Zhejiang University (China), Unicamp (Brazil) and University of Bath (UK). Experts from the sciences, engineering and policy research had been gathered in Brazil to share knowledge and identify synergies between institutions to confront these global issues.  As someone who’d previously only attended a traditional “bread and butter” scientific conference, this was a new and exciting experience for me.

A major part of the workshop was its panel discussions, in which members from all institutions presented their views and debated key topics such as bioenergy, sustainability & polices. These sessions were very informative as they gave a real insight as to how other countries perceive and approach overcoming environmental challenges very similar to those we are facing. For example, this was apparent when talking about biofuels, which are sometimes criticised due to their competition with the food supply, i.e. farmers using land to grow crops for biofuels not food. It was interesting to learn researchers from Brazil, which currently only uses <2% of its land for growing crops, did not view biofuels as food competitive whereas China was more conservative in how much land they could devote to biofuels to balance between feeding and fuelling their country.

A recurring theme amongst the discussions were the challenges involved in the implementation of new and more environmentally friendly products or systems into society. We may “have the technology” but how can it be successfully adopted by society? Does it first require people to change their behaviours? If so, this is often much easier said than done, with cultural differences and “irrational behaviour” sometimes being the biggest barrier to change. On this theme I took a moment to digress and presented the conference with an example of our own irrational behaviour from my own neck of the woods in the UK. There was much amusement from the audience to see contestants hurling themselves headlong down a precipitous slope in the hope of winning very little other than a few broken bones. (I recommend watching a clip of the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling event on YouTube to see what I mean). And so, maybe suitably inspired, 2017 will see the first winning cheese roller from Brazil, China or South Africa. The notion of such eccentric behaviour and headlong disregard for what is sensible may not be a literal response to innovation but at times it must seem to those who wish to introduce change what they are up against.

The next leg of my journey saw me hop on a plane to the neighbouring state of Rio de Janeiro. Now I know Brazil is big but Rio felt like a completely different country to São Paulo. It has a dramatic landscape of long white sandy beaches juxtaposed by giant granite peaks.

Alas the purpose of my visit was not to soak up the warm rays of sunshine at the Copa (CO!) Copacabana or meet The girl from Ipanema (I had forgotten to pack my silver sparkling carnival jacket anyway). Instead, I was there to work with Professor Aurora Pérez Gramatges at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio. As part of the collaboration we investigated how biodegradable and renewable materials could be included in everyday formulated products, such as sun cream and insect repellent, to improve their properties.

It was a great experience working with Aurora’s research group. They were very welcoming and eager to show me the culture of Rio and what it means to be a Carioca. This included trying my hand at Capoeira and even a little bit of merengue (more of an Eton mess when I tried it).

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Having been glued to the TV watching the Olympics over the summer I was keen to fit in some sight-seeing of the various venues in Rio at the weekends during my short stay. The most impressive of these has to be the ascent of the Corcovado hill where atop its peak stands the world famous statue of Jesus known as “Christ the Redeemer”, watching over the city. This 38m high stone statue is very imposing –  a remarkable miracle of engineering managed over 80 years ago!  Once at the feet of the statue of Jesus you get a fantastic view of the Lagoa and beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

Another great way to take in the view is a helicopter ride over the city. Alas with the current state of the pound my budget did not quite stretch that far, so instead I took two cable cars to the top of Rio’s famous Sugarloaf Mountain. Whoever thought it was sensible to put a viewing platform on top of a mountain surrounded by shear drops to the sea below must have overdone it on the Caipirinhas.  However, I have to admit the views from the top were breath-taking and I managed to keep my vertigo under check for long enough to smile for a photo.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Brazil.  I found it a real privilege to have the opportunity spend time in Rio meeting new people and learning about their culture - it really expands your own world view.

As I finish writing this blog in my hotel room, reflecting on my visit and enjoying the last of the sunny weather, I take a quick look to compare the weather back home – what, -5 degrees Celsius?! Perhaps I should have packed that jacket after all!

 

Meet our Cohort 2016

  

📥  Case Studies, Comment

19 students, all passionate about sustainable chemical technologies, joined the CSCT in September this year. The following post is designed by Alison Ryder and Megan Stalker to sum up who they are, their different backgrounds and reasons for joining the Centre. 



Interested in joining us next year?
Applications are now open: www.bath.ac.uk/csct/cdt

 

Castles and Science: A Trip to the Czech Republic

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

Joe Thompson and I arrived in Pardubice with a slight sense of trepidation at the tri-annual Germanium, Tin and Lead conference. It has a strong pedigree for molecular chemistry with world leading inorganic chemists, such as Cameron Jones ,presenting.

We had both chosen to focus on the materials side of our research and hoped it would be included in the scientific discussion. We were pleasantly surprised to find many researchers who would normally be considered to be pure synthetic chemists presenting forays into applied materials chemistry, combining aspects of engineering and chemistry. Due to these cross disciplinary discussions, the conference was very well received with a lot of industry backing. This financial input allowed for some great conference event venues such as the castle pictured.

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Kunětice Mountain Castle

There was medieval demonstrations, a tour around the historic Kutná Hora city and plenty of free Pilsner! The focus on the application of molecular chemistry to solving materials challenges led to many fruitful discussions, with the posters Joe and I presented receiving a lot of attention. This led to new collaborations with groups in Russia, Czech Republic and New Zealand.


Andrew is working towards his PhD on "The Development of Graphene Based Materials" with Professor Paul Raithby, Professor Simon Bending and Dr Andrew Johnson.