Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Posts By: Marcus Johns

Green Chemistry conference in Venice

  , , ,

📥  Seminars & Conferences

The 6th International IUPAC Conference on Green Chemistry was held in Venice between the 4th and 8th of September. The venue itself, the Centro Culturale Candiani, was actually located in Mestre; a town on the mainland located half an hour on the tram from Venice. I was fortunate enough to be accepted to present my work on Interfused Cellulose-Chitosan Hydrogels for Tissue Engineering as a 20-minute talk which was well received.

Two talks in particular caught my attention: The first – by Professor Sato at the National Institute of Technology, Tsuruoka College, Japan – covered the development of a double network ionic gel for low friction material. Double-network gels – which consist of a rigid skeleton polymer network within a ductile polymer substance, enabling high mechanical strength and toughness – are well known. However, the idea of replacing the water present in the gel (often 90 wt% or more) with an ionic liquid interested me as it stabilises the material (evaporation of the water affects the physical properties of the gel; ionic liquids have negligible vapour pressure) and results in a low friction material, even under vacuum and at high temperatures. The second – by Dr Stevens, Professor Emeritus at University of North Carolina at Asheville, USA – presented 12 principles on New Chemistry, intended as “a guide to allow society and chemists to prosper and grow sustainably”. One message that caught my attention was the advocation of interdisciplinary science. The CSCT already encourages co-operation between chemistry and chemical engineering. Although I’m more interested in how we could develop work with social scientists, which surely will be required if we are to effectively address societal demands.

The conference gala dinner was held at the Casinò Di Venezia in the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, where Wagner spent his last days. Entertainment was provided by a local string quartets and a couple of opera singers, with the opportunity to have a free flutter at the tables afterwards. The Wednesday afternoon was spent on a boat trip around the islands of Venice, including Burano (home of the colourful houses) and Torcello Abbey. Whilst it was great to see the surrounding area, I did begin to feel like a trapped animal after a while as excursions on the islands were limited to half an hour. Venice is a particularly beautiful city, although I do recommend either getting up early to meander through the streets before the tourists descend, or being prepared to stay up late. A word of warning though: always keep your bearing as the narrow streets often results in GPS becoming confused as to exactly where you are – trying to find St. Mark’s Square at 1 am proved a particular challenge! Overall, the experience was positive – both from the conference and cultural perspectives – and I look forward to attending the next one.

Venice sans tourists

Venice sans tourists

Conference dinners: the tried and tested method for making new contacts and/or friends

Conference dinner: the tried and tested method for making new contacts and/or friends

Marcus is in his final year in the CSCT working towards his PhD on “Biomaterials for the Cardiac Environment” with Dr Ram Sharma, Dr Janet Scott and Dr Sameer Rahatekar.


Conference report: Cardiff Stem Cell Symposium 2014

  , , , ,

📥  Seminars & Conferences

The Stem Cell Symposium organised by the Cardiff Stem Cell Network is a free event, in its second year, that brings together researchers in the south west. A number of students from the University of Bath, based in chemical engineering, pharmacy and biology, attended, including two DTC students: first-year Tristan Smith and second-year Marcus Johns, who brings us this report.

Having not done any biology in any great depth – enzyme kinetics excluded – since GCSE, I found the prospect of spending a day at an event where PhD objectives included ‘[investigating] the mechanism of the chemopreventative properties of dietary polyphenols on Wnt-driven tumorigenesis’ daunting. However, the event proved to be very informative with participants happy to simplify their language and explain concepts when informed that they were in the presence of a chemical engineer.

The plenary lecture ‘Bringing mesenchymal stem cells into the clinic’ by Professor Katarina Le Blanc (Karolinska Institutet) demonstrated that even when strong, beneficial research is conducted – in this case the inhibition of immune responses in leukaemia patients using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) – it still remains challenging to bring it to the point of clinical use. This point was reiterated by Dr Chris Goldring (University of Liverpool), who warned that significant steps needed to be taken to ensure the safety of regenerative medicine therapies and guarantee that the mistakes in the area of gene therapy twenty years ago were not repeated in his lecture ‘Preclinical safety assessment of stem cell therapy’.

The University of Bath was well represented with two lectures by Dr Vasanta Subramanian and Professor David Tosh – director of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine – on the role of primary cilia in stem cell maintenance and differentiation, and the transdifferentiation of pancreatic cells to hepatic cells respectively. However, it was perhaps slightly disappointing that none of the ten talks touched upon the role of tissue scaffolds for both in vivo and in vitro use, despite the recognition of their increasing importance in the literature. This was reflected in the posters on display, where only a handful concerned themselves with the subject – almost all from the University of Bath.