Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Posts By: Mako Ng

Novel coatings at NSG Group

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📥  Internships & visits

This post was contributed by Joe Thompson.


I recently spent a month long placement at NSG Group in Lathom, Lancashire. NSG Group is a world leading manufacturer of automotive, architectural and technical grade glass. The majority of glass products manufactured by the company are coated to provide a variety of additional properties such as scratch resistance, self-cleaning, UV reflectance and electrical conductivity.

My time was spent working in the coatings department looking at a variety of new coatings with quite different applications. Whilst on placement I had the opportunity to try out new coating techniques and access analytical methods not available at the University.

The opportunity to spend some time in an industrial lab was invaluable, it showed me both the similarities and differences between academic and industrial environments. Overall I really enjoyed the experience of trying out some new chemistry in a new location and working with a great group of people.


Joe is in his final year in the CSCT working towards his PhD on 'New precursors for application in thin film chalcogenide materials' with Dr Andrew Johnson and Dr Daniel Wolverson.

 

Working towards Food Security with Syngenta

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📥  Internships & visits

This post was contributed by George Gregory.


gregory_syngenta01Keen to gain industrial experience, I spent three months at Syngenta in Jeolotts Hill, Bracknell. Seeds such as corn and soya are coated with active ingredients (AIs) namely pesticides and herbicides to ensure a good crop yield. To reduce “rub-off” of the coating and the generation of dust, which is hazardous to farmers, polymers play an important role in binding AIs to the seed surface.

gregory_syngenta02Working within the formulation technologies team, I undertook a systematic investigation using a Design of Experiments (DoE) approach to investigate how typical polymer properties impact on the coating quality. Amongst many other techniques, a neat image analysis tool was used to quantify the seed coverage.

In total, I was involved in four different projects gaining experience with a range of innovative technologies and coated over 75 kg of seeds bright red (as well as my lab coat) - a dye used in the coating formulation to indicate the AIs present. Working towards the common goal of food security, the theme underpinning everything I observed seemed to be a strong collaboration between people of different expertise (someone had PhD in nozzles!).


George is in her final year in the CSCT working towards her PhD on “Cyclic carbonates from sugars and CO2: synthesis, polymerisation and biomedical applications” with Dr Antoine Buchard, Professor Matthew Davidson and Dr Ram Sharma.

 

Three Month Placement at Northwestern University and Pacifichem in Hawaii

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📥  Internships & visits, Seminars & Conferences

This post is contributed by Rob Chapman.


At the end of August 2015, I had the opportunity to go and spend three months working for Professor Karl Scheidt at Northwestern University, just north of Chicago. Whilst in the group I was working on some NHC (N-heterocyclic carbene) organocatalysis, in which Karl is a world leading expert. In particular I was working on NHC homoenolate chemistry combined with an in-situ iron oxidation in a tandem catalytic system (for more details feel free to ask). Seeing how the American system works was a real eye opener and lots of hard work, luckily the group was really welcoming and I made some good friends who were happy to keep me entertained for the time I was there. Showing me the sights and sounds of Chicago, the deep dish pizza is incredible! Luckily my time in Chicago overlapped with thanksgiving and Ben drew the short straw in inviting me to Ohio to spend thanksgiving with his family, the best turkey I’ve ever eaten!

After Chicago my travels were directed towards Hawaii for Pacifichem 2015, but not before meeting up with Bill Cunningham, Steve Bull and Tony James in Miami. From there we embarked on a mini road trip towards Houston, which meant we got to see some of the less travelled parts of the US. The trip also included stop offs at the University of Florida (Gainsville) and Tulane University (New Orleans) where Steve and Tony gave presentations. From Houston we flew to Honolulu for the conference meeting up with Caroline Jones, Emma Lampard and Marc Hutchby. Pacifichem is a once every five year conference which is able to attract some of the biggest names in chemistry from around the world, which I’m sure is helped by the excellent location, and this year was no exception. Being able to attend was a real privilege and I’m very grateful to the CSCT for the opportunity. There were many fantastic talks; with Professor Grubbs on his progress towards E-selective metathesis and Professor Hartwig on some elegant tandem catalysis. There was also a really interesting session on NHC chemistry organised by Professor Karl Scheidt. However, for me the most thought provoking and impressive talk was by Professor Baran who presented some excellent work towards Taxol total synthesis (and other important natural products and drug molecules along the way). His research showed me that organic synthesis can be sustainable and that rather than an area to be overlooked, there is still the opportunity for huge strives forward.

Rob is working towards his PhD on "A protecting group free strategy for the sustainable synthesis of polyketide natural products" with Dr Steven Bull, Dr Pawel Plucinski and Dr Matthew Jones.

Hoʻohuihui lāʻau in Honolulu (Chemistry in Honolulu)

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

This post is contributed by Caroline Jones.


In December 2015 four members of the CSCT travelled to the Hawaiian island of O’ahu to attend the 7th Pacifichem conference. Emma Lampard, Rob Chapman, Bill Cunningham and I joined around 15,000 other chemists in Honolulu for the five day conference which is held once every five years.

Views of Waikiki beach and Honolulu from Diamond Head Crater.

Views of Waikiki beach and Honolulu from Diamond Head Crater.

Parallel sessions were held across seven venues throughout the week which meant that though it could sometimes be difficult to decide between sessions, there was always something interesting to see.

A talk which stood out to the group was from John Hartwig who delivered an engaging presentation on multistep and multicatalytic transformations. Impressive tandem reactions were shown which involved initial catalytic C-H functionalisation steps, followed by a second catalytic transformation – allowing for the rapid synthesis of a wide array of industrially important molecules.

Also of note was Phil Baran who works in collaboration with industrial partners in the synthesis of complex natural product and drug molecules on multigram scales. He described elegant and scalable synthetic methodologies developed for key steps in their group’s synthetic routes. Another group highlight was from John Gordon’s research group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. This presentation detailed the catalytic conversion of biomass-derived molecules towards linear alkanes for use as fuels; a talk which highlighted the power of synthetic chemistry in wider applications.

Presenting our work at Pacifichem.

Presenting our work at Pacifichem.

Presenting my poster at the Green Techniques in Medicinal Chemistry session was a rewarding experience as I was able to meet researchers from around the world with whom my work was well received. After plenty of discussion at this session I also came away from it with new ideas to try in my future research. Bill, Emma and Rob also delivered excellent talks throughout the conference in varied sessions on catalysis for the upgrading of biomass-derived molecules, applications in organoboron synthesis and materials and tactics for complex molecule synthesis respectively.

Making the most of Pacifichem’s location we also managed to explore the area for a few days on either side of the conference. Highlights included a sweaty climb up the Diamond Head crater, a snorkelling trip to hunt for the Humuhumunukunukapua’a (the Hawaiian state fish) and a group skydive – a truly memorable experience! We are grateful for the funding from the CSCT and the RSC Organic Division Travel Grant Scheme which allowed us to attend this conference.

Our Hawaiian skydive!

Our Hawaiian skydive!

Caroline is working towards her PhD on "Sustainable catalytic methodology for functional group manipulation" with Professor Jonathan Williams, Dr Pawel Plucinski and Dr Steven Bull.

6th European Kesterite Workshop

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

This post is contributed by Mako Ng.

A trio of CSCT students (Adam Jackson, Suzy Wallace and I) attended the 6th European Kesterite Workshop at Northumbria University, Newcastle.

A little bit of background about us; all three of us are working with an earth-abundant, non-toxic photovoltaic material called kesterite, which is made from copper, zinc, tin and sulphur. Adam also attended the workshop two years ago in Berlin.

There was a student workshop the day before the actual conference, where more experienced students in this field, including Adam, gave talks on their work. They also offered help and gave feedback on experimental results other students brought, which I found very useful.

Adam sharing his experience on CZTS

Adam sharing his experience on CZTS

The first day of the conference was packed with talks, from device performance and material properties, to structural properties, defects, ordering-disordering phenomena, and finally device architecture and interfaces. Since all the talks were about kesterite and very relevant to all, the concentration required resulted into coffee running out very quickly during breaks. The majority of speakers were from IREC and HZB, who hosted the workshop in 2011 and 2013 respectively. They are also the key players in this field in Europe.

There was a poster session before the conference dinner. Suzy's poster, which was about using computational chemistry to calculate disorder and inhomogneity in kesterite solar cell, had attracted a lot of attention.

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Poster session

The second day started with a technical problem (something that happens in a lot of conferences!). The good thing about that was, the organiser then combined two parallel discussion groups together. Being in the discussion group was like watching season 5 of a TV series before watching the previous seasons! VOC deficit is still a major issue of this material, and unfortunately, no one is able to solve this problem just yet. We also pointed out the band gap varies with different measuring techniques, which made direct comparison between different devices impossible.

Before I could head back to my lab to try out all those new ideas from this conference, I went to another conference in the United States. Watch this space for another blog from me soon!

Mako is working towards his PhD on "Solution-processed solar cells from earth-abundant elements" with Professor Mark Weller, Dr Aron Walsh and Dr Philip Shields.

 

British weather in Brazil...Challenges in Chemical Renewable Energy conference

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

This post is contributed by Joe Donnelly.

During September a trio of CSCT students (Myself, Jonathan Wagner and David Miles) attended Challenges in Chemical Renewable Energy (ISACS17), in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Joe_Donnelly_ISACS17_01The 12 hour flight from Heathrow was a relatively pleasant affair, despite a lady sat next to me enjoying a 12 hour headphone techno marathon - something which would have been annoying if it was not so impressive. We went appropriately packed for sun, sea and sand, ready to hit Copacabana. Although Dave had forgotten his flip flops this was easily remedied owing to the many flip flop vendors in the area - however, Rio had apparently been saving all of its cloud and rain for our arrival- alas the bottom fell out of our plans (and the bag containing Dave's new flip flops). But after all, we are British and unless we were going to need a dinghy to get to the beach front bars, it was going to happen. When we were not at the conference or supporting the local beachfront economy, we found some time to go and see Christ the Redeemer and a few other local attractions.

Joe_Donnelly_ISACS17_02The conference was attended by around 100 people from a range of backgrounds/disciplines making for an interesting mix. The small size of the conference also allowed for conversation opportunities with most of the presenters. Research topics focussed on upgrading of bio-derived resources- something which I was personally attending for, and also many interesting talks on solar fuels and photovoltaics. It was interesting to see these different disciplines being discussed in the same stream as each other and led to interesting discussions about where exactly each of the technologies would fit in the future energy mix. The conference was concluded by a panel discussion on this very issue, and included representatives from industry, academia and government.

Overall the conference was a valuable experience, with the opportunity to talk to some leaders in the field without them being whisked away to prearranged meetings after their talks. It is worth noting however that there was only one stream, and due to the relatively diverse nature of topics on show, not all talks were of particular relevance to any one person.

Joe is working towards his PhD on "(Bio)catalytic synthesis of a novel transport fuel substitute from industrially produced ferementation products" with Dr Chris Chuck, Dr Marcelle McManus and Dr Chris Bannister.

Euromembrane 2015, Germany

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

Chris Davey went to the Euromembrane conference in Aachen, Germany to give a talk on sustainable separations for Industrial Biotechnology. Here is Chris' account on his trip:

At the beginning of September I attended the conference Euromembrane in Aachen, Germany. The conference offered a wide variety of talks on every aspect of membrane science from leading European institutions as well as those from further afield.

Chris_Davey_Euromembrane2015
It was great to discover such a wide variety of topics being researched within the membrane community. Talks were given from topics on reverse osmosis to dialysis to membranes for fuel cells. With 5 parallel sessions there was always a good variety of talks to attend. With a number of talks also focused on the application of membrane technologies within different biorefinery separations, the conference was also a great chance to see the type of research being conducted within the field of my PhD.

On the final day I gave my talk entitled “Enabling more sustainable separations for Industrial Biotechnology: membrane fractionation cascades for 2,3-butanediol”. This was part of a session on nanofiltration. I received valuable advice from different members of the membrane community. Overall the conference was a great experience and a really good opportunity for making contacts within the wider membrane community.

Chris is working towards his PhD on "Lower energy recovery of dilute organics from fermentation broths" with Dr Darrell Patterson and Professor David Leak.

 

CO2 Utilisation Faraday Discussion

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📥  Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

George Gregory went to the Faraday Discussion - Carbon Dioxide Utilisation in Sheffield to present a poster and won the poster prize. Here is George's account on her trip:

A conference with a difference! Held over three days at the University of Sheffield and ran by the RSC, academics who had submitted a manuscript for Faraday Discussion under the umbrella theme of CO2 utilisation were invited to briefly present their work (strictly five minutes) before the floor was opened up for discussion. Lively discussion ensued, everyone attending having received pre-printed copies of all the papers being showcased prior to the event. The whole experience was a real insight into the peer review process with all questions and subsequent answers being published alongside the article.

Evident was the broad range of different research topics that tap into the area of carbon dioxide utilisation. New catalysts and mechanistic insights into catalytic activity for the synthesis of cyclic carbonates and polycarbonates presented by Richard Heyn from SINTEF Materials and Chemistry and Charlotte Williams form Imperial College London were particularly relevant to my research.  Reactive capture of CO2 with Grignard reagents raised in George Dowson’s submission sparked a lot of discussion regarding the underlying sustainability issues to be addressed in CO2 chemistry. This was nicely complemented by Christopher Jones from the Psychology Department of the University of Sheffield reporting his findings on the public perceptions of CO2 utilisation technology. Compared to the work presented on the hydrothermal and electrocatalytic conversion of CO2, plasma-based technologies were a completely new realm for me.

All this was sandwiched between an inspiring opening by Martyn Poliakoff who simplified the aims of CO2 chemistry and complimentary closing by Michael North from the University of York. The answer to rising atmospheric CO2 levels was likened to piglets feeding suggesting that a multitude of different technologies are required.  Like any conference, discussion was broken up by poster sessions and a conference dinner, offering a great chance to network and I certainly received a lot of interest and helpful suggestions regarding my work. Faraday Discussion tradition also dictates that the loving cup ceremony be performed requiring a few words of Latin to be spoken, bowing and drinking port from a silver chalice. I was also honoured to win the £200 poster prize.

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George and Antoine celebrating with wine after winning the poster prize.

In conclusion, Faraday Discussions by their very nature offer a great opportunity to learn about, challenge and defend research - definitely worth attending.

George is working towards her PhD on "Cyclic carbonates from sugars and CO2: synthesis, polymerisation and biomedical applications" with Dr Antoine Buchard, Professor Matthew Davidson and Dr Ram Sharma.

 

5th Molecular Materials Meeting, Aquarium and the Universal Studios in Singapore

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

Joe Thompson and Andrew Rushworth went to Singapore to give talks on CVD growth of Tungsten disulfide-graphene and Tin sulfide-graphene heterostructure respectively. Here is Joe's account on their trip:

Andrew and I recently attended the 5th Molecular Materials Meeting hosted by the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) out in Singapore. With six parallel sessions and a host of plenary lectures across three days we had plenty of interesting talks to keep us occupied. The conference had a broad range of subject areas from nanotechnology in food to sustainable materials for energy generation. Throughout the conference the organisers and plenary speakers emphasised the importance of working across disciplines and collaborating with industry.

Day one focussed on nanoparticles, metamaterials, food nanotechnology, material surfaces and sustainable porous materials. Day two had sessions on thermoelectrics, healthcare materials, sustainable energy materials, biomimetic materials and sensing materials. Whilst day three composed of sessions on environmentally sustainable materials, healthcare materials, functional materials, luminescent materials and 2D materials. Both Andrew and I presented at the conference which was a great experience to exhibit our work outside of the university and gain experience presenting to an international audience.

Whilst there were plenty of talks to keep us busy at the conference, there were also opportunities to explore and experience Singapore. The conference cocktail event was held at Singapore’s aquarium which was a pretty spectacular place to wander round. The conference dinner on the final day took place within Universal Studios Singapore where we had access to some of the rides and got to meet Marilyn Monroe. While we were out in Singapore the country celebrated its 50th Jubilee which meant that we could join in with the celebrations and experience some fireworks.

Conference cocktail in Singapore Aquarium.

Conference cocktail in Singapore Aquarium.

Joe is working towards his PhD on "New precursors for application in thin film chalcogenide materials" with Andrew Johnson and Daniel Wolverson.

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