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Messel TB Recipient Jean Marie Cols

27 Sep 2017

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

Jean Marie was awarded an SCI Scholarship in 2017. Here, he tells us about himself and his research project.

‘I am a final year PhD student at the Institute of Chemical Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK. My research has focused on catalyst development for the production of renewable polymers, using polynuclear catalysts to reconcile the properties of homogenous and heterogeneous catalysts. The former typically display better control and can be studied in detail, which allows us to learn how to improve future generations of catalysts. The latter is prevalent in industry due to their activity and stability but can be ill-defined in comparison to homogeneous catalysts. A polynuclear catalyst holds the potential to harness the advantages of both homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts. Concentrating my efforts on titanium-based chemistry, due to the relatively low cost and low toxicity of this metal, I synthesised a variety of polynuclear titanium compounds that we applied to the ring-opening polymerisation of lactide. Utilising the homogeneity of the catalysts was key to studying their behaviour in detail using both solid and solution-state techniques, ultimately allowing for meaningful conclusions to be drawn between catalyst design and performance under industrially-viable conditions.

‘The generous contribution from the SCI and the Messel bursary allowed me to attend the Fourth EuCheMS Inorganic Chemistry Conference (EICC-4) held in Copenhagen between 2 - 5 July 2017. EuCheMS is the major European chemical and molecular sciences association and the EICC-4 was the association’s inorganic chemistry meeting, which welcomed over 270 participants from 34 countries. Morning and afternoon plenary talks were held each day, followed by presentations in three parallel sessions that gave participants the choice to attend sessions with the most relevance to their research interests. All speakers excelled in quality, presenting scientific results that push our fundamental understanding of key areas of inorganic chemistry. The plenary speakers made their knowledge and expertise accessible to the whole audience through effective communication, maximising the participants learning. These themed plenary lectures set the scene for the keynote and invited speakers that followed in the parallel sessions.

‘Attending a high-profile conference like the EICC-4 allowed me to increase the depth and breadth of my understanding of inorganic chemistry. In particular, one plenary speaker summarising his work on the boundaries between homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts offered to share his presentation slides upon request. The relevance to my research area made this encounter crucial to develop and finalise ideas in the months leading to the end of my PhD. Another example: I was able to speak with an invited speaker during a break, having read and benefitted from much of his published research on lactide catalysis. It was a great moment to meet him in person and he was more than welcoming to answer my many questions relating to our shared research area and we exchanged contact details to keep in touch. Our discussion allowed me to gain knowledge on the current and future techniques for stereoselective control over polylactide production as well as the challenges facing researchers in this field. Overall, the presented work at the EICC-4 improved my understanding of my research area and strengthened my position to complete my thesis and pass my final viva examination.

‘Poster sessions were organised with ample time for presentation of research and networking. I took this opportunity to showcase my work and speak with researchers in my field as well as welcome those with a vague interest in my research area. I enjoyed the challenge of defending my research and drawing interest to the key features of my work. The attendees I interacted with shared valuable, positive feedback and made constructive suggestions to improve my work where needed. As a final year PhD student, this is crucial to ensure my research will meet the standards required for examination and publication. Following the poster sessions, I could further build my network by interacting with attendees in the evenings in a less formal setting at the conference venue.

‘My efforts in presenting and discussing my research throughout my time at the EICC-4 was rewarded with several offers of collaboration in wider research fields from UK and overseas research groups, such as working with immobilised catalysts for flow reactors or exploring cytotoxicity for anti-cancer research. I will enjoy the remaining time of my PhD pursuing these new and exciting research leads. Unfortunately, completing all of them would keep me busy for at least a couple of years after my PhD so I will have to leave some of the remaining work for other members of my group once I leave Heriot-Watt University!

‘As the first PhD student in my group, I benefitted from start-up funding from Heriot-Watt University. However, this did not cover any costs for attending conferences to present my research. Without the financial support from the SCI and Messel bursary, I would not have had this last chance to make a final impact to my research field and my research group. I am grateful to my supervisor, Dr Ruaraidh McIntosh, for his support with my work and attendance at the EICC-4 as well as the research staff and funding from Heriot-Watt University. I now feel that I will finish my PhD having left a lasting structure from which my supervisor can continue to grow his research group by building upon my work with collaborations in a greater breadth of research areas.’

Jean-Marie Cols
PhD Student 
Heriot-Watt University

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