Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Tagged: Polymers

Working towards Food Security with Syngenta

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📥  Internships & visits

This post was contributed by George Gregory.

gregory_syngenta01Keen to gain industrial experience, I spent three months at Syngenta in Jeolotts Hill, Bracknell. Seeds such as corn and soya are coated with active ingredients (AIs) namely pesticides and herbicides to ensure a good crop yield. To reduce “rub-off” of the coating and the generation of dust, which is hazardous to farmers, polymers play an important role in binding AIs to the seed surface.

gregory_syngenta02Working within the formulation technologies team, I undertook a systematic investigation using a Design of Experiments (DoE) approach to investigate how typical polymer properties impact on the coating quality. Amongst many other techniques, a neat image analysis tool was used to quantify the seed coverage.

In total, I was involved in four different projects gaining experience with a range of innovative technologies and coated over 75 kg of seeds bright red (as well as my lab coat) - a dye used in the coating formulation to indicate the AIs present. Working towards the common goal of food security, the theme underpinning everything I observed seemed to be a strong collaboration between people of different expertise (someone had PhD in nozzles!).

George is in her final year in the CSCT 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.


Plastics from corn

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📥  Comment, Events

Our third year CSCT student, Paul McKeown took part in the Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition held at University of Bath. The competition challenges doctoral candidates to present a compelling spoken presentation on their research topic and its significance to a non-specialist audience in just three minutes." Here is how Paul presented his thesis titled 'Sustainable Polymers in Supercritical CO2'.

Plastics are mainly derived from petrochemicals which are unfortunately dwindling, which is an issue as these materials have desirable properties such as flexibility and light weight applications.

A further drawback is the persistence of such materials in the environment; we’ve all seen plastic shopping bags hanging around for what could be forever.

Plastics from corn is an interesting alternative. Corn is an annually renewable feedstock, and lactic acid based materials derived from it are relatively easier to break down at the end of life and are suitable for use in the body – a lot like a skittle!

McKeown 3MT presentation

There are two forms we can get from corn, green and yellow, say.

Now, we can imagine combining these two forms in various ways. We can get a jumbled up random mixture or we can aim for a nice alignment of colour. The difference between these is having a plastic cup that can hold hot water and on the left are that will melt in your hands.

I am interested in the scenario on the right. The difficulty is persuading the skittles to line up like this at a molecular level. To achieve this I use metals. Ideally, we’d like this to be fast and we like to work at high temperature to avoid using a liquid to dissolve our skittles and metal which can lead to the arrangement of chains getting hot and flustered no mistakes are to be expected.

To summarise therefore, I indirectly match skittles by colours at a molecular level for my PhD.

Watch Paul's presentation on YouTube

Paul is working towards his PhD in the CSCT and is supervised by Professor Matthew Davidson, Dr Matthew Jones and Dr Uli Hintermair at University of Bath and Professor Steve Howdle at University of Nottingham.


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!