Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

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Tagged: Materials chemistry

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.


European Materials Research Society 2015 Spring Meeting

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

Three CSCT students, Adam Jackson, Suzy Wallace and Oliver Weber, attended and gave talks at the 2015 European Energy Materials Research Society (E-MRS) Spring Meeting. Suzy writes about her experience:

CSCT student Suzy Wallace (left) and University of Bath student Ruoxi Yang (right) at the conference venue.

CSCT student Suzy Wallace (left) and University of Bath student Ruoxi Yang (right) at the conference venue.

The conference was held in Lille (France) from 11 - 15 May. The meeting included international workshops such as the UK-Korea workshop and 32 parallel symposia on key topics for the synthesis and characterisation of nanostructured, functional and advanced materials for energy applications, such as water treatment and splitting, photovoltaic and nuclear power generation. There was a particularly strong presence from the University of Bath at the conference in symposium D (Earth abundant and emerging solar energy conversion materials) with three talks from CSCT students, another from a PhD student at Bath (Ruoxi Yang) and an invited talk from Professor Aron Walsh from the CSCT.

I was fortunate enough to be speaking on the first day of the conference so was able to get my nerves out of the way nice and early! It was incredibly motivating to hear so many talks about the particular earth-abundant PV material I’ve just begun to study this year for my MRes project by academics from various other institutions all over Europe. Discussions with other researchers in the field after giving my talk were also great for sparking new ideas for further studies. Hearing fellow students from Bath talk about their work on different materials was also very interesting. My personal favourite nugget of knowledge here was that the Chinese translation of 'antimony' (Sb), from the PV material Ruoxi’s been studying (antimony sulphide), is 'idiot'. As well as gaining knowledge on my specific area of research during the conference, I was also introduced to some other seemingly weird and wonderful areas of research, such as studies involving skyrmions. Although they sound like evil alien invaders, it turned out that skyrmions are quasi-particles that are important in devices made from nanoscale magnetic materials.

There were poster sessions for each symposium most evenings apart from Wednesday evening. I particularly enjoyed the poster sessions (in addition to the wine, cheese, bread and various other very French treats); the sessions were a great opportunity to ask all the questions you’d rather not ask in front of a room full of people during the talk sessions. In my case, as a theorist, I seize the opportunity to badger experimental scientists to get a better understanding of their techniques. Wednesday evening was the big event with the plenary session followed by dancing. The plenary session was attended by everyone at the conference with invited talks from four academics including Professor Aron Walsh from the CSCT who spoke to the huge audience about the hot topic in the PV world - perovskites - with his talk entitled ‘Why hybrid halide perovskites keep me awake at night’ and received the EU-40 Materials Prize in recognition of outstanding contributions to materials research by a scientist under 40 years of age. This was definitely a very proud moment for the whole research group with Aron on the big stage!

Suzy is in her first year of the CSCT, working on Metastability and Octahedral Tilting in Halide Perovskites with Professor Chris Bowen and Professor Aron Walsh


Birthday talk on solid-state materials in New Zealand

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📥  Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

Our third year CSCT student, Jessica Bristow gave a talk on her research at a conference in New Zealand where she also won a $200 Amazon voucher as a prize. Here is how she got on.

Advanced materials and nanotechnology 7 was a conference held in Nelson, New Zealand from 8 to 12 February 2015. The conference was by far the most enjoyable I have ever attended, not least due to the picturesque location but also the high quality of the talks and poster sessions.

The most memorable day was my birthday, this just happened to fall on the same day as my talk within the solid-state materials session and conference dinner. My talk was 20 minutes long and summarised the progress of my PhD to date. The room was full and the talk was well received – the motivation to do well was strong as Professor Jeff Long, who was chairing the session, had a water pistol that would be used if a talk went over time! The end of the sessions that day meant there was just enough time to enjoy the beach before attending the conference dinner.

There was also an award session at the conference for student talks where I won a $200 Amazon voucher!

Jess and other prize winners at the conference.

Jess (first left) and other prize winners at the conference.

The conference offered a broad range of research areas including traditional binary materials to more recent hybrid perovskites, biological systems, magnetic materials and applications for recent material developments.

In summary, I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to attend AMN-7 and will always look back with fond life changing memories and thank the organizers for the opportunity.

Jess is in cohort '12 of the CSCT and is currently working on her PhD project with Prof Aron Walsh (Chemistry) and Dr Valeska Ting (Chem. Eng.).


Conference Report: ISACS13

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

On 1–4 July 2014, CSCT student Sarah Kirk presented her research in Dublin at the 13th International Symposium for Advancing the Chemical Sciences (ISACS), a conference series run by the RSC.  This is her report. Sarah is in her  third year of the DTC, and her research involves polymers and copolymers for tissue engineering applications, supervised by Dr Matthew Jones and Dr Marianne Ellis.

In July I travelled to Dublin for ISACS13. The theme for this conference was ‘Challenges in Inorganic and Materials Chemistry’. Over three days I heard talks from distinguished international speakers, covering a whole manner of topics from ligation of radiometals to crystal engineering.


In the opening talk, Susumu Kitagawa informed us that metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) can be used as interpenetrated cages that can ‘open’ or ‘close’ to allow gas absorption. Another fascinating MOF talk by Mircea Dinca introduced their conductive properties and applications. A series of talks of the application of inorganic and materials chemistry to biomedical purposes included Stephen Mann, who showed us how he could chemically mimic a cell growing and dividing using capsules in oil.

At this conference I presented a poster on ‘Novel Schiff-base Aluminium Complexes for the Production of Polylactide’. This poster session was certainly busy! When not talking about my research, I had to opportunity to discuss a variety of topics with other researchers, including other chemists working with polylactide.

I had the pleasure of staying at the Dublin Trinity College which is a beautiful campus, spacious and green yet located right in the middle of the city. And naturally, I took some time to visit the Guinness and Jameson factories, although my ability to consume the produce was spoiled by illness!


Conference report: Materials Research Society Spring Meeting 2014

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

On 21-25th April 2014, DTC student David Miles presented his research at the Materials Research Society (MRS) Spring Meeting held in San Francisco, USA. Attendance of the conference was funded in part due to a successful £750 grant application to the Royal Society of Chemistry. This is his report.

Once a year researchers from across the world descend on San Francisco to hear the latest results in the field of materials science and technology. The MRS Spring Meeting is comprised of 57 parallel symposia over 5 days, covering a huge range of materials research from battery technology to biomaterials. With around 6,000 attendees the conference was an exciting place to share my latest research results as well as see some of the leading academics in my research field.

My oral presentation, titled “Dye-sensitized solar cells using anodized ZnO nanowires”, was presented within the Inorganic and Organic Materials for Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells symposium and was well received by the audience. In addition to hearing about the latest research in the field of solar energy I managed to attend talks on new energy storage technologies and on everyone’s favourite nanomaterial, graphene.

Overall, the conference was a great experience and I came away from it with new research ideas and new connections from institutions around the world. Thanks must be given to the Royal Society of Chemistry Materials Division who generously provided me with a £750 international travel grant to attend this conference.

David is in the second year of his PhD, supervised by Dr Davide Mattia (Chemical Engineering) & Dr Petra Cameron (Chemistry).


Conference report: Materials Research Society Fall Meeting 2013

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

On 1–6 December 2013, DTC student Lee Burton attended the Materials Research Society fall meeting in Boston, USA. He describes the experience for us in this blog post.

As a PhD student I was honoured to be chosen to speak at the largest materials research conference of the calendar year in Boston, USA.

Boston at nightThe fall meeting of the Materials Research Society (MRS) brings together academics from all parts of the world each year. The huge scope of the conference was reflected in the 52 different sessions running simultaneously over a period of 5 days. The conference had an exciting dynamic brought about by countless fields of individual research that are still united by core expertise… if you couldn’t find a way to solve a problem at this meeting, it probably couldn’t be solved! Not only that but with days full of cutting-edge science and evenings packed with charged debate, it would be impossible to leave without some new ideas for future work.

My talk was on work regarding new materials for solar energy applications and is summarised as part of the meeting's blog under the section of ‘Technical Sessions’. I spoke alongside existing collaborators and was even able to pick up a few more along the way, strengthening ties between the CSCT and research centres overseas.

Lee is in the final year of his PhD, supervised by Professor Aron Walsh, Chair of Materials Theory in the Department of Chemistry and co-supervised by Professor Keiran Molloy (Chemistry) and Professor Chris Bowen (Mechanical Engineering).

Several researchers from the CSCT, including a number of DTC students, will be attending the MRS Spring Meeting 2014, which runs next week on the 21–25 April.

Conference report: 11th International Conference on Materials Chemistry

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

University of Warwick

University of Warwick

MC11 (the 11th International Conference on Materials Chemistry) was held by the Royal Society of Chemistry at the University of Warwick from July 8-11th. Given a reasonably local and affordable opportunity to attend a fully-fledged international conference, four DTC students with an interest in materials went to Coventry.

This post was contributed by second-year research student Adam Jackson.

Eight plenary talks across the four days did well to bring people together, but the star power was really unloaded on the first day, with two Nobel laureates (Dan Schechtman and Sir Harry Kroto). While there was a little indulgence in past success, most of the conference focused on developing technologies: new porous materials, molecular-scale devices and thin functional films.

I noticed a widespread drive to eliminate Indium Tin Oxide (ITO), a transparent conductor widely used in electronics and photovoltaics. This is largely on sustainability grounds, and supply shortages are expected in the near future. My engineering interest was also somewhat satisfied to see considerable interest in fabrication technologies. My colleagues had their own highlights:

I enjoyed Andy Cooper's lecture on covalent organic frameworks (COFs) and how to predict their properties. This in my opinion was the best talk; it was realistic in understanding the barriers and complications with the material, but also an informative presentation on the potential they have to be useful future materials.
— Jess Bristow, 1st-year DTC student

The most interesting talk from my perspective was a keynote lecture from Dr. Thomas E Albrecht-Schmitt from Florida State University. He presented remarkable work on several unstable elements of the actinide series of the periodic table. Not only did his research reveal 'unusual structures and unprecedented properties' but his observations will better allow for the safe storage of vitrified nuclear waste deep underground.
— Lee Burton, 3rd-year DTC student

I personally think the Harold Kroto lecture was the highlight for me; as my work involves fullerenes, it was really interesting to see the history and to hear the story of them in space. [After a period of skepticism, there is now strong evidence for the existence of fullerenes in interstellar clouds]. Added to that, I met some great people at Warwick and am now looking to extend this into a short collaboration with a group at the University of Warwick.
— Ben Hodges, 3rd-year DTC student

The University of Warwick's conference facilities were outstanding, with the four parallel sessions all held within a pleasant Arts Centre. Many productive discussions were also to be found in the campus's excellent tea shop.