Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Topic: Seminars & Conferences

Fall MRS Meeting: Mentoring and Solar Cell Minerals in Boston

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

This year I attended the 2017 Fall MRS (Materials Research Society) Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. I presented research conducted in collaboration with Duke University on the properties of selected photoactive minerals, evaluating their potential for use as the light absorbing layer in a solar cell device. In my work, the material properties are predicted from computational simulations using a software package called ‘FHI-aims’, which is developed at several institutions including Duke University. So, in my talk, I was essentially showing off my ‘virtual rock collection’. But the goal was to introduce these materials to the broader research field so that their potential application in solar cells may be explored further with experimental measurements. Conveniently, there were plenty of experimentalists to chat to in my session ‘Earth Abundant Metal Oxides, Sulfides and Selenides for Energy Systems and Devices’.

This was by far the biggest conference I have attended with 6,583 attendees this year, talks between two venues and 54 different talk sessions to choose from! Apart from the enormity of this meeting (and trying to find your way around to get to all the talks in different sessions you wanted to attend!), the new experience for me at this meeting was participation in the ‘Broadening Participation in Materials Science Undergraduate Mentoring Program’. The Broadening Participation in Materials is a subcommittee of the MRS with the aim of promoting diversity and inclusion in materials science. The program I took part in during the MRS meeting pairs undergraduate, underrepresented students with graduate student or postdoc mentors and there is a special program of events and training for mentors and mentees to attend. Mentors and mentees are paired up based on various factors such as similar research interests and the skills each party wished to develop during the program. The mentees present a research poster at the MRS meeting, so mentors and mentees are put in contact with each other before the meeting so that mentees have access to guidance on poster preparation from their mentor if they have any queries.

The mentoring program kicked off with a mentoring workshop on the Sunday afternoon before the first day of the meeting. This was a nice opportunity to meet other mentors, who varied from graduate students such as myself with very little experience of mentoring, to academics who already supervise numerous students. During this workshop, we discussed several very thought-provoking case studies for situations that may be encountered as a mentor and strategies to handle such situations. The diversity in the experience of mentors in the program here made for very interesting discussions, with some mentors having encountered similar situations already as mentors and other mentors having either witnessed similar situations as a bystander or having been on the receiving end as a mentee themselves. There were also exercises to illustrate effective (or not-so-effective!) communication between a mentor and mentee, specifically, the effect of using predominantly ‘yes, and…’ or ‘not, but…’ when steering a conversation. This is something I feel that you need to try to appreciate the effects!

On the first day of the meeting we had our mentoring breakfast when you get to meet your mentee(s)! Prior to this, we were all introduced to our mentees via the messaging software ‘slack’, so I had an idea of the research they were presenting a poster on beforehand. During the  breakfast, we were introduced to ‘elevator pitches’ to pitch the key features of your research in a snappy manner and took part in an exercise of summing up your research in one sentence, a surprisingly formidable task. The next main event in the program was the ‘Using Improv for Communications’ workshop. This workshop made for a nice break from attending scientific talks, to get re-energized ready to head back with a renewed focus for the rest of the talks that day! In addition to some short games to shake off the cobwebs, the workshop focused more on elevator pitches. Another exercise involved splitting off into small groups, explaining the key parts of your research to your partner in progressively short amounts of time after receiving feedback from your partner. It was interesting here to find out what stood out to your partner as the key aspects to highlight and the most effective explanations to use, especially when you only have 30 seconds…!

The main event of the program was the poster session that our mentees presented posters in. As someone with very little experience as a mentor, this was a very new experience to me! I wanted to make sure that my mentees felt I was always available if they wanted to ask anything (the use of ‘slack’ messaging software was very good in this regard), but I also was conscious to not interfere if it wasn’t necessary and to allow my mentees to find their own way around and to enjoy their poster session without feeling like they were under the constant watchful eye of a mentor! This is certainly a delicate balance to strike, and not something I had experienced before. Participating in the program providing some very valuable training and new experiences for me so I would definitely recommend this to anyone else attending future MRS meetings. As a mentor, you also get a special gold ‘mentor’ tag to add to your conference badge, which was also pretty snazzy.


Suzy is working towards her PhD on 'Overcoming the efficiency bottleneck of metal sulfide solar cells' with Professor Aron Walsh, Professor Chris Bowen and Professor Mark Weller.

 

Materials Research Society Conference in Boston

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

From 26 November to 1 December I attended the 2017 Boston MRS Fall Meeting. This major conference was a great experience, full of talks and poster sessions covering the hot topics of materials science. In addition, I was lucky enough that this year there was a specific symposium covering the main topic of my PhD, entitled: ‘ESO2: On the Way to Sustainable Solar Fuels-New Concepts, Materials and System Integration’, where I got inspired from experts of the field. I attended interesting talks by Professor Avner Rotschild on Photoelectrochemical Water Splitting for Solar Energy Conversion and Storage, Professor Juan Morante on Solar Refineries for CO2 reduction, Dr Yasuhiro Tachibana on Quantum Dots, Professor Lionel Vayssieres on Design, Performance and Stability of Photocatalyts for water splitting and many others!

Boston Landscape

On Monday evening I presented my poster in the ESO2 symposium, a two-hour long poster session from 8pm to 10pm! The number of people attending the session was massive so I had the opportunity to discuss my work with many researchers and establish research collaborations with other groups. In addition, on Wednesday evening I also attended the second poster session of the same symposium where I met other researchers working in a variety of fields.

Miriam during the poster session and views from the conference building

Even though I spent most of the week attending the ESO2 symposium (about solar fuels) I also attended a few sessions of the ESO3 symposium: ‘Earth abundant Metal Oxides, Sulfides and Selenides for Energy systems and devices’. This symposium was more focused on the synthesis and features of the materials. This is extremely important for energy applications, especially water splitting, since different morphologies and compositions can change a lot the final performance and efficiency of the photocatalyst.

During the conference I also attended other sessions, such as the ‘International Summit of MRS University Chapters on Sustainability and Nanotechnology’. These sessions covered key sustainability topics in a broad manner. For instance, one session covered the background of water splitting and the key topics that need to be tackled to bring this technology into the real market.  Two great speakers of this session were Professor Hicham Idriss from Saudi Arabia and Professor Lionel Vayssieres from China. Professor Idriss gave an overview of advantages and disadvantages that a large scale photoelectrochemical reactor has. On the other hand, Professor Vayssieres highlighted his main research topics and key publications dealing with metal oxides and water splitting.

Furthermore, being in Boston for a week also gave me the opportunity to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus and the MIT museum. The MIT museum was really interesting! It had several exhibitions: Robots and Beyond, Big Bang Data and Holography: Dimensions of light. The Holography exhibition was of particular interest since you could get an insight of how the eyes, brain and light play a key role to create a 3D image.

Robots exhibition in MIT museum


Miriam is a second year PhD student working with Dr Salvador Eslava on the development of metal oxides for solar water splitting.

 

Speaking at RSC's 13th International Conference on Materials Chemistry

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📥  Comment, Research updates, Seminars & Conferences

From 10 - 13 July, the Arena and Convention Centre (ACC) Liverpool hosted the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 13th International Conference on Materials Chemistry (MC13). This conference happens every two years and always attracts hundreds of delegates from all over the world with diverse interests relating to materials chemistry.

After the long (and frankly dull) train journey from Bath to Liverpool, I made my way past the famous Albert Dock to the ACC and was immediately struck by its enormity. It was at this point that I began to appreciate the scale of this conference. My nervousness level went up a notch - I had given a talk to an international audience once before at the iPolymorphs conference in San Sebastian, but that was a much smaller meeting. The ACC was massive.

Fortunately, my anxiety was relieved for two reasons. Firstly, this year there were five parallel sessions to choose from and I would only be speaking in one of them, the Materials Design session, so would only be speaking to around a fifth of the 600+ delegates. Given that my PhD project involves developing new ways to computationally screen for new energy materials such as solar absorbers, this was the session of most interest to me and I spent most of my time there as well as in the Energy and Environment session. Secondly, as soon as the conference kicked off I was distracted by the excellent talks that were on offer.

Highlights included work by David Scanlon from UCL on searching for new solar absorbers using lessons learnt from the promising but currently highly unstable material methylammonium lead iodide (MAPI), and a plenary talk by Jeff Long from UC Berkeley on gas separation using metal organic frameworks, and that was just day one. Presentations at large conferences like this are a great way to quickly get up to date on the very latest advances in a research area, but also to get a broad overview of an unfamiliar topic, particularly in plenary talks that are given to the entire delegation.

I was speaking on day two and by the time my slot came around in the afternoon, I was more relaxed than I had expected. I think this was largely because the conference had quite a friendly feel to it. That is not to say that I had experiences of unfriendly conferences, but so far the questions and comments after each talk had been cordial and constructive, sparking excited discussion as opposed to awkward silence or heated debate. I expect I am not alone in my feeling that it is this final portion of a presentation that can be the most nerve-racking; you can be as prepared as you like but you can only guess as to what might be asked.

I was on straight after a keynote talk by David Mitzi from Duke University, who gave a superb overview of his work on searching for Earth-abundant solar absorbers. Top tip: If you are worried about starting a talk, have an ice-breaker ready to ease you and the audience in. My talk was entitled Low-cost High-throughput Screening of All Inorganic Materials; a bold and frankly ridiculous claim which was an ice-breaker in itself. It had the desired effect as the session chair commented that we probably wouldn’t have time for All inorganic materials in 15 minutes.

Top tip number two: There is a lot of information to be gleaned from the questions you are asked after a presentation, and they fall into three main camps:

  1. You get questions that you are not expecting because you thought you’d covered it in your talk or that it was obvious. This gives you an insight into what to explain more carefully or in more detail next time.
  2. You get questions that show an understanding of what you said as well as intrigue or curiosity, maybe asking you to expand on something that you’d mentioned (these questions are often prefaced with “Hi, nice talk…” or words to that effect). This is good - you kept (at least some of) your audience interested.
  3. You get no questions at all. You might have lost the audience somewhere early on or pitched the talk at the wrong level. Note: this logic does not apply if your session is immediately before lunch or a poster session involving refreshments.

Happily, most of the questions I received fell into the second category.

My talk was immediately followed by CSCT alumnus Adam Jackson who now has a post-doctoral position at UCL and gave a great talk on the computational design of a new transparent conducting oxide – another conference highlight for me. The chair closed the session by commenting how it was particularly nice to see some great talks from early-career researchers. It must be the rigorous CSCT training.

The conference concluded with a dinner at Anfield Stadium. Anyone who knows me will attest that I am not a huge fan of football (is it the one where millionaires shepherd a ball into an outside cupboard with their feet?) but it was a great venue nonetheless. A fantastic end to a fantastic conference. I’m looking forward to MC14 already.


Dan is currently working on his PhD project: 'High-throughput Computation of Materials and Interfaces’' with Professor Aron Walsh, Dr Duncan Allsopp and Dr Ben Morgan.

 

Home is Where Clean Water Flows

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

IWA Young Water Professional Benelux Conference, 5-7 July

Going back to the source

On the 5th of July I returned to the Bioscience Engineering department of the University of Ghent where I gained my Master’s degree in Bioscience Engineering nearly a year ago. The department was hosting the 5th IWA Young Water Professionals BeNeLux (Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg) conference. A total of 140 participants had the opportunity to listen to 73 presentations spread over 3 parallel sessions, take part in 2 of the 7 offered workshops and network over posters, coffee, and rooftop-grown, sustainable food from Ghent. Additionally, 4 social activities were offered which resulted in a total of 232 special Belgian beers consumed, responsible for 17 m3 of water usage according to the organising committee.

Queuing for sustainable rooftop-grown food

The first day started in the late afternoon with a welcome reception allowing participants to eat some traditional Belgian fries from a real “frietkot” and loosen up the conversation after a Belgian beer. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to see my old research group. I was brought up-to-date with the ongoing research, for instance how the results from my dissertation, for which I operated 2 bioreactors on a 5 litre scale, contributed to the start-up of a pilot scale 60 litre bioreactor (my undergrad research was actually useful!).

Getting back in touch

A typical Belgian mobile frietkot

“What do you mean I got accepted to give a presentation?!”

The second and third day were in full conference mode including inspiring presentations, workshops and a guided evening walk through Ghent followed by a classic YWParty. The presentation sessions allowed me to listen to talks about emerging micropollutants, which fits great with my MRes 2 topic. Other talks were about anaerobic microbial processes for the production of VFA and anaerobic digestion, a topic right up my alley!

Although I must admit I was a little nervous about those presentation sessions as I was one of the speakers. Giving a 15-minute presentation followed by 5 minutes of questions as a (not even) first year PhD student next to PhD candidates in their final year could have been overwhelming if it wasn’t for the supportive audience and relaxed atmosphere. I got some great feedback, tips/tricks and new research/presentation ideas (also a huge confidence boost). This is why I highly recommend others to participate in a YWP conference and take a chance at presenting!

Presenting my MRes1 project

Two other presentation sessions I attended (physicochemical water treatment and electrochemical treatment methods) were not linked to my own research yet I recognized topics studied by other CSCT students allowing me to gain a better insight in other water research fields.

Would you drink it?

Keynote and plenary speakers talked about the circular economy of water, how a change of perceptions requires speaking to peoples’ emotions, the typical issues encountered when scientists and lawyers meet and the synergy about fundamental and applied research. In terms of circular economy of water, let me introduce you the UGent’s “Sewer to Brewer” beer (brewed using recovered wastewater!).

From tidying data to saving Haiti

The two workshops I attended were very different but equally both inspiring. The first taught me all about tidy data, how publishing data is as valuable as publishing papers, the usefulness of Github and how scripting data can really make your life as a researcher easier as long as you do it wisely (For more info I recommend looking up “Good enough practices for Scientific Computing” by Greg Wilson, and checking out www.5stardata.info).

Tidying data in the workshop

The second workshop was given by Doctors Without Borders. I had no idea about the valuable work they do in the field of water, hygiene, and sanitation. They are always looking for engineers and scientists for projects regarding water supply, water treatment, vector control, waste management and much more. In a case study, we had to work in a team to supply drinking water in a Haitian city that was hit by 3 consecutive hurricanes under time pressure. This challenge only showed a glimpse of how ingenious and stress-resilient you would have to be to work during such tragic events on the field.

A very tiring yet fruitful set of days

In conclusion, I can say the conference was a great learning experience, providing me with loads of new ideas and useful tips. It was great strengthening old connections and meeting YWP working in the industry, doing a PhD or working as post-doc, which reminds me to go and invite/accept invitations on LinkdIn!

Group photo

European Materials Research Society Spring Meeting - Two years on!

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

The following blog is written by Suzy Wallace.


 

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the European Materials Research Society (E-MRS) Spring Meeting twice now during my PhD. The first time I presented at this meeting was during my first year (after completing our first MRes project) and the second time was between May 22 and 26 this year, which is the third year of my PhD. So, what’s changed between now and then besides the orientation of the sign?

Well it turns out that quite a lot has happened in my field of solar cell research, in terms of the understanding of solar cell materials I was already familiar with (and their current shortcomings preventing them from being on top of all our roofs already!) and new materials altogether that are emerging as contenders for new, efficient solar cell technologies. There was even a talk on using atomicly thin solar cells in outer space, beaming the electricity back to Earth via microwaves, which overcomes the issue of storing energy generated from sunlight when it’s dark on Earth. I assume the devices would be thin enough to be semi-transparent since I personally would feel a bit grumpy being in the shade for weeks or months if I lived directly below! The big plenary session in the middle of the conference highlighted various hot topics in the broader field of materials research including developing sensors for ‘electronic noses’ and thin layers of materials that are so sensitive to changes in humidity that they could potentially be used for ‘touchless’ as opposed to ‘touchscreen’ phones due to the humidity in our fingers. Some of the research into electronic noses is inspired by this guy below and his massive antennae:

 

So clearly the science has changed in two years, which isn’t altogether surprising given how rapidly changing a field science is in general; but what else has changed? The venue was different this year, with the conference being held in Strasbourg from now on (as opposed to Lille). Strasbourg was a lovely city, I’d go so far as to say unnecessarily pretty, it was showing off really. It’s also a nice city for a conference since it was pretty small so you could easily see most of it in a short space of time. The conference social was quite like the one in Lille, although this time the dancing also involved a giant horn, presumably this is something associated with Strasbourg but not Lille, unless it’s just another recent trend, like electronic noses?

 

Then I suppose the last thing to comment on that has changed between EMRS 2015 and 2017 is myself! I’m not shorter (despite appearances in the two photos with the EMRS signs), but I found the experience of the conference different this time around. Firstly, I felt less nervous presenting this time, as 2015 was the first time I’d presented at a conference. EMRS 2015 had been my favourite conference so far in terms of the scientific content and 2017 did not disappoint. However, I think what I gained from attending the various talks was different this time around. I found that a lot more of the concepts were more familiar, but the main difference I noticed (as someone whose research is based on a computer with simulations as opposed to in a lab), was that I felt a lot more familiar with presentations on various experimental studies this time around. I largely attribute this to the ‘wild card’ second MRes project you get to do during your first year (which I hadn’t done before I attended the EMRS in 2015), where I got to get some hands-on experimental experience and very much benefited from working with fellow CDT solar cell researchers Oli Weber, Mako Ng as well as Professors Mark Weller and Chris Bowen at the University of Bath. So, overall, I’d have to say attending the EMRS Spring Meeting again has left me feeling very grateful for the diverse experience I got during the first year of my PhD. At the time, I must admit I felt like a bit of a fish out of water in the labs, but I’m very glad for that experience now!


Suzy is working towards her PhD on 'Overcoming the efficiency bottleneck of metal sulfide solar cells' with Professor Aron Walsh, Professor Chris Bowen and Professor Mark Weller.

 

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.

frs2


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!

jamie-ipanema

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).

christ-the-reindeer
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.

jamie-sugarloaf-mountain

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!

 

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.

prague

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.

 

Green Chemistry conference in Venice

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📥  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.

 

Hybrid Organic Photovoltaics Conference, Swansea, 2016

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📥  Comment, Seminars & Conferences

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.

Dom and Oli in Swansea

Dom and Oli in Swansea

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.