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Policy

Waking up after a night of overindulgence on food and wine and realising you don’t have a headache is very satisfying. But realising, soon afterwards, you have heartburn can bring your mood down rapidly.

After years of discussion and argument around Brexit, the UK woke up to find that a Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and the EU been reached. A major headache had been avoided.

SCIblog - 14 January 2021 - 2021: ‘A year to look forward to.’ - image of a woman from the back, she is looking out over landscape 

CAPTION: UK Businesses have a new trading landscape

However, the UK chemicals sector soon realised that after pulling back the curtains and taking a look at the new trading landscape, a feeling of heartburn was rising. The chemical sector’s regulatory obligation now requires that it establishes a UK-REACH system. The deal negotiated means that the UK has no access to the data it submitted to the EU’s REACH database.

In effect, the UK chemical sector has to populate the UK-REACH system from scratch. This will require an array of steps possibly including testing and renegotiating data sharing with other companies. According to the Chief Executive of the Chemical Industries Association (CIA), Steve Elliot, this is set to burn a £1 billion hole in the UK chemical sector’s pocket.

‘Failure to secure access to what has been a decade’s worth of investment by UK chemical businesses in data for EU REACH will leave the industry facing a bill of more than £1 billion in unnecessarily duplicating that work for a new UK regime,’ said Elliot in a statement on 24 December 2020, the day that the UK government excitedly announced the new trade deal.

SCIblog - 14 January 2021 - 2021: ‘A year to look forward to.’ - image of a scattered pound sterling 

CAPTION: UK-REACH could cost more than £1 billion

As a slightly belated Christmas gift, and perhaps just taking the edge off the heartburn, the UK government’s Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow announced, on 31 December, that the UK-REACH IT system was up and running. Pow said that the government had worked closely with partners, industry and stakeholders developing the IT system to manage the UK’s chemicals industry.

‘Having our own independent chemicals regulatory framework will ensure that we make decisions that best reflect the UK’s needs while maintaining some of the highest chemical standards in the world,’ she said.

But will these high standards do what REACH was set up for in the first place, and protect human health and the environment? According to CHEM Trust, a UK-German charity focused on preventing man-made chemicals from causing long term damage to wildlife or humans, the deal does not go far enough.

Critiquing the outcome, Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust said, ‘CHEM Trust’s initial assessment is that this agreement does not adequately protect human health and the environment in the UK from hazardous chemicals. This is because it doesn’t retain UK access to the EU’s chemicals regulation system REACH. The agreement includes an annex on chemicals, but does not facilitate the type of close cooperation with the EU post-Brexit that civil society groups such as CHEM Trust, and also the chemicals and other industries are seeking.’

But on a positive note, Warhurst added; ‘The deal […] commits the UK to not regress from current levels of protection, includes a rebalancing procedure which could increase protection on both sides and offers a platform on which a closer partnership could be negotiated in the future.’

No one doubts that there is still much to be digested, along with those left over Christmas chocolates that nobody really likes, regarding the UK-EU Free Trade Agreement. ‘Although this Free Trade Agreement represents a mixed bag for our industry,’ said the CIA’s Elliot, ‘we shouldn’t underestimate the huge value that a deal brings in terms of certainty.’

SCIblog - 14 January 2021 - 2021: ‘A year to look forward to.’ - image of a plant with a sign saying 'Growth 2021' 

CAPTION: 2021: A year to look forward to

As people return to their desks after the Christmas break, one might dare to hope that the heartburn can be quelled with a dose of optimism after the challenging year that has just passed. With this as a basis, along with eventually emerging from the global pandemic, Elliot believes 2021 should be ‘a year to look forward to’.

Policy

At this month’s Vitae Connections Week Event, Amanda Solloway, Member of Parliament and Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, spoke about the promoting a culture of wellbeing for researchers and improving the way we evaluate research success.

Academia has long had cultural issues, including harassment, inequality and the overall high-pressure environment. Though there are great examples of effective career mentorship and support by many senior academics, often early career researchers, particularly those from underrepresented groups, are exposed to the dark side of academia.

In her speech, Amanda Solloway speaks of the ‘Publish or Perish’ mantra that penetrates academic culture; the pressure to publish research and win grants in order to be successful in scientific research. Amanda also spoke on the short term and casual contract culture, something most early career academics are all too familiar with, and the harassment and bullying that takes place in academia, with around half of researchers having experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace.

So what can be done? These problems are not new, or surprising, to anyone who has worked in academia. The perfect world solution involves a vast systemic change, an uprising of equality within academic departments across the world. This can only happen if, as Amanda rightfully suggests, there is an increase in diverse and sustainable funding. Consistently, large grants, which allow researchers to develop independent research careers, hire new talent and maintain stable job roles within their institutions, are disproportionately awarded to those who fit a certain mould, with underrepresented groups constantly underfunded. This creates an ongoing system of inequality, and a review of how these grants are awarded is essential for academic culture to evolve.

 a stressed student

Stress, high-pressure working and elitism are common in academia.

In addition to large scale systemic changes, more needs to be done to help the wellbeing of researchers and crush the culture of high academic expectations. Stable, long-term job roles form one part of this, and the pressure to publish research is a huge part of academic life. However, the wellbeing of early career researchers is often affected by a culture of harassment, discrimination and elitism. For example, the #MeToo movement shook the world, with the exposure of sexual harassment in academia being no exception to this. The recent increase in online events from Black Scientists is empowering, but also highlights the struggles of being a minority group in science and academia in 2020. Every day, the academic Twitter space is filled with early career researchers speaking of their ongoing problems getting through a career in academic research.

The assessment and valuation of researchers based on metrics needs to be switched up. Often, the value placed on outputs like scientific publications disadvantages those who do not fall into a particular group, those who do not have to take on extra responsibilities, something which disproportionately affects women for example. It gives an advantage to those who have support, both through finances and mentorship. It is a self-perpetuating cycle of exclusion, where success is not measured on the individuals work. Amanda Solloway is right, that many researchers are passionate, driven, love their research, and it isn’t reflected in the outputs. Many of those researchers leave academia to seek a happier and more stable existence elsewhere when we should be fighting to keep them.

 a mental health infographic

Mental health and wellbeing often suffers in academia. Inforgraphic by Zoe Ayres.

As a young woman starting out on an academic career, I have experienced my fair share of these problem, including sexism, high-pressure working and mental health problems. It fills me with fear to see how things never appear to get better as you move through the ranks. I am extremely passionate about my research, but I cannot disagree with the sentiment of the PhD student Amanda spoke to: “I just can’t see myself having a future in research”. Personally, I will keep trying, but the idea of being a successful academic, within the culture of academia we sit in right now, feels like a pipe dream.

This motion from Amanda Solloway to “create a culture that welcomes the widest range of viewpoints, experiences and approaches” and “provide funding… properly and sustainably” is hopeful. A systemic change to academic culture is needed, and this can be fuelled by diversifying funding, providing more stable career progressions for early career academics and creating a workplace that is a supportive, encouraging and safe place to be.


Careers

In this third article in our ‘How to…’ series, we reflect on what we learned from Martin Curry, STEM Healthcare, in his training session on managing the money.

What is a profit and loss table?

A table detailing all business transactions showing all incoming and outgoing cash activity. This will inform potential investors and credit sources how your business will generate its income and manage its costs. Documenting this information is important to show the progression (improvement) over a period and to forecast whether your business is set to make a future profit or loss.

 profit loss forecasting

So why is forecasting important?

A profit and loss table give businesses an idea of where the business is headed financially.

If your forecast suggests that profit levels will be low and therefore capital will be limited, it can help you to become more cautious with your credit and supply chain arrangements. Having this level of insight can help you to manage your risks and allow you to rethink your strategy in order to reduce loss and increase profitability.

 Manufacturing costs

Manufacturing costs

Monitoring your manufacturing costs is critical in order to represent the efficiency of the production process. There are two types of costs: fixed and variable.

Fixed: rent, rates, employee, insurance,

Variable: raw materials, transport, utilities,

Keeping track of the manufacturing costs will allow you to review the expenses associated with all the resources spent in the process of making the finished goods. To maximise the productivity of each unit of materials you use in the manufacturing process, ensure you review your procedures, materials and ensure waste is reduced to its minimum during the process.

 Financial awareness

Financial awareness

Awareness of the market is key to impressing potential investors; knowing what the key drivers are and understanding the risks and the market demand. Having this information enables you to provide evidence that you can effectively evaluate the commerciality of the project.

In summary, investors will be able to learn a great deal from the financial figures of a business. Thus, preparing a profit and loss account (detailing the business transactions) is critical to providing an insight of the business’s overall position within the market.


Careers

On 6 December 2019 SCI held its entrepreneurial training day for this year’s Bright SCIdea Challenge. The first article in our How to series will take a look at what we learned from Neil Simpson, R&D Director at Borchers, in his training session on how to market and brand your idea.

In order to successfully promote a product or service, it is essential to understand the customer and the market. It is important to be more effective than your competitors in creating, delivering and communicating your idea.

Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning (STP) is a useful tool to help you to define your product and customer base.

When segmenting your customer base, consider the demographics including age, income and gender, as well as their geographical location and behavioural traits.

Once you have segmented your customer base, you will be able to identify which groups are the most suited for your product.

After you have considered which segments to target, you need to take into consideration what your product solves for these people – what is your unique selling point?

 Marketing Mix

The 4 Ps – Marketing Mix

Once you have used the STP framework to define your product and customer base, you can use the 4 Ps Marketing Mix to develop a strategy to bring your product to the market.

Product – This can be a tangible product, for example clothing, or a service. You should consider: What does your product stand for? What needs does it satisfy? How does it differ to your competitors?

Price – It is vital to think carefully about the pricing of your product. Do you compete on price or quality? Consider the perceived value of your product, along with supply costs and competitors’ prices. Pricing your product too high or too low could harm your sales and reputation.

Place – Where is the best location to provide your product to your customer base, and how do you distribute it to them? If you understand your customer base, you will be able to answer important questions such as: Where do your target customers shop? Do they buy online, or in high street shops?

Promotion – What is the most effective way to market your product and which channels should you use? Will you run a social media and email campaign? Would you benefit from attending conferences and exhibitions?

 laptop
Use SWOT to summarise your position

Finally, a useful tool to analyse your current position is the SWOT model. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

Strengths – How are you perceived by your customer base? What separates you from your competitors?

Weaknesses – What do others see as your weaknesses? What do your competitors do better than you?

Opportunities – What are current market trends? Are there any funding opportunities you could apply for? Are there any gaps in the market?

Threats – Are there any emerging competitors? Do you have any negative media or press coverage?

Using STP, the 4 Ps, and SWOT will be invaluable when it comes to completing your business plan. The more you understand your product, your customer base, where you sell it, and how you sell it, the more successful you will be!

 ipad graphic



image
Use SWOT to summarise your position

image
Use SWOT to summarise your position


Science & Innovation

2019 has been declared by UNESCO as the Year of the Periodic Table. To celebrate, we are releasing a series of blogs about our favourite elements and their importance to the chemical industry. Today’s blog focuses on Beryllium.

Beryllium alloys are strong and temperature resistant. These qualities make them highly valued across several sectors.

Beryllium copper alloys account for a huge percentage of the beryllium used in the United States. As these alloys are good conductors of electricity and heat, they are used in making connectors, switches and other electrical devices for use in many sectors including aerospace, automobile, computer, defense and medical.

Beryllium

Originally posted by konczakowski

Beryllium metal is very light and stiff and maintains its shape in both high and low temperatures. This makes it the ideal material for use as mirrors of the Spitzer Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), due to be launched in the next few years.  The key mirror of the JWST comprises 18 hexagonal segments- each must maintain its shape even at - 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Automobile and Aircraft

 Aircraft

Additionally, Beryllium alloy connectors are used in the electrical systems of automobiles, as they are reliable and improve vehicle fuel efficiency.

In commercial aircraft, the strength of beryllium copper provides many advantages, as it can handle wear forces and exposure to corrosive atmospheres and temperatures. Beryllium copper also allows bearings to be made lighter and smaller, which also improves fuel efficiency. 

 xray equipment

Medical uses

Beryllium copper’s strength and stability makes it ideal for medical technologies and x-ray equipment.

As imaging technology progresses, beryllium copper will continue to play an important role in x-ray tube windows.

Other medical uses of beryllium:

•Pacemakers

•CAT scanners

•MRI machines

•Laser scalpels

•Springs and membranes for surgical instruments


Health & Wellbeing

On 8th March, I hosted my company’s first International Women’s Day event. Here’s what inspired me to do it…

1.       We need to talk about the lack of women in science

There are a lot of factors at play as to why women are underrepresented in science – it’s a complex issue and there’s been a rise in efforts to tackle it, which is great to see. We need to challenge the idea of what a ‘scientist’ looks like.

Simply by making people aware of stereotype threat and inherent bias, we can begin to break the rigid mould of what it means to be a ‘scientist’. We can’t face it if we never talk about it, and dedicated events are a way of opening up the conversation.

A ‘leaky pipeline’ has actually been coined in science – women ‘trickle out’ as they go up the career ladder. If we’re making an effort to encourage younger girls to study science subjects, we need to question why they’re not being retained at more senior levels. This effort needs to come from businesses.

 women in stem graphic
 women in management graphic

WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) reports the science workforce gender split in 2018Source: WISE

2.       There’s a difference between diversity and inclusion

When we think about the ‘leaky pipeline’, we need to address the difference between diversity and inclusion.

Diversity is important, but it’s not enough. Diversity is the who and what; inclusion is the how. It’s not just about who’s being recruited, or who gets a seat at the table. It’s about creating behaviours that embrace the diverse voices of these people. Diversity without inclusion is just a box-ticking exercise. We need to acknowledge our differences and show a commitment to changing company culture to embrace them.

Hosting events like International Women’s Day is a good start to demonstrating this commitment and dedicating a day for women to be heard.

 funny gif 2

Image: BrandisEGO

3.       I want to celebrate my colleagues

I’m lucky to work with some amazing scientists, some of whom happen to be women. I wanted to take a day to celebrate their accomplishments and those of all the women who are breaking glass ceilings in science. When people feel seen and recognised for their work it creates a healthier work environment. By having this day in place, we can dedicate a day each year to celebrate and congratulate women on their achievements. Plenty of my female colleagues were keen to get involved and help, and I was inspired to hear all their stories and ideas.

funny gif 3

Originally posted by kngoftheclouds

4.       It’s a win-win

I suggested this event because I thought it was a great fit for my company and could benefit us in many tangible ways. Workplace diversity can actually boost performance - a report found that when employees “think their organisation is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included”, their ability to innovate increases by 83%. It also makes perfect sense to me that, by including all genders equally, we have access to a greater pool of talent and a wider range of mentors available for junior talent. Plus, it’s a brand-booster to show that we are bringing ourselves into the future and being socially conscious.

funny gif 4

Originally posted by beamlyus

5.       It’s just the beginning

We’re starting to talk more about gender issues in the workplace, but women are not the only people who are affected by discrimination. We need inclusion for everyone.

For example, most people are aware of the gender pay gap and companies are now obliged to publish their data on this, but in the UK, black male graduates earn almost £4 less per hour than their white peers.  Another study found that almost a third of LGBT+ physical scientists had considered leaving their workplace because of discrimination. These are issues that need to be openly talked about and acknowledged before we can even think about solving them. Science should be for everyone and I’m really excited to host more events to encourage this.

 funny gif 5

Image: Tiffany Pollard


Policy

Many aid organisations have recognised that to change the growing population rate, investing in women is pivotal. Today (Wednesday 11 July) is World Population Day and we will briefly discuss why changing the living conditions for women and girls is essential to preventing overpopulation.

Although population numbers have stabilised in many regions, recent data has indicated that the global population is set to rise to 10.9 bn people will exist on this earth by 2100.

Today, there are 1.2 bn Africans and, according to figures released by the UN, by 2021 there will be more than 4 bn, stressing the urgency to prioritise the population crisis. Making contraception easily available and improving comprehensive sexual education are key to reducing Africa’s population growth.

 Family photo of five sisters from Africa

Family photo of five sisters from Africa. Image: Sylvie Bouchard

Over 225 m women in developing countries have stressed their desire to delay or stop childbearing, but due to the lack of contraception, this has not been the result.

Family planning would prevent unsafe abortions, unintended pregnancies, which would, in turn, also prevent infant and maternal mortality. If there was a decrease in infant mortality as a result of better medical care, parents would be able to make more informed decisions about having more children. 

It is therefore pivotal that governments and organisations invest more money into projects that will strengthen the health services in these regions, and in women’s health and reproductive rights.

 Lessons on family planning

Lessons on family planning.

In Niger, there are an estimated 205 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 16 and 19 –  a rate that hasn’t changed since 1960. The number of births in Somalia, have increased from around 55 to 105 births per 1,000 women within the same age range in the same time period.

In Rwanda, figures from Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey illustrate an increase in the use of modern contraceptive methods among married women, but the unmet need for family planning remains a large issue, stagnating at 19% between 2010 and 2015. 

Rwanda’s leadership in creating platforms and programmes of action to progress sexual and reproductive health rights has resulted in a decrease in fertility rate, dropping from 6.1 children per women in 2005 to 4.2 in 2015.

 World map of the population growth rate

World map of the population growth rate. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

‘Every year, roughly 74 m women and girls in developing countries experience an unwanted pregnancy primarily because there is a lack of sex education and a lack of contraception. It’s also because women and girls aren’t given equal rights’" said Renate Bähr, Head of the German World Population Foundation (DSW).

With opportunities and access to education, women and girls would be able to understand their rights to voluntary family planning. If women’s access to reproductive education and healthcare services were prioritised, public health and population issues would improve.


Careers

The David Miller Travel Bursary Award aims to give early career plant scientists or horticulturists the opportunity of overseas travel in connection with their horticultural careers. 

Juan Carlos De la Concepcion was awarded one of the 2018 David Miller Travel Bursaries to attend the International Congress of Plant Pathology (ICPP) 2018: Plant Health in A Global Economy, which was held in Boston, US. Here, he details his experience attending the international conference and the opportunities it provided.

 Juan Carlos De la Concepcion

I’m currently completing the third-year of my rotation PhD in Plant and Microbial Science at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK. My work addresses how plant pathogens cause devastating diseases that affect food security worldwide, and how plants can recognise them and organise an immune response to keep themselves healthy. 

Because of the tremendous damage that plant diseases cause in agricultural and horticulturally relevant species, this topic has become central to achieving the UN Zero Hunger challenge.

Originally posted by thingsfromthedirt

Thanks to the David Miller Award, I was able to participate in the International Congress of Plant Pathology (ICPP) 2018: Plant Health in A Global Economy held in Boston, US. This event is the major international conference in the plant pathology field and only occurs once every five years. 

This year, the conference gathered together over 2,700 attendees, representing the broad international community of plant pathologist across the globe. In this conference, the leading experts in the different aspects of the field presented the latest advances and innovations. 

 rice plant

Juan’s current research looks at the rice plant’s immune response to pathogens.

These experts are setting a vision and future directions for tackling some of the most damaging plant diseases in the agriculture and horticulture industries, ensuring enough food productivity in a global economy.

Policy

 Bright SCIdea Challenge 1

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.

 Bright SCIdea Challenge

The day started with a poster session and networking, including posters from teams Glubiotech, Online Analytics, HappiAppi and NovaCAT.

 Bright SCIdea Challenge
 Bright SCIdea Challenge

Training sessions came next, with Neil Wakemen from Alderley Park Accelerator speaking first on launching a successful science start-up.

 Bright SCIdea Challenge

Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne from Genius Foods spoke next on her personal business story, going from the kitchen to lab to supermarket shelves.

 Bright SCIdea Challenge

Participants could catch a glimpse of the trophies before giving their pitches.

 Bright SCIdea Challenge
 Bright SCIdea Challenge

The first team to pitch were Team Seta from UCL, with their idea for a high-throughput synthetic biology approach for biomaterials.

 Bright SCIdea Challenge
 Bright SCIdea Challenge

Team Plastech Innovation from Durham University presented their sustainable plastic-based concrete.

 Bright SCIdea Challenge 11
 

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).


Science & Innovation

On 15 March 2019, chemists from across the UK country came to compete in the 6th National SCI/RSC Retrosynthesis Competition at SCI HQ in London.

 6th national SCI RSC competition

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!


Policy

To celebrate World Poetry Day, today we look at how poetry and science interlink, and how poetry can be a unique medium for science communication.

 old book

History

Poetry and science have an interesting history – John Keats once said that Isaac Newton, one of the most prominent scientists of the time, had ‘destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism’. However, poetry can be a powerful tool to disseminate scientific research to a wider audience.

In 1984, J. W. V. Storey published his works on ‘The Detection of Shocked CO Emission’ in The Proceedings of the Astronomical Society of Australia as a lengthy poem. He even noted on the paper that his colleagues may wish to dissociate themselves from the presentation style.

image

A note from J. M. V. Storey’s paper dissociating his colleagues from the poetry style. Source:  The Detection of Shocked CO Emission

Modern Science Poetry

Notable British poet Ruth Gabel, also the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, has written a plethora of poetry about science, including works on Darwin’s writings. She has written a multitude of poems, mainly on zoology and genetics.

In 2015, Professor Stephen Hawking, world-renowned physicist, collaborated with poet Sarah Howe to write a poem about relativity for National Poetry Day in the UK.

Stephen Hawking reads “Relativity” By Sarah Howe Film Bridget Smith. Source: National Poetry Day

Poetry can also be utilised for outreach, especially for younger audiences. The SAW Trust is a charity that uses art and poetry to engage school children in science. SAW Trust was founded by Professor Anne Osbourne, Associate Research Director and Institute Strategic Programme Leader, Plant and Microbial Metabolism at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK. The charity inspires children to find a love for science through the arts.

Science and poetry, or more generally art have always been interlinked, and by using poetry we can spread science to a wider audience.

 

Materials

2019 has been declared by UNESCO as the Year of the Periodic Table. To celebrate, we are releasing a series of blogs about our favourite elements and their importance to the chemical industry. Today’s blog is about sulphur, specifically sulphites and their significance to the wine industry.

 wine glass

Sulphites and wine - what is all the fuss about? Image: Pixabay


What is a sulphite?

Sulphites are compounds that contain the sulphite ion (sulphate (IV) or SO32- ). There a wide-range of compounds of this type, but common ones include sodium sulphite, potassium bisulphite and sulphur dioxide.

Sulphites are often added as preservatives to a variety of products, and help maintain shelf-life, freshness and taste of the food or drink. They can be found in wines, dried fruits, cold meats and other processed food. Some are produced naturally during wine-making however, they are mainly added in the fermentation process, protecting the wine from bacteria and oxidation.

wine pouring gif

Originally posted by settebelllo


Sneezing and wine

Sulphites have a bad reputation for causing adverse reactions, such as sneezing and other allergic symptoms. But are sulphites really allergens, or just another urban myth?

Despite it being one of the top nine listed food allergens, many experts believe that the reaction to sulphites in wine can be considered not a ‘true allergy’, rather a sensitivity. Symptoms only usually occur in wine-drinkers with underlying medical issues, such as respiratory problems and asthma, and do not include headaches.

 sneezing

Some people report sneezing and similar symptoms when drinking wine.

Sulphites are considered to be generally safe to eat, unless you test positive in a skin allergy test –some individuals, particularly those who are hyperallergic or aspirin-allergic, may have a true allergy to sulphites. Sufferers of a true allergy would not suffer very mild symptoms if they consumed sulphites, instead they would have to avoid all food with traces of sulphite.

Some scientists believe adverse reactions to red wine could be caused by increased levels of histamine. Fermented products, such as wine and aged cheese, have histamine present, and red wine has significantly more histamine than white wine. They suggest taking an anti-histamine around one hour before drinking to help reduce symptoms.


Sulphite-free wine!

Despite it not being considered a true allergen, wine-makers must still label wine as containing sulphites. In 1987, a law was passed in the US requiring labels to be placed on wine containing a large amount of added sulphites. Similarly, in 2005, a European law was brought in to regulate European wine labelling. Sulphites are now often listed as a common allergen on bottle labels in wines that have over 10mg/l.

 wine bottles

You can often find the words ‘contains sulphites’ on a wine bottle. Image: Pixabay

Many food and drink industries are producing products suitable for allergy sufferers, and winemakers have followed this trend by beginning to make sulphite-free wine. These are mainly dry red wines that contain high levels of tannins, which act as a natural preservative. Wines without added sulphites are generally labelled as organic or natural wines and have grown in popularity over the last few years, but unfortunately, many wine critics believe that these naturally preserved wines sacrifice on flavour and shelf life.

In summary, sulphites are a common preservative, not only found in wine, but a range of food, and do not generally cause allergic reactions. If you are an individual with a true sulphite allergy, you may want to try sulphite free wine – but you will have to compromise on shelf life!

wine gif 2

Originally posted by key-change

 

Careers

Each year SCI’s Scotland group runs a competition where students are invited to write a short article describing how their PhD research relates to SCI’s strapline: where science meets business.

Jack Washington (right), a Pure and Applied Chemistry PhD student at the University of Strathclyde, was the overall winner of this year’s competition. His article ‘Clavulanic acid - The fight against antibiotic resistance’ is reproduced here:

Clavulanic acid - The fight against antibiotic resistance

 The molecular structure of clavulanic acid

The molecular structure of clavulanic acid. Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you were to say that cancer is the biggest threat to public health you would be wrong.

One of the most pre-eminent risks to human existence is antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are medicines used to fight bacterial infections. However, bacteria are fighting back at an alarming rate. Without effective antibiotics, we could live in a world where infections borne from a simple wound could be deadly. Routine surgeries would no longer be possible. Whilst this bacterial apocalypse seems drastic, it’s a very real possibility, and one we could face in the near future.

 Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Antibiotics are part of a multibillion-pound industry and are essential for life as we know it today. In 1928, the scientist Alexander Fleming, from Ayrshire in Scotland, serendipitously discovered penicillin. This chance discovery revolutionised the treatment of bacterial infections and spurred a wealth of antibiotic research. 88 years later, in the nearby town of Irvine, I started my PhD project in this field.

Penicillin is a β-lactam antibiotic, which made up of molecules containing a chemical entity known as a β-lactam. This β-lactam is a covalent warhead – a harpoon that grips its bacterial victim and doesn’t let go. This harpoon interrupts bacterial cell wall formation, causing the bacteria to rupture and die. 

Maryn McKenna: What do we do when antibiotics don’t work any more? Video: TED

However, bacteria can retaliate by producing aggressive enzymes that destroy this warhead. Another member of the β-lactam family, clavulanic acid, can thwart these enzymes. Clavulanic acid has weak antibiotic activity on its own so is used in a double act with another antibiotic, amoxicillin, to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria as a team.

 

Materials

Building roads with wastes can deliver a heap of performance as well as environmental benefits – so long as they don’t become a dumping ground for discarded products.

With an estimated value of around €16 trillion, Europe’s road network is its ‘most valuable asset’, according to the European Asphalt Pavement Association (EAPA). It’s also built on what many of us might consider a mountain of rubble.

road gif

Originally posted by wzrdserena

‘Over the years, almost every conceivable waste material has been put into roads,’ said Fred Parrett, speaking at an SCI-organised event at a University College London, UK in March 2018. The list includes everything from crushed glass and incinerator ash to cellulose fibres and crumb rubber from end-of-life tyres – or even discarded plastic wastes.

But while using wastes in asphalt can potentially deliver big environmental and performance benefits, road experts warn that is not the best option for all wastes. In the UK, a recent survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance revealed that the length of roads in England and Wales that could fail if not maintained in the next 12 months would stretch almost around the world.


Road repair

 road cracks

Road cracks form when asphalt fatigues and the road loses its tensile strength. Image: MaxPixel

Roads start to deteriorate when the bitumen ‘glue’ that binds the aggregates together becomes harder and more brittle over time, causing potholes and cracks start to appear – a process accelerated by solar UV, oxygen, heat and cold, and particularly the freeze-thawing of water.

Bitumen additives or ‘modifiers’ help to slow this process down, but most of the traditional modifiers are expensive and derived from non-renewable fossil fuels. Bitumen substitutes made from end-of-life tyres and plastics wastes should potentially offer a cheaper, more sustainable option – but only if they improve rather than impair performance.


Careers

For over thirty years, SCI has supported and recognised the excellence of early career people, by aiding their studies in the form of an SCI Scholarship.

Since 1985 around 74 scholarships have been awarded which have not only given the recipients financial assistance, but have enabled them to broaden their network, and strengthen their skills and knowledge. SCI Scholars receive access to publishing and mentoring opportunities and are given a platform to present their work amongst esteemed scientists and industrialists, thus raising their profile within the scientific community.

In the past ten years alone, SCI has generously bequeathed over £115,000 of its charitable funds to SCI Scholars and the scientists of the future.


Emma Grant

 emma grant

Upon completing my degree I wanted to pursue a PhD which sits at the interface of two disciplines, synthetic organic chemistry and molecular biology, and the collaborative PhD programme between the University of Strathclyde and GlaxoSmithKline provided me with this opportunity. My project falls within the realm of chemical biology, a rapidly evolving discipline which has the potential to revolutionise our vision of molecular pathways and the complex mechanisms of life.

My research on the design and synthesis of photoactivatable probes to study protein-ligand interactions, aims to develop a new platform of drug discovery. I am designing a photoactivatable fragment library which has the potential to mitigate the limitations of traditional drug discovery, primarily by covering a wider chemical space with compounds of higher ligand efficiency.

Genome Editing with CRISPR-Cas9. Video: McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT

This platform could provide an alternative technique to traditional screening, by broadening the chemical space available to discover novel binding ligands, and so leading to higher quality medicines.


Jona Ramadani

 Jona Ramadani

For my PhD I am studying surfactant migration on polymeric substrates. Surfactants are commonly used to modify the surface chemistry of many materials including polymers. In the manufacture of non-woven fabrics formed from polyethylene and polypropylene blends, which are used extensively in the personal care industry, non-ionic and cationic surfactants are commonly used to improve surface hydrophilicity via simple coating processes.

This surfactant loss process will be investigated by measuring key physicochemical properties of substrates treated with surfactants under different environmental conditions and as a function of time. The two primary objectives for the project are to confirm, quantify and visualise surfactant distributions on the surface of non-woven fabrics, and to develop a fundamental understanding of the surfactant loss process(es).

 surfactants

Common uses for surfactants include sanitary products and disposable nappies. Image: Shutterstock

The SCI scholarship will afford me great networking opportunities. In addition, it will help fund travel to relevant conferences such as the 8th Pacific Basin Conference on Adsorption Science and Technology to be held in September 2018 in Japan, to which I have been invited to present my work.


Ivalina Minova

 Ivalina Minova

I am investigating important zeolite-catalysed reactions including the production of fuels and emission control from diesel exhaust gases. This work is being carried out in collaboration with Prof. Russell Howe and Prof. Andy Beale along with the Catalysis Hub and beam scientists at the Diamond Light Source (B22, UK). The synchrotron at Diamond can generate a bright infrared source that allows us to obtain detailed mechanistic insight and interpret structure activity relationships for the development of improved catalytic materials.

I’m now entering the second year of my PhD and I am really enjoying it so far. I have gained a great deal of practical experience and have recently attended the 6th International Congress on Operando Spectroscopy in Spain to learn more about this subject. Earlier this year, I gave a talk at the 4th UK Catalysis Conference in Loughborough and my first scientific paper as lead author is now in preparation. 

 A diesel exhaust

A diesel exhaust. Image: Shutterstock

The funding and support offered by my SCI Scholarship will provide a valuable resource to help me extend my research to new areas of industrial importance and support my continual attendance at conferences and training courses relevant to my project work.


Policy

 

💡In 2018, we launched the #BrightSCIdea Challenge – an opportunity for students with a science-based innovation to gain expert training in developing an idea into a business. 💡

💡The response was incredible, and we invited six fantastic teams to pitch their innovation at the very first final. The winning team walked away with £1,000… 💡

💡Now, we’re taking entries for 2019, and we’re offering the winners not double, not treble, but five times the prize! To find out more and register your interest for the 2019 #BrightSCIdea Challenge, visit www.soci.org/brightscidea 💡

💡Show us you mean business!💡

Policy

In July 2017, the UK government announced plans to end the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040, but there’s a long way for the electric vehicle market to go before that target can be reached – low-emission vehicle sales still account for just 0.5% of total car sales.

Last week, the European Commission announced a new Innovation Deal that could go some way to overcoming barriers to electric vehicle development and acceptance by consumers.

Entitled ‘From e-mobility to recycling: the vitreous loop of the electric vehicle’, it is designed to help innovators address regulatory obstacles to the recycling and re-use of propulsion batteries in second-life applications, such as energy storage.

The deal comprises a multi-disciplinary working group of partners across industry and government in France and the Netherlands. In France, Renault, Bouygues and the Ministries for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition and Economy and Finance; in the Netherlands, renewable energy technology company LomboXnet, the Provice of Utrecht, and the Ministries of Infrastructure and Water Management, Economic Affairs, and Climate Policy.

twitterpost

Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said, ‘The electric vehicle revolution is a testimony to how innovation generates growth and fundamentally changes society for the better. In order for Europe to stay in the lead of this innovation race, we need to work together with innovators and authorities to make sure our laws do not hamper innovation. This Innovation Deal will clarify the regulatory landscape in this area, and boost demand for electric vehicles.’

Robin Berg, founder of LomboXnet is one such innovator set on fundamentally changing society for the better. In Utrecht, the Netherlands, his company has set up a smart solar charging network that allows excess solar power harvested via rooftop photovoltaic panels to be stored in electric vehicle batteries – the energy can then be transferred between car and home as demand requires.

‘Enhancing the economic value of car batteries through vehicle-to-grid applications, second-life battery projects and smart solar charging of cars, creates huge business opportunities,’ Berg said.

‘The Smart Solar Charging consortium in Utrecht Region led by LomboXnet together with Renault seeks to increase these opportunities to spur the transition to a renewable energy system and a zero-emission mobility future. Europe is leading in these developments; this Innovation Deal offers a chance to further strengthen Europe’s leadership.’

Pure electric vehicle sales were down in the first two months of 2018 compared with the previous year – although sales of plug-in hybrid cars, which combine a conventional petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor that can be charged at an outlet or on the move, were up by 40% over the same period.

Policy

 SCIdea challenge

Check out a report on the SCIdea challenge here

Careers

 Heliang Shi2

Check out Heliang Shi on Twitter

 “#Bridght SCIdea Challenge#Glad to make a pitch in London last week, and honored to be a membership of SCI now, thanks for the team work, thanks for the organizer @graemepaton007 @UoABioSci @SCIupdate”

 

twitter.com

 
 

Policy

 Victor Christou

Victor Christou, CEO of Cambridge Innovation Capital and Head Judge gives an inspirational talk on entrepreneurship and innovation. All photos: Andrew Lunn/SCI

 sci
 Robin Harrison

Robin Harrison, Global Innovation Director for Synthomer, competition judge and sponsor. 

 Lucinda BruceGardyne

Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, Founder of Genius Foods and competition judge, tells her inspiring story – the UK’s leading gluten-free bread, now distributed in Europe and Australia, started in her kitchen. 

 University of St Andrews

University of St Andrews’ EasyMed pitched an implant for Alzheimer’s treatment. 

 University of St Andrews2
 The judging panel

The judging panel was completed by Inna Baigozina-Goreli – a Managing Director at Accenture with over 25 years experience in management consultancy. 

 Manchesters Team LEAD

The University of Manchester’s Team LEAD were the competition’s first runners-up, with their low-cost desalination module. 

 Manchesters Team LEAD2
 Manchesters Team LEAD3

The first of two finalists from UCL, ZRZ Tech presented an innovative treatment for obesity. 

image
 Team Protector

Team Protector brought an excellent proposal down from the University of Aberdeen – turning China’s food waste into a sustainable fertiliser.

 Team Protector2
 Team Protector3
 Glucoguard

Team Glucoguard were the second team from UCL to make it to the final, and their GM bacterium for diabetes treatment was particularly well received… 

 Glucoguard2
 Glucoguard3
image

Team SalSoc Synthesis delivered an excellent solution to university lab waste, developed at Salford University. 

image

Sharon Todd, Executive Director of SCI, rounds off the pitching session and invited the judges to deliberate. 

 Glucoguard4

Every team delivered a truly winning pitch…but only one could walk away with the £1,000 prize. Many congratulations to Camillo, Libby, and Jack, of UCL’s Team Glucoguard!

 

Materials

With an ever-increasing demand for data storage, the race is on to develop new materials that offer greater storage density. Researchers have identified a host of exotic materials that use new ways to pack ‘1’s and ‘0’s into ever-smaller spaces.

And, while many of them are still lab curiosities, they offer the potential to improve data storage density by 100 times or more.


Having a moment

 floppy disks

Data storage technology has moved quickly away from floppy disks (pictured) and CD-DOMs. Image: Pexels

The principle behind many storage media is to use magnetic ‘read’ and ‘write’ heads, an idea also exploited by many of these new technologies – albeit on a much smaller scale.

A good example is recent work from Manchester University, UK, where researchers have raised the temperature at which ‘single molecule magnets’ can be magnetised. Single-molecule magnets could have 100 times the data storage density of existing memory devices.

In theory, any molecular entity can be used to store data as reversing its polarity can switch it from a ‘1’ to a ‘0’. In this case, instead of reading and writing areas of a magnetic disk, the researchers have created single molecules that exhibit magnetic ‘hysteresis’ – a prerequisite for data storage.

 

Researchers discuss the circuit boards in development that negotiate Moore’s Law. Video: Chemistry at The University of Manchester

‘You need a molecule that has its magnetic moment in two directions,’ says Nick Chilton, Ramsay Memorial research fellow in the school of chemistry. ‘To realise this in a single molecule, you need very specific conditions.’

In addition to having a strong magnetic moment, the molecule needs a slow relaxation time – that is, the time it takes for the molecule to ‘flip’ naturally from a ‘1’ to a ‘0’.  ‘If this time is effectively indefinite, it would be useful for data storage,’ he says.

The key is that the molecule itself must have a magnetic moment. So, while a bulk substance such as iron oxide is ‘magnetic’, individual iron oxide particles are not.

 binary digit

A binary digit, or bit, is the smallest unit of data in computing. The system is used in nearly all modern computers and technology. Image: Pixabay

Chilton and his colleagues have identified and synthesised a single-molecule magnet – a dysprosium atom, sandwiched between two cyclopentadienyl rings – that can be magnetised at 60K. This is 46K higher than any previous single-molecule magnet – and only 17K below the temperature of liquid nitrogen.

Being able to work with liquid nitrogen – rather than liquid helium – would bring the cost of a storage device down dramatically, says Chilton. To do this, the researchers must now model and make new structures that will work at 77K or higher.


Bit player

Skyrmions may sound like a new adversary for Doctor Who, but they are actually another swirl-like magnetic entity that could be used to represent a bit of digital data.

doctor who gif

Originally posted by doctorwho247

Scientists at the Max Born Institute (MBI), Germany – in collaboration with colleagues from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US – have devised a way to generate skyrmions in a controllable way, by building a ‘racetrack’ nanowire memory device that might in future be incorporated into a conventional memory chip.

‘Skyrmions can be conceived as particles – because that’s how they act,’ says Bastian Pfau, a postdoctoral researcher at MBI, as they are generated using a current pulse.

‘Earlier research put a lot of current pulses through a racetrack and created a skyrmion randomly,’ he says. ‘We’ve created them in a controlled and integrated way: they’re created on the racetrack exactly where you want them.’

 Max Born Institute

This racetrack memory device could be incorporated into standard memory chips, say researchers at the Max Born Institute. Credit: Grafix 

In fact, skyrmions can be both created and moved using current pulses – but the pulse for creating them is slightly stronger than the one that moves them. The advantage of using a current pulse is that it requires no moving parts.

The resulting racetrack is a three-layer nanowire about 20nm thick – a structure that will hold around 100 skyrmions along a one-micron length of wire.

While the current research is done ‘in the plane’ with the nanowires held horizontally, Pfau says that in the future, wires could be stacked vertically in an array to boost storage capacity. ‘This would increase the storage density by 100. But this is in the future and nobody has made a strip line that’s vertical yet.’

Could magnetic skyrmions hold the answer to better data storage? Video: Durham University

‘The whole function depends on how you create the multi-layer,’ he says. To stand any chance of being commercialised, which might take six or eight years, Pfau says that new materials will be needed.

However, he is confident this will happen – and that the technology can be merged with ‘conventional’ electronic devices.

Careers

 

💡 bit.ly/SCIdea2018 💡 Bright SCIdea Challenge – show us you mean business. Watch to find out about our competition, for students with a bright idea for a science-based business. There’s a £1,000 prize! 💡

Policy

Check out SCI on Twitter here

“Eye opening piece from @innovateuk @KevinBaughan on aligning public and private R&D funding to make the UK the world's most innovative economy. 75% of UK's private sector R&D is carried out by just 400 companies 🤔#IndustrialStrategy @SamGyimah https://t.co/5kZ6MoMz8Q”

Sustainability & Environment

"We don’t each have to become paragons of virtue – just a simple change or two that we can easily make into new habits will help to make a difference for the future of our blue planet."

Careers

 

 

Bright SCIdea Challenge – register now to access exclusive training materials! from SCI on Vimeo.

Are you a UK or ROI-based student with a bright idea for a science-based innovation? Want to gain experience in developing that idea into a business plan? Put together a team and join SCI’s Bright SCIdea Challenge for a series of training videos from science-based industry experts and you could be selected to pitch your business to our expert panel, with the winning team walking away with £1,000! Register now to access free training materials! For full details, visit bit.ly/SCIdea2018

 

Careers

 

Bright SCIdea Challenge – pitch your business plan to our expert panel! from SCI on Vimeo.

Are you a UK or ROI-based student with a bright idea for a science-based innovation? Want to gain experience in developing that idea into a business plan? Put together a team and join SCI’s Bright SCIdea Challenge for a series of training videos from science-based industry experts and you could be selected to pitch your business to our expert panel, with the winning team walking away with £1,000! For full details, visit bit.ly/SCIdea2018

Careers

 Delegates at this years Young Chemist

Delegates at this year’s Young Chemist in Industry conference. Image: SCI

Every year, SCI’s Young Chemist’s Panel organise their Young Chemist in Industry event, where early career industrial chemists meet to showcase their research and network with their academics counterparts and other companies. 

This year, the conference was held at AstraZeneca’s Macclesfield base. Exhibitors are also judged, with the winner receiving a £150 Amazon voucher.

 Julien Vantourout

Julien Vantourout. Image: SCI

This year’s Young Chemist in Industry award went to Julian Vantourout, a final-year industrial PhD student at GSK and the University of Strathclyde.

His presentation focused on the limitations of the Chan-Lam amination of aryl boronic acid used in medicinal and process chemistry.

 Tim ORiordan and Ellen Gallimore

Tim O'Riordan and Ellen Gallimore. Image: SCI

Two runners-up received a £50 Amazon voucher each; Tim O’Riordan and Ellen Gallimore. 

Tim O’Riordan is a Principal Research Chemist in Syngenta’s crop protection department. he won the runner-up prize this year for his work in the synthesis and evaluation of new herbicides.

Ellen Gallimore is currently finishing her DPhil at Oxford University and works for UCB in their medicinal chemistry department. She received the runner-up prize for her exhibit explaining the biocatalytical potential of enzymes on small molecule drug discovery.

 Fluorochem

Image: Fluorochem Ltd

Fluorochem Ltd were at the event promoting their business to delegates. They supply intermediates used in R&D to pharmaceutical companies.

 Manchester Organics

Image: Manchester Organics

Manchester Organics work in fluorination and high pressure chemistry.

 Radleys

Image: Radleys

Radleys were on hand to tell delegates about their sustainable chemistry equipment.

Policy

 Lucinda BruceGardyne

What do a smartphone, a tub of moisturiser, a car tyre, and a paracetamol have in common?… 

– they all exist thanks to science… but not science alone! 

A scientist who cross-links rubber’s polymeric chains with sulphur will end up with some durable vulcanised rubber, but not a tyre. And even when he or she does have a tyre, it’s not much good on its own. 

workout gif

Originally posted by wrestlingisbest

That’s why it’s essential that science meets business – from our food to our clothes, our gadgets to our cosmetics, all of the science we take for granted in every product we use had to get out of the lab and into people’s hands somehow. 

Here at SCI, we’ve been supporting science-based innovation since 1881 for this very reason – fostering the links between science and business to ensure that what happens in the lab gets out into the world and provides benefit to society. 

 bright sci challenge2

That’s why we’re running the very first Bright SCIdea Challenge! It’s a competition for UK and Republic of Ireland science students (under- or post-grad), and we’re asking students with a great science-based idea for a product or service to put together a team and develop a business plan. 

We’re offering all entrants a free series of training videos from experts in their fields, the first of which is due for release this week! We’ll be giving the teams tips on putting their business plan together, as well as how to pitch the plan – the chosen finalists will deliver their pitch to our judging panel at SCI in London… and the winning team will win £1,000, courtesy of our competition sponsor, Synthomer. 

lights gif

Originally posted by es-muy-simple

For more information and to sign up for the challenge, visit bit.ly/SCIdea2018 now! You can join the conversation on Twitter by following @SCIupdate and using the hashtag #BrightSCIdea, and by joining the Bright SCIdea Challenge Facebook group

Sustainability & Environment

 Clean Water Act

The US’ environment agency and Clean Water Act is in trouble. Image: Public Domain Pictures

Budget proposals will slash the US Environmental Protection Agency’s funding by almost a third, and its workforce by 20%, quite apart from a major refocusing of its agenda. The new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – whose time as attorney general in Oklahoma was notable for its opposition to environmental measures and the filing of multiple lawsuits against EPA – has certainly hit the ground running.

In contrast to Trump, Pruitt is actually getting stuff done, often going over the heads of his own staff. Planned regulations such as the chemical accident safety rule and a rule covering methane leaks from oil and gas wells have been delayed. Others have been reversed, including a ban on the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos, flying in the face of scientific advice from his own agency.

 Clean Water Act

Trump faced harsh criticism from several nations after pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Image: Gage Skidmore@Flickr

Other moves come in response to executive orders from the president. Trump’s earlier criticism of Obama’s use of executive orders hasn’t stopped him from throwing them around like confetti – in his first 100 days, he signed almost as many as Obama averaged in a year.

For example, at the end of February, he signed one requiring a review of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which defines what constitutes navigable waters. This might sound obscure, but it led to the EPA announcing at the end of June that it will rescind the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

‘WOTUS provided clarity on what bodies of water are subject to protections under the Clean Water Act,’ said Massachusetts congressman Mike Capuano. Essentially, the 2015 definition extended its scope to bring small waterways such as wetlands and streams under federal environmental rules, and not just big rivers and lakes.

‘The federal government won’t have the authority to regulate pollution in certain waterways because they don’t qualify under the EPA’s new definition,’ Capuano continued. ‘This will surely impact drinking water in many communities all across the country, since 117m Americans currently get their drinking water from small streams.’

EPA even published a press release that featured multiple quotes from Republican governors, senators and representatives across the country supporting the move. Quotes from those like Capuano – who believe it is a step backwards in water safety – were notable by their absence.

 Seven US scientific societies wrote to Trump condemning his actions

Seven US scientific societies wrote to Trump condemning his actions. Image: Max Pixel

So is mention of any scientific rationale. A letter from US scientists, drafted by conservation group American Rivers, states that the Clean Water Rule was developed using the best available, peer-reviewed science to clarify which bodies of water are, and are not, protected under the act. Importantly, it says that tributaries, intermittent streams and waters adjacent to them such as wetlands, are protected because of their physical, chemical and biological connections to navigable waterways. ‘We are disappointed that the current Administration has proposed dismantling the Rule with minimal consultation and without scientific justification,’ it says.

Much has been made of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, but that’s not the only signal that the air in the US is set to get dirtier. An executive order on energy independence signed by Trump at the end of March 2017 led to an instant response from EPA that it would review the Clean Power Plan. The order asked the various agencies to submit plans to revise or rescind regulatory barriers that impede progress towards energy independence, as well as wiping out several of Obama’s executive orders and policies in the field of climate change.

 climate change

Experts are worried that US air and water will become dirtier. The country is already the second biggest contributor to climate change in the world. Image: Pixabay

Top of the list for a potential resurgence: dirty energy. EPA has been directed to review, revise and rescind regulations that ‘may place unnecessary, costly burdens on coal-fired electric utilities, coal miners, and oil and gas producers’.

‘Our EPA puts America first,’ claimed Pruitt. ‘President Trump has a clear vision to create jobs, and his vision is completely compatible with a clean and healthy environment. By taking these actions today, the EPA is returning the agency to its core mission of protecting public health, while also being pro-energy independence.’

American flag gif

Originally posted by faidingrainbow

Many others beg to differ, including New Jersey senator Cory Booker. ‘It’s simply shameful that President Trump continues to put the interests of corporate polluters ahead of the health and safety of New Jersey families,’ he said. ‘The Administration’s repeated denial of clear science and proposed gutting of the EPA jeopardises the welfare of all Americans. 

‘Under no circumstance should we allow the fundamental right of each and every American to live in a safe and healthy environment be undermined by such destructive and irresponsible policies.’

Careers

One of the many commitments I have as part of my PhD training is in public engagement. This means that I get to attend events and talk about my research and other areas of science to kids, teenagers, mums, dads, grandparents… everyone!

I used to be terrified of this, as I thought that people wouldn’t understand or care. Any time friends or relatives asked what I was doing in the lab, I was never able to give a proper and comprehensive answer, and moving to England from Italy made this even worse, as I had to talk about my research in another language.

scared gif

Originally posted by hitrecord

But my idea that people wouldn’t care about or understand my research was very wrong. In fact, if people ask what you are doing in the lab, it’s because they are interested. It is true that they might not grasp complicated scientific theories, equations, and laws, but it is a scientist’s duty to make science accessible to everyone, especially when they show an interest.

I have been receiving a lot of training on how to communicate and entertain the general public with science, and here are a few ways I have found to make communication easier…


Make it simple

BB jessie if

Originally posted by vismaviedevie

Talking to the public is very different to talking to a panel of academics. Many of the people you engage with will not have much prior scientific knowledge, so try to be as simple as possible – use examples, and substitute specialised terms with more common ones. Rather than saying you synthesised a molecule, say that you made a material or compound – there is no need to be specific from the very beginning. Talk clearly and carefully, and ask if what you said was clear enough.


Relate your research to everyday life

melting gif

Originally posted by rosanna-wan

Everything happening around us is science. All natural events can be explained by physical, chemical, and mathematical rules. Telling your story will be a lot easier if you make a comparison with everyday life events. If someone complains about messy housemates, you can tell them that the state of disorder of the universe is constantly increased according to the second law of thermodynamics, so their housemates are behaving naturally!


Talk about why your research matters

particle gif

Originally posted by valeriemperez

Don’t forget that what you are doing is the lab isn’t only important to you – remind people that everybody benefits from research, whether that is through delivering useful new innovations to the market through industry, or lessening our impact on the planet. Science and innovation means progress, and, directly or indirectly, every new scientific discovery has the potential to provide benefit to society. If you can make this clear, people will relate to you more easily.


Communicate with enthusiasm

gameshowscience gif

Originally posted by ri-science

When you talk about science and your research, talk about what interests you to as many people as possible, and make it fun – use drawings, props, Lego – use whatever you can to help communicate the science in an engaging way.