Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

IUMRS-ICAM 2015 - Culture, Climbing and Conferences.

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

The following blog is contributed by Suzy Wallace from the 2014 Cohort.

On the 26th of October I presented my research on the potential earth abundant and non-toxic solar cell absorber material CZTS (Cu2ZnSnS4) at the IUMRS-ICAM 2015 conference for materials research on Jeju Island in South Korea. We attended three days of the conference where research was focused on a wide variety of different advanced, nanostructured and novel materials for various applications.

Wearable thermoelectric devices seemed to be quite a popular topic! A thermoelectric material is able to use a temperature difference to generate electricity, so the idea would be to use your own body heat to, for example, charge your phone! Research therefore was focused not only on making the devices more efficient and cheap but also to be flexible and durable. Conveniently, Jeju also happens to be a tourist hot-spot at the southernmost part of South Korea and a great place for hiking! So I managed to squeeze in a quick half day of hiking up Hallasan Mountain on our last day on the Island before we headed back to the mainland to visit universities in the capital city, Seoul.



What a city Seoul is! I could write a whole blog just on Seoul alone but I’ll try to refrain.

Whilst in Seoul we visited two research groups, that of Professor Aloysius Soon at Yonsei University and that of Professor William Jo at Ewha Women’s University. Professor Soon’s group are focusing on computational research on nanomaterials and Professor Jo’s group synthesise and characterise the solar cell materials that we model computationally in my research group. Both groups made us feel incredibly welcome and all the discussions provided lots of opportunities to ask questions both about the Science and Korean history and culture. I particularly liked when one of Professor Soon’s students (John) was explaining to me how to pronounce bibimbap (a very tasty Korean rice dish that can be served in a hot or cold pot bowl with all sorts of additions such as egg, vegetables, meat, seafood, kimchi and hot sauce), he told me to say the middle syllable as ‘bim like electron beam’.

I also thought that Professor Soon’s description of Seoul summed it up pretty well  – convenient. There’s so much to see and do and everything is easy to get to using the subway, the food was great and you could get food pretty much anywhere and anytime. The people were really friendly and there was a really interesting fusion of old and new with remainders of the old city walls (referred to as the gates) dotted around the city next to big sky scrapers (the Dongdaemun gate is shown in a photo below).

Another great aspect of Seoul for me was the close proximity of yet more mountains! So I was able to go to Bukhansan National Park for rock climbing at the weekend… and as it was Halloween some fancy dress was also involved. When I was out-and-about climbing and sightseeing at the weekend, I spoke to quite a few different people and was struck by just how interested people are in scientific research, especially when it relates to the environment. I chatted to some American tourists while I was looking for a particular tourist attraction in Seoul (Namsan Tower), and it turned out that they were members of an environmental organisation back in the states. Then, when I was out with the climbers and the topic of ‘what do you do’ came up in conversation, we got to have some really interesting discussions on the way up to our climbing route (and also whilst drinking some Korean beer and soju after!). I even heard about a new energy technology for the first time from a couple of the climbers – supercapacitors – so I scurried off to google them to learn more the next day!

So I’d say you learn a lot from listening to talks at conferences and engaging in discussions there as well as during university visits, but there’s also no need to limit yourself to only talking about Science there! Even during the 12 hour flight back from Seoul I had an interesting conversation whilst queuing for the loo with someone from IBM on how Watson (the question answering computer system designed to answer questions posed in natural language) could be really useful for helping scientists to keep up to date on rapidly developing areas of research (perovskite solar cells sprung to my mind immediately!).

It’s surprising just how many people are interested in scientific research and how much you can learn in rather unusual settings!


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

Trip to Russia: 7th European Congress on Catalysis

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

This post is contributed by Tamsin Bell who has now moved to continue her PhD at the University of Cambridge.

At the end of August 2015, I attended the 7th European congress on catalysis, Europacat in Kazan, Russia. The conference started with a very formal opening ceremony and two plenary lectures and concluded with a welcome reception where I was able to catch up with a collaborator from the University of Glasgow.

The session I spoke in was “Energy-related catalysis” but I also attended many interesting talks in the other four sections. The research I presented makes use of cobalt as a sustainable alternative to more expensive metals to catalyse ammonia decomposition for in situ production of hydrogen for use in a fuel cell. On the final day of the conference I gave my presentation in a 600 seater ball room. It was an amazing (and slightly terrifying) experience talking about my research to such a large and knowledgeable audience.

Tour of Kazan and Tami in St Petersburg

Tour of Kazan and Tami in St Petersburg

One evening there was an excursion to visit the historical, 1000 year old city of Kazan, which notably included a visit to the impressive Kazan Kremlin. The word Kremlin means "fortress" and there are only four remaining in Russia. At the end of the week, there was a conference banquet with performances from local Russian dancers and we were able to try some Russian vodka, after which many of the academics and delegates were also showing off their dancing skills.

I had a fantastic week in Russia, I met lots of interesting people, I learnt how to say thank you in Russian, Спасибо, which is pronounced "spa-see-ba", I bought a Russian fur hat and I got lots of ideas for my research. I was even lucky enough to visit the beautiful cities of Moscow and St Petersburg on the way back home.

Sightseeing in Moscow

Sightseeing in Moscow

I am very grateful to the conference organisers for accepting me to present my work and for the travel funding I received from the Royal Society of Chemistry, Santander and the Armours & Brasiers.


Small Molecule NMR – a SMASHing time

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

The following blog comes from Andrew Hall, who between the 20th-24th September, attended the Small Molecule NMR Conference within the beautiful setting of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy.

SMASH NMR is not something you do when your Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometer is playing up and you’ve had enough, but is in fact the international NMR conference dedicated to the study of small molecules. This year one of the underlying themes was the use of NMR for reaction monitoring to enable the study of how chemicals change during the course of a reaction.

As my first international conference, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, particularly since this is a field that I am relatively new to. I quickly realised that the field of NMR spectroscopy extends far beyond the conventional image of the synthetic chemist scraping their meagre offering of prized compound into a glass tube and carefully dissolving in deuterated solvent that I was used to from previous encounters with NMR.

Talks at the conference ranged from highly sophisticated, multi-dimensional studies of complex mixtures of chemicals, performed using very large magnetic fields, all the way down to cutting edge, lab-on-a-chip NMR technologies. I found these new developments in miniaturisation particularly interesting, with the potential to shrink machines the size of a room down to an instrument that can fit onto a lab bench, or even be inserted into chemical reactors or oil wells to carry out in situ analysis.

Andy + poster

Andy in situ with his poster.

With reaction monitoring as one of the key themes in the conference, as well as a focus of my own research, it was very interesting to see how different groups had approached the problem of studying samples which are continually changing. In particular I found it very interesting to hear about how different methods could be combined to give information that is not possible using any one technique alone.

Aside from the structured talks and workshops, I found that I learnt a lot simply by talking to other attendees at the conference, both at the poster sessions and informally during breaks. In particular I found it very interesting to talk to some of the other students present at the conference, and to discuss how the field is developing with the shrinking size of instruments and the introduction of new methods for reaction monitoring.

Overall I enjoyed the conference greatly and feel I learnt a lot - it has given me lots of ideas for new techniques to try in my research. I was also able to make lots of useful contacts and had many interesting discussions with other attendees - in many ways these conversations were at least as important to in furthering my understanding of the subject as the talks themselves.

And the venue? The banks of the beautiful Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy; because NMR spectroscopy is all about the relaxation!


The beautiful Lake Maggiore.

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.


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

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

This post is contributed by Joe Donnelly.

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

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

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

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

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

We're 6 years old!

📥  Comment

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.


Euromembrane 2015, Germany

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

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

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

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

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

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


CO2 Utilisation Faraday Discussion

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📥  Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

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

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

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

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


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

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

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