Events: NESSE at ISGC 2015

In May of this year, NESSE was delighted to partner with the International Symposium on Green Chemistry. The conference is proving to be a premier Green Chemistry conference, with nearly 800 attendees and a fascinating array of speakers with big names in the field, interesting debates, and excellent parallel and poster sessions. Two of NESSE’s Executive Board attended (Jennie and Laura) and despite the temptation of the beautiful city and sunshine, through events and discussions we made sure everyone knew about NESSE (see more photos on Flickr)!

The conference covered a diverse number of topics from the chemical valorisation of waste and biomass conversion to environmental and ethical assessment, demonstrating the broadening interest in sustainable science and gradually increasing interdisciplinarity. Once again, Europe’s strong emphasis on the use of biomass-derived resources to produce chemicals shone through.

Jennie's Tweet - John WarnerHowever, the challenge of taking new ideas from the lab into reality in industry was clearly evident. John Warner gave an insightful talk with his five top tips for innovation, including my particular favourite, ‘All innovation starts with science fiction’—we first need to imagine something that can’t be done. Especially inspiring was to hear about how the Warner Babcock Institute puts these principles into practice connecting research and commercialisation, such as its plant-based additive that enables the reuse of asphalt.

Jean-Paul Lange from Shell reminded us that energy remains one of the biggest science and technology challenges, and that the challenge is not that we don’t have enough fossil fuel, the problem is that we have too much. From a research perspective, Marc Fontecave gave a particularly inspiring talk on catalysis using bio-inspired chemistry, demonstrating fascinating progress at the interface between biology and chemistry by modifying proteins with new chemically designed active sites. Read his article: ‘Sustainable Chemistry for Energising the Planet’.

Jennie's Tweet - JavierSeveral of the plenary speakers highlighted the need for interdisciplinarity to develop sustainable innovations, an issue close to NESSE’s heart. From John Warner saying “Molecules don’t know what application they are in. Innovation happens when we look beyond our discipline,” to Prof. Javier Pérez-Ramírez utilising an interesting photo to demonstrate his point that we have to work with other people and across disciplines to have impact, the message was clear! However, the key challenge remains how to do this in practice.

It was wonderful to see early-career researchers recognised through the Global Green Chemistry Centres (G2C2) Young Researchers award to someone under 35 who has made a substantial contribution to the field. Prof Ning Yan from the National University of Singapore was an inspiring winner, focusing on using nanocatalysts for simple biomass conversion retaining chemical functionality. There were also really high quality presentations and posters from early-career scientists.

At ISGC 2015, finalists for the G2C2 Young Researchers Award line up on stage.

At ISGC 2015, finalists for the G2C2 Young Researchers Award line up on stage.

Early-career research: from algae to process chemistry with fermentation broths.

Early-career research: from algae to process chemistry with fermentation broths.

NESSE was active throughout the conference, from speaking on the main stage about the need to connect early-career scientists across disciplines for innovation, to running early-career sessions on ‘Top Tips for Getting Published’ and ‘Starting a Sustainable Science Group’.

NESSE's exec board members on the stage and at our booth at ISGC.

NESSE’s exec board members on the stage and at our booth at ISGC.

The insights from the Editor of Green Chemistry and the highly published Prof. Rafael Luque were extremely interesting. A few that stood out were: don’t be afraid to contact the editor of a journal to ask about whether an article is relevant, talk to your supervisor about getting experience in reviewing articles (and ask them to tell the editor you’ve been involved) and write to editors and reviewers as human beings using their name if possible!NESSE Tweet - Greg Chatel

There was a huge amount of interest from early-career attendees to set-up NESSE groups in their local communities around the world! To support new groups, we will be running a free, online short course this summer to help groups get started and to share ideas between groups. If you’d like to join the course, email our Groups Director, Laura, at groups@sustainablescientists.org.
As always, networking and socialising proved to be some of the most useful aspects of the week. We enjoyed the La Rochelle sunshine and the beautiful historic sights with many early-career attendees at the NESSE social evening and in discussions over lunch, coffee breaks, and at the NESSE stand.

BFFM 2015 Bio-Based Economy Workshop

Have you been hearing a lot about the bio-economy, but are unclear about what that means? Doing research related to bio-refinery, but not sure how to communicate it? The BFFM 2015 (Biorefinery for Food, Fuels, and Materials) Young Scientists Team has organized a workshop for you!

Young Scientist Workshop:
Your Future in the Bio-based Economy

BFFM Workshop Banner

On June 17th in Montpellier, France, within the context of the international congress “Biorefinery for Food, Fuel, and Materials”, this free workshop will be dedicated to early-career scientists—researchers, economists, engineers, and more, from Ph.D.,to postdoctoral levels. This event, chaired by Damien Conaré, member of the Unesco Chair in World Food Systems, will introduce topics related to the bio-based economy and discuss its future. Some highlights include:

  • Special guest experts in the bio-based society community:
    • Rintu Banerjee (India), Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur
    • Istvan Kenyeres (Hungary), Founder of the BIOPOLUS Alliance
    • Stephen Miller (USA), Professor at the University of Florida and CTO of US BIOPLASTICS
    • Maarten Van Schie (Netherlands), Assistant Editor at Biobased Press
  • An interactive, dynamic, and informative forum to exchange experiences, best practices, and ideas around the question: “How can young scientists transmit and promote their research work in the bio-economy context in order to contribute to the science and innovation agenda of the future?”
  • A surprise visit to an exciting site!

This free workshop is limited to 50 people, so register now at http://www.bffm2015-congress.eu/workshop.html if you want to visit Montpellier in mid-June and learn about the bio-based economy!

BFFM Workshop LogoThe Organizing Team

Antonella Marone and Lucile Chatellard
Laboratory of Biotechnology of the Environment (LBE-INRA)

Marianne Joubert, Aida Nasiri, Bettina Bellocq, Chutima Aphibanthammakit, Santi Chuetor
Engineering of Agro-polymers and Emergent Technologies (IATE-CIRAD)

Guillaume Billerach, Laurent Roumeas, Mamou Diallo
Science for the Oenology (SPO-INRA)

Léo-Paul Varus
University of Southampton

with support from Veronique Planchot and Hugo de Vries

contributed by Antonella Marone

Scientist Profiles: Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff

Editor’s note: Sir Martyn Poliakoff will be speaking at the International Symposium on Green Chemistry 2015 in La Rochelle, France on May 4th, 2015. This symposium brings together scientists from around the world to talk about the past, present, and future of green chemistry. This year’s symposium will feature nine different subfields of green chemistry and promises to be a very educational event! Registration is open here.

Martyn Poliakoff

Sir Martyn Poliakoff is a Research Professor in Chemistry at the University of Nottingham and an enthusiastic supporter of Green Chemistry. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (2002), of the RSC (2002), and of the IChemE (2004) and awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for “Services to Sciences” in the 2007/8 New Year Honours. He is the Foreign Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society, and he was knighted in 2015 for his services to Chemical Sciences. His research interests involve chemical applications of supercritical fluids, with particular emphasis on Green Chemistry. He is also well known for his extensive work on The Periodic Table of Videos.

Who or what would you say has had the greatest impact on your life as a chemist?

Undoubtedly my Ph.D. supervisor, Professor J.J. Turner FRS, has played the key role not only in shaping me as a chemist, diverting my boyish enthusiasm into productive directions, but also in mentoring me for most of my professional life. Of course there have been many others: George Pimentel, the inventor of the cryogenic technique, matrix isolation, that I used at the start of my career; Alec Campbell at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne who taught me how to teach; the legendary explosives lecturer Colonel B.D. Shaw who taught me the secret of successful lecture demonstrations; and Yuri Evgenievich Gorbaty who reminded me which things are genuinely important in science. Then there have been many green chemists whose work and enthusiasm has inspired me.

How did you transition into green chemistry? Were there any challenges you had to overcome? If so, how did you address them?

Green chemistry started in the USA in the early 1990s and highlighted the need for cleaner and more sustainable solvents for chemical processes. At that time, I was working (and still am) in the area of supercritical fluids. These are gasses, such as CO2 or steam, compressed until they are nearly as dense as liquids, which have an intriguing mix of the properties of liquids and gasses. I saw an opportunity to apply them to green chemistry or “clean technology” as it was called at that time in the UK. I applied for funding and, once I got started, I was hooked! I now consider green chemistry as one of the key areas of chemistry needed to address the challenges currently facing humanity.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your role at Nottingham?

I was born in London. I had a Russian father and English mother, an Austrian nurse, and French cousins, so I have quite an international background! I studied chemistry at Cambridge and, despite poor results in my finals, I also did my Ph.D. there. I spent 7 years at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and have been at the University of Nottingham since 1979, rising through the ranks from lecturer to professor. Currently I am a so-called Research Professor in Chemistry but spend about half my time away from Nottingham as Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, the UK’s Academy of Science. In effect, I’m an ambassador for UK science and green chemistry. At Nottingham, I lead a research group of Ph.D. students and postdocs in collaboration with my colleague, Mike George. I also teach green chemistry and am the lead presenter in the university’s highly successful YouTube channel, the Periodic Table of Videos.

What advice would you give to students or younger researchers who want to build sustainability into their scientific work and careers? How can they get support from supervisors at their university/organization?

There isn’t a “right answer” to this question. It depends on the person, where they are and what research they are doing. However, it’s important to think how one’s experiments can be altered to generate less waste and to use less toxic, if not harmless, solvents and reagents. The key to success in science is to do things that others are not doing, to have an original approach. There are no shortcuts to achieving this. One needs to read the literature, to identify the weaknesses in other people’s approaches, and then to do much thinking. With luck and inspiration, you should think of something that is cleaner, better, and original. Your discovery. Your science. Once you’ve had the idea, getting support may not be so difficult because your reaction or process will probably be cheaper, either because the chemicals are less expensive or there is less waste for costly disposal. Getting people to give you time to think of the idea in the first place may be another matter, but a combination of enthusiasm and the promise of saving money may do the trick.

Which universities you would recommend for students who want to pursue green chemistry at the undergraduate level? What about at the graduate level?

This is another hard question. At the undergrad level, the key point is to learn plenty of chemistry and, if your course allows, some chemical engineering. Ratings and university rankings are less important. Indeed, many leading universities do not even mention green chemistry in their courses. This semester I have lectured to undergraduates at Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial College; none of them appear to teach green chemistry at the undergraduate level. By contrast, at Nottingham, we have an introductory module on Green Chemistry and Process Engineering for our first year students, taught by both chemists and chemical engineers. So, in short, you have to look at the courses available in your list of possible universities, and those courses often change year on year.

You have inspired many students through your green chemistry courses at the University of Nottingham. How well do you think universities are preparing science and engineering students to solve global challenges?

My impression, albeit from anecdotal information and my own rather selective experience, is that many universities do not spend much time discussing with students how chemistry can help with these challenges, or even what the challenges are. Admittedly, later in courses, there are research-focused lectures that may explain how an individual professor is trying to solve the problems of hydrogen storage, improved solar cells, more efficient batteries or whatever. More generally, there is a need for chemists to have more awareness of engineering and vice versa. In the UK at least, there is much less crossover than I think is desirable. It’s not just a question of preparing chemists to be green. It’s also the rather obvious fact that, if chemists continue to confine themselves to the same traditional and unchanging reactors, they are less likely to uncover revolutionary new chemistry. Fortunately, the recent move in the direction of flow or continuous chemistry is beginning to rectify the situation, although rather slowly.

You’ve been involved in a lot of interdisciplinary projects during your career. What advice would you give about getting the most out of collaborations across disciplines?

People need to collaborate because they want to and because they need that combination of expertise to solve particular problems. They should not do it just because their university or funding agency is applying pressure to do it. Forced marriages are rarely a success. On the other hand, arranged marriages can often be very happy. So you should not be shy of seeking help in finding a suitable partner to work with you in solving your problem. Whatever happens, it is important to choose a partner whom you like. If relations are sticky at the beginning, they are unlikely to get better and may well get worse. Collaborative projects can be very productive. Often the partners can do things together which neither could do by themselves.

You’ve had a huge impact through your public communication work, especially with the Periodic Table of Videos. You have also supported the spread of green chemistry in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia. How have those experiences influenced your research?

These experiences have been both enjoyable and rewarding. I first visited Ethiopia in 2003 while my son was working as a volunteer physics teacher in a high school in the relatively remote town of Hossana. During the visit, I gave a talk about green chemistry at his school, a talk that turned out to be the first on that subject in Ethiopia. Encouraged by the other teachers at the school, we visited Addis Ababa University and met a chemist there, Dr. Nigist Asfaw, who has since become a close friend. Together with Nigist and my Nottingham colleague Pete Licence, I have promoted green chemistry in Ethiopia to the point where it is being taught in several universities and has become a major area of research to Ethiopian chemists. I have also benefited because seeing conditions in some parts of Ethiopia convinced me even more of the value of green chemistry. I have become passionate about science in Africa, not just in Ethiopia. More practically, my involvement has enabled the University of Nottingham to begin training some of the next generation of Ethiopian scientists. My interest in Africa has helped me appreciate the terrible scourge of malaria, and recently, Mike George and I have been leading a photochemical research project at Nottingham to improve the process for making the antimalarial drug artemisinin.

My involvement with the Periodic Table of Videos has had less of an impact on my research, but it has been enormous fun and has taken me to many places that I would never have visited otherwise, like the Bullion Vault of the Bank of England, the Johnston Matthey noble metal refinery, or the UK National Nuclear Laboratories. It has also given me the chance to reacquaint myself with whole areas of chemistry that I had largely forgotten. Most of all, I have had the opportunity to try to communicate my enthusiasm for chemistry to a new generation of chemists around the globe.

What do you still want to achieve?

That is a somewhat terminal question! The short answer is that I want to continue doing interesting and original science for as long as I enjoy it. Who knows how long that will be? Colonel Shaw gave his last explosives lecture at the age of 92. My mother’s cousin, the distinguished medical scientist Philip D’Arcy Hart, gave his last keynote conference lecture at the age of 98 and published his last paper when he was 104! More seriously, I am keen to help photochemistry become firmly established as a routine and effective technique for manufacturing chemicals. And I would like enable supercritical fluids, especially supercritical CO2, to be widely used as a solvent in chemical processes.

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us! We look forward to seeing you at the ISGC 2015.

contributed by Stephen Kass

NESSE at ISGC 2015

ISGC smallWe’re thrilled to announce that NESSE will be partnering with the 3rd International Symposium on Green Chemistry, which will be taking place May 3-7 of 2015 in La Rochelle, France. The symposium will cover a broad range of green chemistry topics, including biomass conversion, atom-economical synthesis, clean hydrogen production, and more! If you’d like to know more about who’s going, you can find a list of confirmed speakers here. This isn’t just an event for academics, though—start-ups, businesses, and other organizations are welcome at the exhibition hall. This is shaping up to be a very exciting event, and we hope to see many of our members there!

If simply learning about green chemistry in France isn’t appealing enough for you, NESSE will be offering several training and networking opportunities for early-career researchers during the symposium. These will include a social event at a nearby bar, a training session on writing journal articles, and a stand where members of NESSE’s executive committee will be available to chat.

The ISGC may seem far in the future, but the deadline for submitting abstracts is closing fast—get your abstract in by Oct. 15, 2014 if you want to present! Early registration will be available until Jan. 15th, 2015.

NESSE launches at the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference

Last week was an exciting moment for NESSE as we launched the organisation at the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Washington DC. After a year of setting up the network, writing our constitution, scrambling to finish our website and organising the ‘From Bench to Big Picture’ launch event in collaboration with the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute, we were nervous, excited, and a little unsure as to how it would be received. Coming back after the conference we are energised and excited by the enthusiasm from the early-career scientists present and lots of other organisation to be part of, to build and support NESSE.

At the launch event three great speakers highlighted the importance of communication and connecting our research with bigger picture issues if we’re going to make an impact in society, vital in the area of green chemistry and sustainable science. NESSE then led an interactive cafe-style discussion about ‘How we can get our green research out into society’. You can read more about our overview of the launch on the ACS Nexus Blog and see more photos on our Flickr feed.

Speakers preparing for the 'From Bench to Big Picture' launch event

Speakers preparing for the ‘From Bench to Big Picture’ launch event

Early-career researchers discussing ways to get green research out into society at the NESSE launch event.

Early-career researchers discussing ways to get green research out into society at the NESSE launch event.

The discussions that started at the launch event continued throughout the GC&E conference over lunch and during the breaks building a relationship amongst the younger scientists present. We’re very excited to have four new members of the Executive Committee who will be leading communications and supporting people to set-up green science initiatives at their universities.

Inspired by the Green Chemistry Initiative at the University of Toronto several people are going away to start groups at their universities, bringing speakers on green chemistry and sustainable science topics to other grad students and post-docs and building a sustainable science community together with other disciplines. NESSE will act as a support network and hub to provide resources and inspiration. If you’re interested in setting-up a group at your university please contact Laura at sustainablescientists@gmail.com.

We have many other plans and ideas, with the only limits being the time and enthusiasm of our members. Please join us to become part of this new community and build a greener future.

Excited NESSE members at the GC&E conference

Excited NESSE members at the GC&E conference

Making plans for NESSE over lunch

Our new Executive Committee members making plans for NESSE over lunch