Archive for October 2010

When is news not news?

October 29, 2010

I started thinking about this after being given a job by my friends at Chemistry World. The paper seemed quite cool and speaking with the author about it really enthused me, but then I spoke to another expert on the field and my enthusiasm was somewhat dampened.

I still think the paper and the idea in it is pretty cool – solve the problem of electrolyte migration in Li ion batteries by tethering the electrolytes. This makes better batteries that can last for longer and are safer than conventional Li ion batteries. Li ion batteries can hold a lot more charge than other sorts of batteries so working with them could be a good idea. Although no-one here has addressed the problem that Li resources may be running out so how do we make the batteries then? I guess that’s someone else’s problem.

The issue pointed out by the other expert is that only part of the electrolyte is tethered. Oh yes and apparently they’ve only tested the system at between 100th to 1000th of the operation current of a real Li ion battery. Issues that may have been easily resolved pre-publication with a couple more experiments – but then such is the way of peer review.

My problem was then is this story still worth publishing as news? I think yes, as it does further science and is a neat new concept, but it certainly doesn’t have the impact that it might have done and a lot of lay-people might not understand that this one experiment cannot really hope to solve all our battery concerns. They might read this and think the advances had already been made, or alternatively read this and think we are still a long way from the perfect battery (which would be true, though we may be closer now than we were).

I liked the concept so I think it is worth bringing to a wider audience, you may not agree. Anyhow the story appeared here so you can judge for yourselves whether it is newsworthy or not.

SCAN 2010 – Synthesis and Characterization in Nanomaterials Workshop and School

October 19, 2010

I’ve been on holiday, hence the long break from posting. Actually I was in Turkey, one of my favourite places, and the first part of the trip was not a holiday but work, of sorts.

An old friend invited me to speak at a conference she was organising, along with some colleagues. They wanted someone to provide a view on publishing in nanoscience, which I was happy to provide. Copies of my talk available upon request to blog@sciencecarol.com

However I’m sure you’re not that interested in what I had to say, but rather in the meeting itself. It was SCAN 2010 and covered all kinds of nanomaterials; their synthesis, characterisation, properties, and applications. The scope ranged from catalysis using transition metal nanoparticles to bioinspired functional surfaces, in depth STM (by which I mean detailed not deep – haha surface scientist joke 😉 ) and electron microscopy studies, and self-assembly of polymers and polymeric 2D structures. I’ve rarely been to such a broad-ranging meeting but I have to say that this was also one of the most enjoyable I have been to (and I am not just saying that). A coming-together of disciplines (right across chemistry, spectroscopy, and physics) is appropriate for a topic like nanomaterials,which do cross borders, but to do it in a small and friendly way is unusual and delightful.

Personal science highlights (please don’t be offended if I didn’t pick you – I enjoyed every talk but the nature of highlights is to select only a few for discussion):

  • From the very first session and Prof. Saim Özkar, I learned what I was doing in my PhD when I was adding “palladium zero” catalyst to my Suzuki cross-coupling reaction (as an aside I was pleased to see that Prof. Akira Suzuki won a share in a Nobel prize for this important reaction) .
  • Dr Marleen Kamperman’s eloquent explanation of the biomimicry of gecko’s feet or how to become spiderman.
  • The drive to study real catalysts under real conditions, as demonstrated by, amongst others, Dr Emrah Ozensoy and Dr Alex Goguet.
  • Prof. Kimoon Kim’s superb final plenary lecture summarising a lifetime’s worth of work on 2D polymers from cucurbitril to make fundamental and also applicable materials advances

I also enjoyed countless interesting conversations with delegates about topics as varied as open-access publishing, impact factors, the predominance of women in Turkish chemistry departments and, of course, on mutual friends.

Bilkent University is, I believe, regarded as the best chemistry department within Turkey and the Times Higher Education Supplement ranked the University as a whole as one of the top 200 in the world. It is easy to believe that this is true, seeing the quality and variety of science coming out of it. What is really impressive is that this achievement comes on the back of far fewer resources than most western universities are able to resort to. Though recent investments have, for example, enabled the chemistry department to buy its own NMR spectrometer, until a couple of years ago this service that most European scientists take for granted was not readily available in Bilkent for routine characterisation. This makes the level and amount of science  being pursued at Bilkent all the more impressive to me.

The workshop and school were also a chance for the three organizers (Dönüş, Emrah, and Erman) to demonstrate the famous Turkish hospitality, and they excelled. The food was fantastic and plentiful, the students attentive, and the atmosphere throughout the workshop inclusive and inquisitive as befitting a meeting of scientific minds.

I’m interested to know what other delegates’ personal highlights were and welcome, as always, any thoughts on what I have said here.