The following post is designed by Alison Ryder and Megan Stalker to sum up Cohort 2016's three-day team building residential at Magdalen Farm where they experienced a diverse landscape, connected with nature and learnt from sustainable living.
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometers (aka. Hidden Force Looking Machines) use very large magnets to help study the structure of chemical molecules.
When molecules are inside a magnetic field, they behave in a similar way to tiny bells which can interact with radio waves. ‘Hitting’ the molecules using a short radio signal causes the molecules to ‘ring’ producing a signal which can be detected by the NMR spectrometer. The signal produced by the molecules looks very similar to the shape made by the sound of a bell - the difference is that the NMR signal is detected as an electrical signal by the spectrometer, whilst the bell produces sound waves.
When you hit a bell, the ringing sound produced is made up of several different frequencies (different musical notes) which combine to give the characteristic sound of a bell. Your ear can identify these different frequencies and give you an idea of what sort of size and shape the bell is, just based on the noise that it makes – for example a small hand bell (click to listen) makes a very different noise to Big Ben (click to listen)!
In the same way as our ears can tell the difference between the sounds of the two different bells, the NMR spectrometer can use the signal produced by the molecules to separate out the different frequencies produced by different bits of the molecule. The Chemist (eg. me!) can then use this information to help work out what the molecule looks like.
Depending on how complicated the molecule is, the signal produced may be made up of just one frequency, or several different frequencies all mixed together. A small, simple molecule like Methanol will tend to have only one or two frequencies, whilst a more complicated molecule like Phenacetin will have lots of different frequencies all mixed together.
Since the signals produced by the molecules are very similar to a sound wave it is actually possible to play the NMR signal back allowing us to listen to what our chemicals look like1 (just for fun!). This basically means that we are using the NMR spectrometer as a very big (and very expensive) radio set. One way to do this would just be to connect a speaker directly to the spectrometer and listen to the electrical signals coming off,2 but since I would probably get in trouble if I start messing around with the expensive equipment I have used this bit of software instead, which does the same job.
Methanol (click to listen)
Phenacetin (click to listen)
Because each different molecule interacts with the radio waves at different frequencies (think different sized bells) this means that each molecule can be made to ‘sing’ a different musical note.
Once we have reached this stage, there really is only one logical conclusion:
With thanks to the Pacific Lutheran University FTNMR FID Archive for supplying NMR data used to create this video.
1Yes, this sentence does make sense if you think about it.
2This used to be a very common way of checking instrument settings, requiring ‘not more than half an hour of soldering and wiring’: https://www.chemie.uni-erlangen.de/bauer/music5.html
Andrew is working towards his PhD on "Biogenic Alcohols and Sugars as Sustainable Reductants: A Combined Spectroscopic and Theoretical Approach to the Development of New Homogeneous Catalysts for Dehydrogenation, Hydrogen Transfer and Reverse Water-Gas-Shift Chemistry" with Dr Ulrich Hintermair, Dr Antoine Buchard and Dr John Lowe.
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
Our anonymous Physicist shares snippets of their life in the Chemistry labs.
What do you think of when you hear the word Physicist? What do you think of when you hear the word Chemist? Do you think of two very different people? Do you think of men (…hang on I won’t go there).
In many areas of research there is such an overlap between different areas of science that, often, the boundary between different disciplines becomes blurred. In fact, huge leaps in scientific understanding can be made by taking advantage of cross disciplinary work, but what does this mean for the lowly PhD student? Apart from getting that all important step count up on the iPhone by running between departments, it also means venturing where few physicists have dared venture before, the chemistry labs. On first inspection I found myself surprised by the number of things in one room that could kill me. “Don’t breath that in it’ll suffocate you, don’t spill that it’ll burn off your hand, don’t put that in that it’ll explode,” were just some of the first snippets of advice on entering the lab. So, with my nerves calmed, I promptly started work.
Through my time working I became acutely aware of the ‘learning curve’ I was on (shown Figure 1). The period of time where you learn so much about your new lab that your confidence level takes a little while to catch up. The same period of time where I would probably be surprised that I’d actually managed to make sodium chloride by reacting together sodium and chloride. The same period where, when I was told I would be working with seven molar acid I thought “seven, that’s a small number”.
Of course there’s the language, physics speaks the language of maths. Does a page full of equations scare you? Well a page full of words scares a physicist. All of a sudden I was thrown into a world of mechanisms, and schlenks, and rotavaps, not to even start on all the solvent acronyms; people might as well have been speaking Russian (why are there arrows everywhere?!). I never thought I’d find myself longing to solve a good time dependent Schrodinger equation, but sometimes a full page of complex mathematics does wonders for the soul.
Despite the lab’s best efforts, I find myself still alive to tell this tale, not only that, but advocating the importance of more scientists leaving the comfort of their familiar lab for an unfamiliar one, learning new skills and becoming rounded researchers able to tackle almost any problem. If you can’t tackle it, working across departments will almost certainly mean you know someone that can.
For now I have to remember not to put water into acid, or was it acid into water……
This post was contributed by Oli Weber following his attendance at the Hybrid Organic Photovoltaics Conference (28 June - 1 July 2016).
Recently Dom Ferdani (cohort ’14) and I took a trip to the south coast of Wales to attend the 2016 Hybrid Organic Photovoltaics Conference (HOPV 16). The venue was Swansea’s brand new Bay Campus, a huge new development of university buildings sited right by the beach of Swansea Bay. On the first conference day we were met by serious weather blowing in from the sea, leaving delegates from warmer climes wondering what manner of people could be mad enough to inhabit such a cold, damp land. Bay Campus is also the new home to SPECIFIC, the conference hosts, whose mandate is to span the space between academia and industry to develop materials that turn buildings into power stations using functional coatings. Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) are one of the families of technologies developed at SPECIFIC. These rely on thin, lightweight, flexible designs and manufacturing methods, such as printing, that scale up well. Organic semiconductors, dye sensitised solar cells, CIGS and CZTS are all under research and development, however the technology that has come to dominate the research focus for this conference is hybrid perovskite solar cells.
Hybrid perovskites combine the properties of some of the highest quality known semiconductors, such as GaAs, with the solution processability of organic materials. This means that the solar cells could be manufactured at low cost, while still displaying the high efficiency of the best inorganic thin films. Unfortunately the hybrid perovskites are not very chemically stable and are easily attacked and degraded by water. Some of the typical device layers used in perovskite cells may also be contributing to the degradation, so it is still difficult to assess whether these materials will be intrinsically stable, over a 25 year lifetime, if they are properly encapsulated as protection from the environment. It was encouraging to see stability data discussed during the research presentations, particularly in the talk by Professor Mike McGehee of Stanford, whose group is developing semi-transparent perovskite top cells to include directly above standard silicon modules to make a more efficient tandem stack.
Other highlights for me personally were the advanced printing techniques run by SPECIFIC researchers on the day before the conference commenced, when we learnt about the pitfalls that await between laboratory scale work and development of cells suitable for bulk manufacturing at large scale. Professor Laura Herz of Oxford Physics gave an excellent presentation on the amount that can be learnt about charge carrier dynamics within perovskite semiconductors using terahertz photoconductivity and photoluminescence measurements. From the University of Bath, Professor Aron Walsh and Dr Petra Cameron both presented recent research results.
Overshadowing the whole conference was the spectre of Brexit. Many people had learnt the referendum result just before setting out to Swansea. Swansea is one of the areas of the UK that voted to leave despite receiving extensive regeneration funding from the EU; SPECIFIC itself is part EU funded. The research groups present were drawn from diverse international backgrounds and many of the research collaborations, already in progress or spawned during the conference, span the EU and further afield. One thing for certain is that the scientific community will continue to find ways to maintain their international networks and friendships whatever the political landscape. From my point of view (and that of many I spoke to) it’s frankly embarrassing that the referendum campaign was fought, won and lost on the basis of fear, lies and bigotry, drowning out all vestiges of the rational debate scientists thrive on. For a country priding itself on freedom and enterprise, we cannot claim to have a healthy political or media culture.
Sitting on the terrace of the conference hall, the beach ahead of me, it is impossible to ignore the juxtaposition of frenetic scientific activity behind me, as brilliant people from every part of the world work to develop clean energy sources for the future, with the EU and Welsh flags taut in the sea breeze just in front and, visible further along the coast, Port Talbot steelworks, in the news as 4,000 people wait on tenterhooks to hear if their livelihoods will disappear. Swansea is an area already hard hit by disappearing traditional industries, on the sharp end of globalised trade. The referendum vote has already delayed and could wreck buyout bids to retain the steelworks, with 69% of Welsh steel exported to the EU. Projects like SPECIFIC serve a dual purpose, for research and as attempts to sow new seeds of industrial activity for clean technologies for the twenty first century. If and when the UK regains political leadership, it will be up to UK government to prove it can support these activities as well as the EU did, or risk watching top researchers and research, as on display at HOPV, move elsewhere.
Oli is Cohort '13 of the CSCT, studying towards his PhD on "Optimizing energy harvesting processes in metal halide photovoltaics" with Professor Mark Weller and Professor Chris Bowen.
The following blog is written by Tristan Smith.
CSCT students Felix (Cohort 2015), Sonia (Cohort 14), Tristan (Cohort 13) and alumnus Anyela (Cohort 10) attended a two day training workshop run by the BBSRC NIBB Networks. It was an opportunity for current students, post-doc and early career researchers to learn about the jobs and careers that are available in Industrial Biotechnology (IB). But also, that many companies that use IB aren’t immediately obvious and there is a large drive to create connections with these unknown stakeholders and academia for future collaborations. Instead of reviewing all that was discussed over the two days, I will try and distil it down to a few key messages:
- Industrial Biotechnology is one of the oldest technologies in human activity and as such has been applied in a wide range of fields from food production to the manufacture of explosives. The take home message of many talks was that IB is not an industrial sector but an enabling technology that is allowing the development of new sustainable technologies, and therefore when looking for careers as a biotechnologist you are unlikely to find yourself working for an enzyme production company (although those jobs exist), but as a member of a small team in a much larger setting helping to apply IB to their processes. Many of these companies do not advertise the fact that they use IB, and that connections made through networks like the NIBs, KTN-UK are vital to finding jobs.
- Communication! A successful industrial biotechnologist needs to be a master linguist, able to speak the languages of engineering through to corporate finance. Even if your role is developing novel organism at a purely molecular biology lab, you might be the only such individual or part of a very small team in that company. Therefore, you will have to understand every stage of your product's scale-up at the engineering level. Engineers and technical staff will need to be able to understand your process so that it can be up-scaled and developed further. The sales team need to be able to understand and sell the benefits of your technology to the customer. The finance team need to understand the cost savings or profit potential of every material or piece of equipment before the company purchase it. Whilst an industrial biotechnologist must be key team player, all these challenges creates new opportunities for specialist process bioengineers, technical sales staff and other jobs that are improved by having a scientist in these roles.
- Data! Data! Data! Modern DNA sequencing and computer technologies means that the creation of new data is occurring at an unmanageable rate, and that there is shortage of individuals with data driven research capabilities. Bioinformaticians or computational scientist, with the ability to process and use this every expanding pool of information are going to be more sought after in the future. The demand is so high that it has been fed back into the funding bodies who are now starting specific degrees, but that means anyone who has the skills now, before all these new training degrees bear fruit will be in high demand.
I hope that this was useful, I think we all left feeling much more hopeful about the range of potential jobs on offer outside of academia. One great aspect was a range of talks from companies ranging in the size from small start-ups such as Oxford Biotrans to large multinational corporations such as Croda, who all rely on IB but because of the size and scope of these companies, the working environments and cultures are as different between themselves as industry is to academia. The point being that if you want to work in industry there is likely an environment that will suit your skills and personality.
Tristan is in his third year in the CSCT working towards his PhD on 'Sustainable production of 2-phenylethanol from Metschnikowia pulcherrima' with Dr Daniel Henk and Dr Chris Chuck.
A big congratulations to our MRes graduates and PhD students (Rebecca Bamford, Anyela Ramirez Canon and Duygu Celebi). Following the Graduation Ceremony at the Bath Assembly Rooms on 9 December 2015, our newest cohort 2015 threw a celebratory party for all. I'll let the photos tell the story:
CSCT cohort 2014 graduated with flying colours on 9 December 2015 at the Assembly Rooms in Bath. Out of the 16 students, 6 graduated with distinction and 9 with merit. As they move on to their first year of PhD, they reflect on their MRes year at the centre.
1. What attracted you to the Integrated PhD in the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, as opposed to other PhD programmes?
"The biggest reason for choosing the CSCT was that it has everything a PhD has plus much more. I finished my undergrad not knowing what I wanted to commit the next three years of my life in a lab researching, so I thought in the MRes year I would get to 'try before I buy' in research areas I'm interested in to test the water before leaping into a PhD. I wanted the social aspect of working in a cohort, which I felt would be very helpful to keep your morals up throughout the year. On a professional level the opportunity to take a 3 month internship in industry or abroad would be a fantastic experience and look good on the CV." - Jamie Courtenay
2. What do you feel is the biggest advantage gained by completing an MRes project within a different discipline than what was studied at undergraduate level?
"As a chemist my other project involved tissue engineering which I was a bit apprehensive about as I have not opened a biology text book since GCSE! However, I'm so pleased I went for this project as tissue engineering is now a major part of my PhD." - Jamie Courtenay
"I've come from a Theoretical Physics/ Computational Chemistry background but after working with the Electrical Engineering department I definitely don't fear reading experimental papers now!" - Suzy Wallace
"Doing a project in a different discipline has given me an insight into research methodology and techniques that I would otherwise not have experienced, therefore, making me a more well rounded researcher" - Dominic Ferdani
3. What did you gain from completing the compulsory modules such as ‘Sustainable Development’, ‘Public Engagement’ and ‘Environmental Management’?
"All the modules helped me become a well-rounded scientist. Learning about how your work and research relates to companies and society was eye opening. The Public Engagement activities really help to put the work done at the centre into perspective and develop communication skills which are crucial for success." - Mike Joyes
4. Away from the academic side of the course, what advantages are there from being a member of a centre full of like-minded students?
5. Were the two MRes projects helpful in helping you to decide which area you wanted to study for your PhD?
"The MRes project allowed me to try a more risky project that I wasn't sure would work before committing 3 years to it. The flexibility with the second project has also allowed me to include aspects of this in my PhD." - Andrew Hall
EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) was first established in 2009. This academic year, we have turned six!
We are the only CDT to focus on developing new molecules, materials, processes and systems from the lab right through to industrial application, with an emphasis on practical sustainability.
The CDT continues to grow, providing excellent research training for scientists and engineers to work together with industry to meet the needs of current and future generations.
Second year CSCT student, James Stephenson recently attended the 2015 Global CO2 calculator launch and had a go at calculating projected CO2 levels using his own energy and climate pathway. Here are his thoughts after attending the event.
Recently I attended the 2015 Global CO2 calculator launch, marking the release of a new open-source software. Developed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the software is a tool to calculate projected carbon dioxide levels according to an energy and climate pathway designed by the users. By adjusting different global variables, the user can create a “pathway” which addresses as many country sized sources/sinks of CO2 as possible.
Speakers at the launch included MPs, developers, collaborators and representatives from the industry. The development team aimed towards making a very streamlined user interface. UK's energy secretary, Ed Davey joked that the software was indeed “MP proof”. I got the opportunity to use it myself and I certainly agree that it is very intuitive and does not take long to get to grips with. The variables are organised into a number of categories (technology and fuels, lifestyle, land and food, demographics) and sub categories such as food under “lifestyle” and transport under “technologies and fuels”. Adjusting each variable is performed using sliders. Rather than expecting users to quote exact numbers for their plan, the variables are set between 1 and 4, representing an effort level from “minimal abatement” to “extremely ambitious” respectively. An example quantitative figure is given for each effort level to rid the subjectivity of what “extremely ambitious” actually means. As each variable is adjusted the life cycle calculations are performed in a downloadable spreadsheet and outputs are changed respectively.
The calculator is expected to be used in the Paris 2015 climate change conference. The tool may be used to facilitate discussions and as a means to test ideas with numerical data, which will prove invaluable in many otherwise hand-wavey discussions. Global CO2 levels up to and beyond 2050 are displayed in one output, but there are countless other data outputs available from predicted changes in precipitation to car ownership. By using the tool you will find it is indeed possible to avoid a 2 degree increase in temperature, however it will take a large effort in a number of different areas. An individual aspect does not have a very significant impact upon CO2 levels. In reality economic constraints affect policy decisions concerning climate change, therefore the addition of cost outputs to the calculator will help this tool become even more useful.
A representative from the multi-disciplinary consulting company, Mott Macdonald discussed how the tool can be used by businesses. The calculator may help a business align themselves with energy policies and predict technology trends to evolve according to change. This tool may also be used to open dialogue with general members of the public as a way to engage and educate about factors causing climate change and their respective significance.
After attending this launch I was of course excited to use the calculator. Therefore I decided to use the tool to see if I have a realistic understanding of what it will take to stay below a 2 degrees global temperature raise. I made my own plan with the intention of staying below 2 Celsius increase whilst minimising the cost in doing this. I assumed the world population will increase without restriction and that more people will shift towards a consumerist lifestyle using the UN predictions for consumption variables in the calculator. Whilst I am not keen on the idea of a growing population and an ever more consumerist society, I feel pessimistic about controlling these parameters. I then focussed my efforts as follows:
- Extremely ambitious efforts towards improving the efficiency of technologies/fuels/manufacturing/vehicles
- Extremely ambitious efforts towards minimising waste in the food industry and improving crop yields. Also moving towards high density farming (less space for cattle).
- Allowing a vast amount of land to become reforested, and trying to stop society from becoming too urbanised.
- A modest effort towards carbon capture and storage
- Shifting towards a virtually fossil fuel free society
- Investing very heavily in nuclear energy
- Very ambitious efforts towards solar energy and focussing less of other renewables
- Ensuring there is a large energy storage capacity.
Personally I feel industry and government are most likely to be able to combat climate change. Relying on people committing towards severe lifestyle changes is perhaps naïve, unless it is motivated elsewhere, through subsides for example.
Unfortunately whilst my plan has managed to keep global temperatures below a 2 degrees raise, it is a very expensive plan. It is in fact more expensive than any of the example pathways. Potentially because I assumed that it would be possible to offset the emissions caused by ever increasing consumerism though efficiency improvements.
This simple exercise showed me how my ideas were flawed and through this I can make adjustments to my plan, and my way of thinking. Potentially I should not assume lifestyle changes are impossible? This just highlights how the calculator can help educate us and help open informed discussion. Hopefully the calculator will be used in December and will help towards the formulation of a new climate action plan. Use the global calculator and design your own pathway.
James is part of CSCT cohort '13, researching graphene-based electronics with Dr Alain Nogaret (physics) and Dr Andrew Johnson (chemistry).