Since the start of 2020 the world has been a different place. During March the UK Government instigated a lock down, with those who could required to work from home, this included scientists. Completing my PhD studying insect olfaction during a global pandemic was not something I expected, but how did I spend my days?
As a scientist I spend a portion, if not the majority of my time in a lab doing experiments. Pausing this work created several challenges, and as a final year student induced a serious amount of panic! To adapt, I focused more on computational experiments and extensive data analysis. Thankfully, I had some small computational projects already, which could be extended and explored further. This also included attending online courses and webinars to develop new skills – I really enjoyed SCI’s webinar series on computational chemistry and found it useful when completing my protein docking experiments!
Writing, Writing, Writing
As a final year PhD student, there was one task at the beginning of this year that was high on the agenda – writing my thesis. Many past PhD students will tell horror stories about how they were rushing to finish lab work and writing up in a mad dash at the end. Being forced to give up lab work, and having no social activities, meant a lot more focus was put on writing during this time. Personally, I have been privileged to be in a house with other final year PhD students, creating a distraction free zone, and managed to crack down on thesis writing!
Despite in-person events, including many large international conferences, being cancelled, many organisers were quick to move meetings online. This made so many events more accessible. Though I am sad to have missed out on a trip to San Francisco, during lockdown I have attended numerous webinars, online seminars, two international conferences and even given outreach talks to the public and school children.
Getting back to ‘normal’
It is safe to say the world, and the way science works, is never going to be the same. But scientists are slowly migrating back to the lab, adorned with a new item of PPE. On top of our lab coats, goggles and gloves we can add…a mask. Despite the stressful time, I managed to get my thesis finished handing it in with a lot more computational work included than I had initially planned!
All Images: Andrew Lunn/SCI
On 19 March 2019, SCI hosted the second annual final of the Bright SCIdea Challenge, bringing together some of the brightest business minds of the future to pitch their science-based innovation to a panel of expert judges and a captivated audience.
As an opportunity to support UK/ROI students interested in commercialising their ideas and developing their business skills, the final included talks and training from our judges and networking with industry professionals.
The day started with a poster session and networking, including posters from teams Glubiotech, Online Analytics, HappiAppi and NovaCAT.
Training sessions came next, with Neil Wakemen from Alderley Park Accelerator speaking first on launching a successful science start-up.
Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne from Genius Foods spoke next on her personal business story, going from the kitchen to lab to supermarket shelves.
Participants could catch a glimpse of the trophies before giving their pitches.
The first team to pitch were Team Seta from UCL, with their idea for a high-throughput synthetic biology approach for biomaterials.
Team Plastech Innovation from Durham University presented their sustainable plastic-based concrete.
Closing the first session, Team DayDreamers. pitched their AI-driven mental wellness app.
The break was filled with networking between delegates and industry professionals.
Opening the second session, Team BRISL Antimicrobials, from UCL, showcased their innovative light-activated antimicrobial bristles that could be used in toothbrushes.
The final pitch of the day was from Team OxiGen, from the University of St Andrews, presenting their designer cell line for optimised protein expression.
After asking lots of questions during each pitch, the judges were left with the difficult task of deciding a winner.
Team HappiAppi, from Durham University, were voted the best poster by the audience!
The second runner-up was Team Seta!
The first runner-up was Team BRISL Antimicrobials!
Congratulations to the winners Team Plastech Innovation!! They win £5000 towards their idea.
We would like to thank our participating teams, sponsors (INEOS and Synthomer), guest speakers and judges (Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, Robin Harrison, Inna Baigozina-Goreli, Ian Howell & Dave Freeman).
All images: Andrew Lunn/SCI
The event, organised by SCI’s Young Chemists Panel and Fine Chemicals Group, alongside RSC’s Heterocycle and Synthesis Group and Organic Division Council, saw 11 teams from across academia and industry to showcase their synthetic prowess.
At the event, the teams presented their synthetic routes for the novel sulfonated alkaloid Aconicarmisulfonine A. After their presentations, teams were questioned by the judges and audience on their synthetic route selections.
Scroll down to experience the day…
Chair of the Retrosynthesis Competition Organising Committee, Jason Camp, opens proceedings.
Live and Let Diene from Concept Life Sciences kick off the day’s pitches.
The Tryptophantastic Four from the University of Bristol followed.
Total Synthesisers from the University of Manchester deliver their synthesis model to a packed audience.
The Bloomsbury Group from the University of Manchester close the first session of the day.
During breaks, the competitors networked with senior scientists and our company exhibitors.
SygTeamTwo from Sygnature Discovery take to the podium.
The judges seem impressed with this year’s teams as Shawshank Reduction from the University of Oxford pitch next.
Next up is In Tsuji We Trost from Evotec.
Totally Disconnected from the University of Strathclyde close the second session.
The competition gets more competitive and popular each year! SCI and RSC members discuss the teams so far.
Hold Me Closer Vinyl Dancer from the University of Cambridge are up.
Flower Power from Syngenta give an intriguing talk.
The second University of Oxford Team, Reflux and Chill?, finish the day’s impressive set of pitches.
Audience members then casted their votes for the Audience Vote winner…
…which went to In Tsuji We Trost!
Our 3rd place finalists were SygTeamTwo…
Oxford team Shawshank Reduction took 2nd place…
Congratulations to 2019 winners, Flower Power!
Determining the efficacy of organic solar cell mixtures is a time-consuming and tired practice, relying on post-manufacturing analysis to find the most effective combination of materials.
Now, an international group of researchers – from North Carolina State University in the US and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology – have developed a new quantitative approach that can identify effective mixtures quickly and before the cell goes through production.
Development of a thin-film solar cell. Image: science photo/Shutterstock
By using the solubility limit of a system as a parameter, the group looked to find the processing temperature providing the optimum performance and largest processing window for the system, said Harald Ade, co-corresponding author and Professor of Physics at NC State.
‘Forces between molecules within a solar cell’s layers govern how much they will mix – if they are very interactive they will mix but if they are repulsive they won’t,’ he said. ‘Efficient solar cells are a delicate balance. If the domains mix too much or too little, the charges can’t separate or be harvested effectively.’
‘We know that attraction and repulsion depend on temperature, much like sugar dissolving in coffee – the saturation, or maximum mixing of the sugar with the coffee, improves as the temperature increases. We figured out the saturation level of the ‘sugar in the coffee’ as a function of temperature,’ he said.
Organic solar cells are a type of photovoltaic – which convert energy from the sun into electrons – that uses organic electronics to generate electricity. This type of cell can be produced cheaply, and is both lightweight and flexible, making it a popular option for use in solar panels.
Photovoltaic systems are made up of organic solar cells that convert sunlight into energy. Image: Pxhere
However, difficulties in the production process, including an effective process to determine efficiency of potential material combinations, is stalling its development.
‘In the past, people mainly studied this parameter in systems at room temperature using crude approximations,’ said Long Ye, first author and postdoctoral researcher at NC State. ‘They couldn’t measure it with precision and at temperatures corresponding to processing conditions, which are much hotter.’
Faces of Chemistry: Organic solar cells at BASF. Video: Royal Society of Chemistry
‘The ability to measure and model this parameter will also offer valuable lessons about processing and not just material pairs.’
But the process still needs refinement, said Ade. ‘Our ultimate goal is to form a framework and experimental basis on which chemical structural variation might be evaluated by simulations on the computer before laborious synthesis is attempted,’ he said.
It has been a year since Prime Minister Theresa May announced the launch of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund at CBI’s annual conference. At the time, May said the fund would ‘help to address Britain’s historic weakness on commercialisation and turning our world-leading research into long-term success’.
Since then, Innovate UK has worked closely with the government and research councils to identify the great innovation challenges the UK faces.
‘Innovate UK have been in this right from the very beginning,’ said Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, speaking at Innovate 2017. McKernan explained that the organisation has held several engagement events to find out what ‘industry and researchers see as the challenges of the future and where economic growth can be developed in the UK’.
The first three challenges sponsored by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund were announced in April this year: The Faraday challenge, medicines manufacturing, and robotics and autonomous systems.
Andrew Tyrer, Interim Director of Robotics and Autonomous Systems is now responsible for the £69m investment into research on AI in extreme conditions.
Research projects in this cohort include robotics in deep mining, space exploration, and off-shore energy. ‘One of the challenges is that you cannot put people in these environments,’ he said.
Space is just one of the dangerous environments being researched in robotics projects. Image: NASA
However, the UK does not currently have the research capacity to access the global market, Tyrer explained. For example, he said ‘the nuclear decommissioning market in five years will be at £150bn a year in Europe alone’ – a market the UK is currently struggling to make an impact.
‘The programme is about taking academic and business excellence, linking those value chains together, and building those industries,’ Tyrer said.
On the other end of the spectrum, is the Faraday Challenge – a ‘commitment’ to research into the battery development of driverless cars and an area of research the UK has already seen success in – headed by Jacqui Murray and Kathryn Magnay.
The UK have pledged to have all petrol and diesel vehicles off roads by 2040. Image: Wikimedia Commons
‘Automotive has been a real success story in the UK in the last 10 years,’ said Murray, with the UK reaching ‘world-class’ in productivity levels.
However, there are ways the UK needs to improve, said Magnay. ‘In the UK we have a huge gap between the research that we do and how you scale that up in the manufacturing process,’ she said.
This is the inspiration for the upcoming £65m Faraday Battery Institute, which will serve as a hub for universities, as well as other academic institutions and industry partners, to further their science. Magnay said that Innovate UK wants to ‘provide a facility that companies and researchers can go to and take their ideas to trial them at scale’.
Will smart energy solutions be the next challenge?
Further challenges under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund are currently unknown, although there are rumours of an early 2018 announcement. Which challenge will be next?