General, science themed posts

I couldn't say no when my supervisor asked me if I would present my work to one of the industrial partners of my PhD in Germany on a three-day trip. I actually appreciated the chance to stop and gather my research so far into something coherent. With a lot of presenting experience behind me, I also no longer get nervous at the thought of explaining my research to others. So with a memory-stick containing my slides in my bag, I jetted off to Frankfurt with my supervisor last week to catch the team up on my part of the project.

My first challenge of the trip was to figure out how the sat-nav worked in the rental car. Once I navigated the German system enough to program in our destination and ‘Tim’ (the UK guide voice), we set off from Frankfurt airport with our sights set on Lahnau. We arrived after a short drive and went straight into the meeting.

The presentation went really well, resulting in a lot of work for me to follow up on! Afterwards the team took us out for dinner at an old mill by the river, where I had my first taste of German cider. Although I mixed it with lemonade to try and sweeten it up, I think I will stick to the wine next time!


Before we left Lahnau I had to get a memento of our visit. Taking a photo of a manhole cover may seem strange, but I snap a photo of one in every town I visit as a reminder of where I've been. European covers are a lot more interesting than those in Britain as they are often adorned with the name of the town or district and it's coat of arms. It's a tradition I started back when I used to live in Germany and makes a cheap and easy keepsake.

The river in CochemCochem
The next day we met the Moselle river where it joins the Rhine at Koblenz and took a scenic drive alongside it to Cochem. The town sounds like a cool name for a cobalt chemistry group, but I can assure you that absolutely no inorganic chemistry was discussed over our lunch outside the town hall. We did however sample some of the local wine from the steep slopes of the Mosel vineyards we had passed on our journey.

Sampling the wine in Cochem

Lunch in Cochem
I also have an accidental selfie on my phone from the lady who took this photo!

After a stroll around the town we set off for Worms, along what can be described as my supervisor's worst nightmare - up about 7 steep hairpin bends. I thought that the Sat-nav was sending us the wrong way but Prof was raring to take up the challenge. We met some pretty active mature cyclists at the top, who I think were glad to be cycling down the hill!

Having a fun cycle down the hill.

The trip was rounded off the next day with a walk down memory lane - or more accurately, a walk down Worms high street. I spent my placement year (September 2009-2010) working for Grace Davison there. The company continues to host Surrey university placement students; I accompanied my supervisor on her visit to check on their progress.

The flags in WormsThe drain in Worms

With fond memories of the mocktail 'Kiba'(a mix of banana and cherry juice), I had my heart set on visiting the Wein- und Bierschänke for our final evening. Unfortunately the current placement students instead took us for a meal at (what is referred to by the locals as) 'the chicken place'. As you can imagine, it was not the best place for a plant-based meal. The view of the river, the company and the beer made up for the fact that my salad arrived with ham, despite me specifically ordering it without.

KibaGrace Davison

After a wander through the town buying gifts on the last day, I took the bus to Grace - the same bus I took almost everyday to work four years ago! The ride was a lot smoother than I remember it. Once I arrived I had a quick catch up with some of the technicians and researchers I used to work with before we had to leave to catch our flight home. Frankfurt business lounge was our one last indulgence, although it was slightly tarred with the lingering smell of lukewarm Frankfurters (farewell Germany)!

Road tripping with my Supervisor was a new experience for me and I'm glad it was Germany we had the pleasure of driving together. Germany still feels like a second home to me - I enjoy going back there often. Last year Charles and I took a trip to Dresden over Christmas and I think a weekend trip to Berlin may be on the cards next year. Hopefully see you again soon Germany and until then, viel Spaß!

I've forgotten to write a blog post this week as I've been busy writing a presentation to deliver to my industrial PhD partners. I've also been playing far too much roller derby (if such a thing exists) for my poor arms to cope with. A new regular feature has therefore been created from my lack of free time and energy - a pictorial run through of my recent happenings in the lab. I hope you enjoy the photos and the insight into my PhD!

Let's start with an old photo to ease us in. I wish my fume cupboard was still this clean and well organised. Unfortunately I am all to used to the perils of working with wood that stains everything it touches!

I wish my fume hood was still this clean and well organised.

These test tubes are from a flash chromatography system. Flash chromatography is faster at separating compounds than gravity chromatography because it uses pressure to push the compounds through the column. Look at the pretty variations in colour!

Look how concentrated some of these are!

You can also separate compounds using a funnel like this one. Here the sugars from my bark extract are creating a circular pattern on top of the liquid.

Filtering my separations

The layers of filter paper resulting from my recent extraction methodology look like a rather pretty brown speckled poppy. Shame it doesn't smell like one too.

Filter paper from my many extractions

Finally, my top success for the week was finding a solvent system that would dissolve 3 very different compounds. This is a photo of one of the failures, as you can see from the undissolved substance on the right.


That's all from me this week - how was your week in or out of the lab?

Last weekend I took a trip to Greenwich with Charles to see the 'Stars to Satellites' exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. I used it as an opportunity to test out my new film camera - hopefully good pictures will soon follow when I get the film developed!

Vegan lemon and blueberry cake from Greenwich market. Baked by Rubys of London (Ruby Tuesdays)
Vegan lemon and blueberry cake from Greenwich market. Baked by Rubys of London (Ruby Tuesdays).

Greenwich market is one of my favourite places to buy vegan cake. I was certainly not disappointed with my slice of lemon and blueberry cake, which I paired with a cup of strong, black coffee. Unfortunately it defeated me - I only managed to eat half!

One of the pubs on Southbank quoted science! Win for chemistry.
One of the pubs on Southbank quoted science! Win for chemistry.
The London Coffee Guide was to irresistible not to pick up
The London Coffee Guide was to irresistible not to pick up

We took a stroll down Southbank in the sunshine to work off my cake and make room for more food. The Tate Modern bookshop beckoned for a peruse. I picked out a guide to all of the independent coffee shops in London.

Look at that basil mayo next to that burger, just look at it!
Look at that basil mayo, just look at it!

Dinner at Mildred's shortly followed. I had a huge butter-bean, black olive and pepper burger slathered in basil mayonnaise. The vegan basil mayonnaise itself was delicious - I must learn how to make it immediately.

The Lego bus stop
The Lego bus stop

There is a bus stop near Hamleys entirely made out of Lego. Lego! The bricks were firmly glued down to stop any of the 100,000+ pieces going missing. The busy tourist shelter was the last stop on our day out before heading to a friends leaving party. I ate the rest of my cake on the train home.



It's the 100th day of my PhD! How do I know this? I'm tweeting my way through my PhD, one day at a time.

Hashtags are all the rage on Twitter, so I thought I'd jump on board and use one too for my own little project (or big project if you consider it as part of the PhD itself). Documenting my highs and lows in a concise way (oh I love you Twitter) will hopefully give me something to look back on in the future and engage with others who are going through, or have had, the same experiences as me in my PhD.

I'm hoping that grouping all of the relevant tweets together using the #TweetmyPhD hashtag and numbering them by day will keep the tweets easy to find and time line easy to follow. (Although, I've already mixed up the numbering on a few of the days - I usually tweet at the end of the day, when I'm tired and my proof-reading skills slip!)

The numbering follows the simple rule that if I spend a considerable amount of time working or thinking about my PhD, it gets a tweet using the hashtag. Hence I foresee that most weeks will have five #TweetmyPhD tweets (Mon-Fri) and some will extend to six or seven. I'm aiming to stick to working Mon-Fri only, but we will see what happens further into my PhD.

Is anyone else out there tweeting their way through their PhD? I'd love to hear from you! As for celebrating my 100th day, I think I will enjoy a few cocktails later. After all, it is a Friday!

elements-nutrition-logo I’ve been working on an exciting creative project with the Royal Society of Chemistry over the past few months, in partnership with a lovely team of developers at Texavi. I’m very happy to say that my concepts of a game around the topic of ‘health’ have been realised in the release of a new mobile and tablet application, Elements of Nutrition!

Do you know what type of food you need to eat to help you see in the dark or help your body build strong bones and teeth? Play Elements of Nutrition to find out! In this fun and educational game for ages 6-12 years, the aim is to collect as much healthy food as you can, whilst avoiding the unhealthy snacks.

Children playing the game at the Cambridge Science Festival
Children playing the game at the Cambridge Science Festival

Elements of Nutrition was a big hit at the Cambridge Science Festival this year; the app was available to play on iPad and was popular with a wide age range of children and their parents. With facts about vitamins and minerals at the start of each level, this simple app proved to be a valuable learning tool, as well as a fun game with a ‘juicy’ element of competition.

“This app could be used to help consolidate a student’s understanding of a healthy eating topic as it revises the different food groups with examples of foods which constitute a healthy diet. The app could be used at the start of a lesson to assess prior learning and again at the end to see if the student’s knowledge has improved. It can also, of course, be used at home or any time during a lesson that a teacher feels is appropriate.” - Susan Thompson, Regional Coordinator (East), Royal Society of Chemistry, Schools and Colleges Team.
"I think the app would be really good for students with English as an additional language; in the early stages of learning English it would allow them to engage in science lessons without really needing to speak or understand much English.” - Secondary school teacher, Cambridge Science Festival.

The app is deceivingly educational as as each level you learn about why it’s important to eat food containing lots of vitamins and minerals. You then catch these types of food in your shopping trolley. The game covers both vitamins (A, C, D) and minerals (calcium, potassium and iron).

The game is currently available to download for free for iPhone, iPod and iPad, and will be soon available on Android operating systems.

I hope you enjoy playing Elements of Nutrition as much as I’ve had making it with the Strategic Innovation Team and Texavi - please feel free to download, play, share and have some educational fun! Let me know if you can beat my top score of 1460!