Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Teaching and learning experience at Yonsei University

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📥  Internships & visits

The following blog is contributed by Dan Davies of the '14 cohort.


At Easter time this year, in order to finally break out of the annual habit of stuffing my face with inadvisably large quantities of chocolate, I travelled to Seoul in Korea where Easter is altogether less of a big deal. I was kept on the straight and narrow as far as this goal was concerned by my supervisor, Aron, and a PDRA from the group, Jonathan, who also came along. As well as this purpose, there was of course other academic motivation for the trip.

Firstly, Aron was giving an intensive 12-lecture series to Masters students on materials for solar energy at Yonsei University and Jonathan and I delivered a lecture and practical workshop each on using the programming language Python as part of this course. I have always had a great deal of respect for lecturers and educators in general, but this respect increased enormously after going through the time-intensive and energy-zapping process of preparing and delivering just one (albeit quite long) lecture and one workshop. It was certainly a really valuable exercise for me from a skills perspective and I was really pleased with how it went. I think this was helped to some extent by how motivated and diligent the students were though- outstanding attitudes to learning all round!

Dan + Class

Class photo at Yonsei University

Secondly, a small workshop had been organised by Professor Seungwu Han at Seoul National University (SNU) on Electronic Structure of Materials. This was a fantastic opportunity for the three of us to present some of our work in a fairly relaxed setting. Having said that, it is slightly daunting when the person speaking after you is an associate dean at Korea’s largest public university. SNU is a seriously large university too- with over 200 buildings, if you get the bus there and get off at the wrong stop, you could be in for a trek across the mountain that would put you in mind of the final scenes of the film ‘Touching the Void’.

Dan + Workshop

Workshop on electronic structure of materials: L-R: Minseok Choi (Inha University), Seungwu Han (SNU), Jaejun Yu (SNU), Aron Walsh, Jonathan Skelton, Dan Davies

Lastly, my international supervisor is Professor Aloysius Soon from Yonsei University so I was also able to meet him in person and fill him in on what I’d been up to so far as well as have some exciting discussions about the direction of my project. The only evidence I have for this last meeting is a photo of Aolysius, some of his group members and I, eating some incredible pizza. This is a remarkably unflattering photo, so instead I’ll leave you with a picture of a lovely fountain-mountain combo on the Yonsei University campus.

Yonsei

 

As well as the above activities, we were able to explore many of the other delights that Seoul had to offer, including an excellent café culture with the best coffee I have ever tasted; some of the most unusual but delicious food I have ever come across; what must be the cheapest, most efficient and easy to use subway system on the planet and truly flabbergasting views of the city from the top of Namsan tower. Seoul, I will be back!


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.

 

CSCT team wins 'Engineering YES' Bristol Heat

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📥  Events, Prizes & awards

This post was contributed by James Coombs OBrien.


“Explain it to me like I’m a clever 12-year-old” was blurted at me as I tried to explain my PhD, and potential business, to a straight faced venture capitalist. “Quite frankly I couldn’t give a monkeys about the technology, sell me the benefits!” he exclaimed during my second attempt. Selling benefits over features was the first of many things I learnt during the Engineering YES 2016 Bristol Heats.

Engineering YES is a competitive three-day course directed at researchers. It aims to help bridge the gap between academic research and a viable business, a journey often christened “the valley of death”.

Our company, Calcaneus (named after the strongest bone in the body…..probably), aimed to solve the worlds persistent microbead issues with the use of biodegradable cellulose beads made via a unique technology.

“Explain it to me like I’m a clever 12-year-old”

“Explain it to me like I’m a clever 12-year-old”

For us, and probably most other researchers from the CSCT, it is easy to sell an idea to someone on sustainability grounds, “this process is more sustainable therefore give us money”. However, we quickly learnt that at best this is the third thing a potential investor is looking for after “how much money will I make and how quickly” and “who are the people I’m investing in”.

Team Calcaneus - From left to right – James Coombs OBrien (Founder and Chief scientist), Tristan Smith (Marketing Director), Kasia Smug (Finance Director) and Jon Chouler (Managing Director).

Team Calcaneus - From left to right – James Coombs OBrien (Founder and Chief scientist), Tristan Smith (Marketing Director), Kasia Smug (Finance Director) and Jon Chouler (Managing Director).

The event was composed of a mixture of seminars, professional networking sessions and one to one mentoring on every aspect business from financial planning to marketing and, crucially for us, intellectual property (IP). The mentoring session were by far the greatest help to our business leading to its development from a manufacturing company to one which, through clever use of IP, licensed out its technology to larger companies. This development required a lot of hard work and many a late night.

11:15 pm is spreadsheet time

11:15 pm is spreadsheet time

However, it all paid off! I’m happy to report that we, Calcaneus, won both the judges and peer review prizes (voted for by the other contestants). It’s a shame that no one told Tristan (see below).

We only went and won the heats!

We only went and won the heats!

The whole experience was eye opening. You quickly get used to the way business minded people think and talk, which is very different from a scientist. For me, a chemist by background, working at the interface of chemistry and chemical engineering who has had no exposure to how a business works, this was an intense and thought provoking experience.

That leaves me to thank all the organisers and mentors that help during the Engineering YES 2016 Bristol heat, in particular Kate Beresford, John Boyes and David Scott. I’d also like to thank the CSCT for funding myself and my team mates to attend this fantastic course. Anyway, back to some more spread sheets for the final in Birmingham, watch this space.

See more info about engineering YES.

Durham Rietveld Refinement & Powder Diffraction School 2016

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📥  Internships & visits

This post was contributed by Oli Weber


This week I left the relatively safe confines of Bath behind to traverse the country diagonally up to Durham, a well-travelled route since Medieval times, when pilgrims would visit the shrine of St. Cuthbert hoping to find cures for gout, leprosy or demonic possession. My purpose was to attend the biennial powder diffraction school held at the University of Durham, along with scientists and engineers from all over the world.

Crystallography, the study of atomic structure using diffracted waves of X-rays, neutrons or electrons, underpins a vast amount of science and technology, including my own research into solar cell materials. Collection and analysis of the data can be far from straightforward, and we took part in a series of lectures, tutorials and computer workshops designed to help us grapple with problems from the routine to the diabolical.

The sights of Durham - somewhere in the fog there’s a cathedral.

The sights of Durham - somewhere in the fog there’s a cathedral.

The opportunity to travel to absorb new ideas and meet new people with shared research interests is without doubt one of the best parts of life in the CSCT. The evenings after the formal course were packed with social events centred on Grey College bar, or a treasure hunt around the city with crystallographically themed cryptic clues.

All in all, this was an excellent course for reinforcing theory and technical knowledge in structure refinement techniques. I’d like to thank the course organisers, particularly Professor John and Dr Ivana Evans, as well as the CSCT for funding my participation.


Oli is in his third year of the CSCT, studying towards his PhD on "Optimizing energy harvesting processes in metal halide photovoltaics" with Professor Mark Weller and Professor Chris Bowen.

 

 

 

Science by the Sea: APS Meeting 2016 and Visiting Duke University

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📥  Internships & visits, Seminars & Conferences

The following blog is written by Suzy Wallace.


This year the American Physical Society (APS) March Meeting was held in Baltimore, Maryland, USA from the 14th to 18th of March. I was fortunate enough to attend a tutorial day before the conference and to present my research on the potential new solar absorber material for solar cells, CZTS (Copper zinc tin sulphide).

This particular conference is amongst the largest physics conferences held each year with almost 10,000 attendees and around 50 or 60 symposia occurring at any given time with most talks only lasting ten minutes– so there was always potentially a lot to learn and you certainly were not short of things to do! The conference organisers even design a phone app for the conference to help you keep track of your schedule so that you don’t miss anything!  In addition to that there were a number of other events going on during the conference (such as the ‘rock n roll physics sing-a-long’ one evening) and also a lunch time special where you sign up to have a packed lunch with an expert in a particular field and a small number of other interested students. This was a great opportunity to discuss and get some advice on your research and career. It was also a great opportunity to ask questions to further your own understanding without having the slightly daunting situation of asking a potentially silly question in front of a very big audience!

suzy.3

Baltimore was certainly an interesting city with lots of character to it! There seemed to be an interesting mixture of very artsy places and then much more urban areas. Then of course the harbour was beautiful and the seafood there was very good. I tried oysters for the first time there, conveniently during ‘oyster happy hour’ when they were $1 each!

After the conference in Baltimore I hopped over a state to head to Duke University in North Carolina to spend two weeks starting a new project with my international supervisor, Dr Volker Blum from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and his group, the "Ab initio materials simulations" group. The students and postdoctoral researchers in the group develop an atomistic simulation code (FHI-aims), which can be used to predict the properties of materials for various applications. In my case, it is the properties of a material that could indicate the potential to make a good solar cell that I’m looking for. Interacting with people who develop the methods you use is such a great learning experience, it also happened that there were a number of interesting guest speakers visiting the university while I was there so I got to attend even more talks!

As well as discussing simulating materials on computers, we also visited the Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina at the weekend as a research group. This was such a beautiful coastal area with some amazing sand dunes, lots of light houses and this was also where the Wright brother’s first flight in a controlled, powered vehicle took place (presumably due to the soft landing space provided by the sand dunes!). There was certainly a lot to see at the Outer Banks for such a small strip of land and of course where better to discuss calculating a material’s properties using the many-electron wavefunction than at the beach after all!

suzy.4

Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA (left) and the Outer Banks, North Carolina, USA (centre and right, although it wasn’t quite as sunny for us as it is in the far right photo!).

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.

 

A Chemical Engineer on a Project Management internship at Wessex Water

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📥  Internships & visits

PhD student, Jon Chouler, went on a three-month internship with Wessex Water in Bath. We asked him how he got on.


First of all, how did you find this internship?
One word: Persistence! In the process of finding a placement, I made sure to leave no stone unturned and everyone that I knew for advice and leads. For example, asking my supervisors, colleagues, and approaching individuals at events and meetings I attended. In the end, my co-supervisor suggested I contact an individual at Wessex Water regarding a project they were soon to be starting. One email, one meeting and two weeks later I was on placement!

What was your role?
My job was essentially project management. Wessex Water, along with some other key partners, wanted to run a project looking to deliver green and social prescriptions in order to reduce pharmaceutical use and their eventual presence in wastewater. My role was to take this project from an idea into a coherent project plan with an anticipated budget, and present this to all key stakeholders in this project. This involved collaborating and communicating between a wide range of groups including health professionals, nature trusts, university researchers and more.

What did a typical day look like?
Typical day? There was no such thing! Every day brought new challenges, new developments and new tasks. Working between so many different groups and people meant that every day was massively varied: one day I would have to understand sewage networks and flows (involving lifting manholes), the next I would be visiting providers of green prescription activities, and the day after talking to professionals at a local GP practice.

So what's next for the project and Wessex Water?
It's great to say that Wessex Water and other organisations warmed well to the project and details within, and it was subsequently presented to their board of directors and approved for funding to go ahead for the next 4 years!

How will this benefit your future?
The internship was a great chance to build upon essential skills that I will need for my future career in Chemical Engineering: collaboration, time management, budgeting, communication and project management.

It was also a great experience in terms of refining the kinds of jobs that I would like in the future. To be more specific, the internship made me realise that I would like to pursue jobs that bring big benefits to society and the environment at the same time.

What would be your one tip to someone who's thinking of an internship?
Enjoy it! It’s a chance to do something completely different and fully immerse yourself in it. Bring the enthusiasm and energy that a company looks for, and you can not only get a lot done (and feel really proud of yourself), but also create some incredibly useful connections and job prospects afterwards!


Jon is in his third year of PhD in the CSCT and is working with Dr Mirella di Lorenzo, Dr Petra Cameron and Dr Barbara Kasprzyk-Horden. See more information about Jon's research group.

Presenting my research at the Organoboron Chemistry session at Pacifichem in Hawaii

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

This post is contributed by Emma Lampard.


In December I was lucky enough to travel to the Hawaiian island of O’ahu to present my work at Pacifichem 2015, a large international conference held in Honolulu every five years. Approximately 15,000 chemists attended the conference, including myself and fellow CSCT students Rob Chapman (read his blog), Bill Cunningham and Caroline Jones (read her blog). The technical program contained contributions from 71 countries, emphasizing the collaborative nature of chemistry as a multidisciplinary science. More than 17,000 papers were presented in either oral or poster formats, in 334 symposia focusing on 11 different topical areas of chemistry.

Presenting my work in the Organoboron Chemistry session

Presenting my work in the Organoboron Chemistry session

I presented my research in the Organoboron Chemistry: Applications in Organic Synthesis, Biology and Materials session. My research focuses on the synthesis and use of benzoxaboroles for membrane separation. Benzoxaboroles are compounds of increasing interest due to their diverse range of potential applications. My project focuses on the synthesis of benzoxaborole monomers, which can then be incorporated into polymer membrane systems. Benzoxaboroles have been shown to have high affinity for both diols and fluoride, so the polymers produced will be screened for their ability to selectively extract catechol natural products from aqueous extracts of waste grape biomass and also their ability to remove fluoride from water.

My project aims to alleviate the adverse environmental impact of the wine industry by providing new routes to convert the waste biomass into economically viable chemical product streams and provide a cheap and simple method for the detection and removal of fluoride from drinking water. It was a fantastic experience to give an oral presentation of my work in front of many world-class researchers working in the field of organoboron chemistry. Although I was one of only very few students to present as a part of this session, my talk was very well received. I gained a lot from the experience and will definitely feel a lot more confident delivering presentations in the future.

Other talks of interest in my session included a presentation by Dennis Hall on boronic acid catalysis for the direct activation of alcohols in Friedel-Crafts alkylations using a new ferrocenium boronic acid salt catalyst, yielding only water as a byproduct and avoiding the use of other activating groups, making the reactions much greener compared to traditional methods. Also of note was Michinori Suginome who spoke about masked boronyl groups as directing groups for transition metal-catalyzed C-H functionalization.

Whilst in Hawaii we managed to spend a few days exploring the island on either side of the conference. Highlights included a hike up the Diamond Head crater, a visit to Pearl Harbour and snorkelling with Hawaiian green sea turtles. I am very grateful to the conference organisers for accepting me to present my work and for the funding from the CSCT and the RSC Organic Division Travel Grant Scheme which allowed me to attend this conference.

Sunset over Waikiki Beach

Sunset over Waikiki Beach

Emma is working towards her PhD on "Benzoxaboroles for Membrane Separation" with Professor Tony James, Dr Darrell Patterson and Dr Steven Bull.

 

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.