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This week, I’m in Nürnberg, in Germany for the 3rd EuCheMS Chemistry Congress. EuCheMS is the European Association for the Chemical and Molecular Sciences, and comprises 47 member societies from 35 countries representing some 150,000 individual chemists in Europe.

This EuCheMS congress is bringing together scientists from industry, academia and government institutions from across Europe. The motto for this meeting is ‘Chemistry – the creative force’ and aims to present the latest research from the core areas of chemistry. Luis Oro, EuCheMS president, stated that the focus of the event will be on the major global challenges and the important contributions that the chemical sciences make toward addressing the challenges.

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So a bit about the city: Nürnberg is a city in Bavaria and is famous for being an early centre of humanism, science, printing, and mechanical invention so seems an ideal location for a chemistry congress to be held. The Communication Centre Nürnberg (CCN) is where the congress is and is huge – definitely large enough for the 2000 plus delegates that have descended on the city over the last few days.

So as you all know by now, I’m not just here to tell you about the benefits of visiting a Bavarian city (good German beer, culture and food), I’m also here to report on the cutting edge chemistry discussed during my time here.

My first day at the congress has not been a disappointment. The chemistry talks that I have listened to have been very interesting, it’s just a shame you can’t go to all the talks – in order to fit all the chemistry in, parallel symposia run alongside each other and it’s a question of choosing talks based on title or speaker and hoping for the best.

To give you a flavour of some of the chemistry discussed today, I thought I’d mention a couple of the talks that stood out in my mind.

The first one to mention was by Philippe Garrigues, from the University of Bordeaux in France. When browsing the programme, his talk caught my eye because its title was ‘Oil spills in the sea: Issues and lessons drawn from the last decades’. Bearing in mind the media coverage the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is receiving and the damage to ecosystems it has undoubtedly caused, I definitely wasn’t going to miss the talk – and I wasn’t the only one, the room was packed.

Garrigues explained that black tides (oil spills) were caused in general by ships sinking, fires or explosions on drilling platforms and war.

Deepwater_Horizon

Each year 4.5 billion tonnes of oil is produced, but only 4.0 billion tonnes is used. He warned that we have about 40-50 years worth of oil consumption left before it will all run out, and stated that 48 per cent of all oil produced is used in transport. He highlighted some large oil spills such as the Exxon Valdez – an oil tanker that sank in Alaska in 1989 spilling 40,000 tonnes of ‘black gold’ into the ocean – and the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion that he estimated has spewed somewhere in the region of 500,000 tonnes of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Surprisingly though the winner of the prize (!?) for the biggest oil spill is the Iraq/Iran war, that has seen a colossal 617,000 tonnes of oil spilled, causing huge amounts of damage to ecosystems and wildlife.

The talk was an eye-opener; the amounts of oil that have been wasted are enormous and Garrigues did say that lessons have been learnt from each incident. But he ended by saying at present we don’t seem to have a solution – oil spills will keep on happening like all accidents, and all the world leaders seem to do is create legislation in response to the spills in order to fine or punish companies after the event. I suppose they hope these measures will act as a deterrent ensuring safety procedures are always followed, but recent events seem to suggest otherwise.

Garrigues’ talk definitely suggests the delegates are ready to discuss – and hopefully tackle – the challenges mentioned by Oro. I’ll keep you posted if I go to any other hard-hitting talks like this one later in the week.

The other talk I wanted to mention today was about nanoscale fountain pens. Kirsten Strain, from the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, explained how you can deposit single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) on to a surface by drawing them on, very much like you would when you write with a fountain pen.

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The project she is involved in – Nanospec – aims to deposit SWNTs on surfaces in order to analyse them for futureapplications. The team are using atomic force microscopy, mentioned in a recent Chemistry World news story. But instead of passing an oscillating tip over molecules on a surface to build up an image of the structure, the team have replaced the tip with a nanopippette (fountain pen) filled with a nanotube dispersion (ink) and while passing it over a silicon substrate (paper) they can deposit the SWNTs.

Strain explained the pipette size can be changed to obtain different thicknesses of deposition, the concentration of the dispersion can be altered to change the concentration of the drawings and the tip can move at different speeds and in different directions to build up different pictures. The team are using Raman spectroscopy to analyse the deposition of the SWNTs and have found the SWNTs are well aligned on the silicon surface, suggesting this method could be useful for making nanodevices for electronics in the future.

So today’s talks have been really diverse ranging from oil fountains to fountain pens. Catch up with me tomorrow to read about more cool chemistry in Nürnberg.

Mike Brown

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