Professional development for Younger Chemists at the ABCChem conference

The 1st Atlantic Basin Chemistry Conference (ABCChem) took place in Cancun, Mexico, between the 23 and 26 of January 2018. Co-organised by chemical societies from across North and South America, Europe, and Africa, as well as with the notable participation of EuCheMS and the ACS (American Chemical Society), this conference provided an opportunity to bring chemists from around the Atlantic Basin area together to share ideas and initiate collaborations on multiple topics related to chemistry. The conference instigated discussions with over 150 oral and poster sessions along four tracks: Chemistry in Biology, Green Chemistry, Materials and Nano Chemistry, and Physical and Analytical Chemistry. In addition, major opportunities were given for networking and informal discussions.

In this context, several events were organised to facilitate the exchange between young chemists, including a Younger Chemists’ Networking Session, organised by ACS-YCC (Younger Chemists Committee). This networking session allowed young chemists to meet, discuss and share ideas. To better get to know the other participants, every young chemist had the chance to find out their innovation style and to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this style with people having complementary innovation styles.

A full session was furthermore devoted to a Young Chemists Symposium, “A Crash Course in Professional development for Younger Chemists”, co-organised by ACS-YCC and EYCN. During this event, attended by more than 60 (not only) young chemists, various topics were discussed, ranging from the keys to design a scientific poster to an introduction to innovation and leadership styles, to the use of social media and networking in a professional context as well as on the good reasons to cross the Atlantic Ocean and come to Europe for a postdoctoral experience. This broad range of topics, followed by a lively panel discussion, allowed young chemists to not only enrich their soft skills but also to learn more on their networking opportunities through national and international young chemists’ networks.

Thanks to the support of EuCheMS and Evonik, the EYCN was well represented at the symposium, with the presence “on-site” of Victor Mougel, EYCN Board member, who presented the opportunities of doing a Postdoc in Europe. This was complemented by the virtual meeting attendance of Alice Soldà, EYCN Chair. Thanks to web-conferencing, she delivered a soft-skills tutorial on the design and preparation of scientific poster presentations and interacted with the conference attendees during the symposium. Both presentations were targeted at young chemists to further develop their set of soft-skills.

 Victor Mougel
EYCN Networks Team Leader

Interview with Songrui Zhao, winner of the 2017 EUCYS EuCheMS Award

A Research on Synthesis, Characterization and CO2 Absorptive Character of Pyridinium-based Ionic Liquids

From left to right: Karen Slavin, European Commission, Songrui Zhao, and Attila Borics (President of the Jury), in Tallinn, Estonia

In this work, three kinds of pyridinium-based ionic liquids were synthesised as new solvents for CO2 capture. Their physical properties and CO2 absorbing abilities were measured, calculated and analysed. The cycling abilities and absorbing principle of these liquids were also discussed. The results displayed three kinds of ionic liquids that can absorb CO2 efficiently and be recycled completely. They can be widely used in industrial CO2 capture processes.

Below is Bruno Vilela’s interview with Songrui Zhao.

Bruno Vilela (BV): First of all, I wish to congratulate you for winning EUCYS EuCheMS’ award with your project research on synthesis characterisation and CO2 Absorptive Character of pyridinium-based ionic Liquids. Could you tell me a bit more about how this project began?
Songrui Zhao (SZ): When I was about ten, I heard about the Copenhagen Conference and the focus on carbon dioxide. I was curious from that age about how the gas led to political issues and so I increasingly became sensitive to the word ‘carbon dioxide’. I eventually got the chance to attend a lecture by a professor about carbon dioxide absorption and then got in contact with him to see whether I could join him and his team. And so, I was given the opportunity to work on the project.
BV: Was the professor supportive? Was he a professor at your high school?
SZ: Not quite, in fact it was part of a programme for teenagers interested in science research provided by the Beijing Association for Science and Technology. There they can be in contact with some famous professors and to work on research.
BV: And so, this professor accepted you in the team?
SZ: Yes, in his group.
BV: And how did it go? How was everyday life? Did you have to travel to a different location on a daily basis?
SZ: Every week. Every Friday, at the weekend and during vacations I would go to the lab to work on my project.
BV: It was far away?
SZ: It took me about an hour on the subway.
BV: Tell me, what are the scientific outcomes of the project? I myself am not a chemist, so don’t rush when explaining things to me.

I think that because of the good performance in the absorption of carbon dioxide, as well as the fact it can be entirely recycled means that it has a very good prospect for industrial carbon dioxide capture

BV: And what are these pyridinium-based ionic liquids? This may be a silly question!
SZ: No, no don’t worry, I often get asked what ionic liquids are! it’s a kind of ionic organic compound.
BV: Where did you get this particular idea? Was it a topic already under research?
SZ: Through the lecture I attended, I thought a lot about the processes involved, and got the idea of absorptive carbon dioxide through ionic liquids. I was then given a list of cations and anions, and I chose the pyridinium one and the NTF2 – negative ions.
BV: And why pyridinium in particular?
SZ: I had read that pyridinium-based ionic liquids can absorb as much carbon dioxide compared to imidazolium-based ionic liquids (imidazolium-based ionic liquids are widely studied, some of them have been used in pilot scale tests). As for the negative ions, I considered its structure, as it has a spherical structure. And as carbon dioxide molecules themselves are linear molecules, I thought that they could make tangent and absorb more.
BV: So as the scientific outcome of the project, you were actually able to capture CO2?
SZ: Yes
BV: And at what scale?
SZ: Quite a small one – mainly because this was worked on in a laboratory and so I couldn’t put it to a larger scale. That will be for further study. If I get the chance to, I would be happy to continue working on it.
BV: Did you publish the findings?
SZ: Not yet. For now, I have been participating in several scientific contests like EUCYS, because the data and the results I have so far aren’t enough for a paper. Once I have done more research, then I will be able to publish it.
BV: Do you intend to continue working on this research?
SZ: I would like to, but as I attend college there isn’t much of an opportunity. So it may be that during my vacations, I will head back to the lab I worked at in high school and ask them whether I can continue or not.
BV: You are now at university?
SZ: Yes.
BV: And you are studying chemistry?
SZ: Of course!
BV: When did you begin to like chemistry?
SZ: Well, my grandmother was a chemistry teacher. She told me something about atoms and molecules, and I was amazed when I first understood that objects and everything around us in our daily life are formed with those tiny things we cannot see. And when I was about 4 or 5 years old, I was able to recite the periodic table – so maybe she had a lot of influence on me!
BV: You could recite the periodic table when you were 4?
SZ: Well, only the 1st element to the 20th. So not too much…
BV: Well that’s certainly impressive, wow!
SZ: My mother was a doctor and I think that there were other family members who worked in jobs related to chemistry and I think that all had some influence on me.
BV: Yes certainly. And was your family supportive? Your teachers? I assume you had to skip classes sometimes?
SZ: My parents, at the beginning were not so supportive but my teachers were. Sometimes I had to go to the lab and so missed my courses. But they supported me to go and do the things I like. And they helped me pick up on what I had missed.
BV: Were your friends supportive?
SZ: Well at my high school, I attended a course in which everyone had their own project in various subjects. All of us were working on some project, so we understood each other well.
BV: That’s a nice environment. Tell me, what would the future applications of your research be in everyday life? For society?
SZ: In fact, I think it will mostly be used in industry. The collision is critical, and it needs high pressure to absorb more. I don’t think it will be widely used in daily life. But in industrial processes I think it has great prospects.
BV: Would the process be able to capture all the carbon produced in a specific factory plant?
SZ: Well I think it is a thermodynamic balance. According to my experiment, the more pressure you put, the more it absorbs. But I don’t know whether it can absorb all the carbon dioxide, because you can’t put all the carbon dioxide into high pressure due to safety considerations. So maybe it will be able to absorb more than 30% (molar fraction). I’m not sure if it can absorb more.
BV: Have you already been in contact with industry to put this into action?
SZ: Not yet as it has only been tested in the lab and hasn’t been pushed to trials. For it to be used on an industrial scale, I would need to have to go through more trials.
BV: I see. Looking ahead, do you intend to continue to study chemistry and go into research?
SZ: Yes!
BV: Are there a lot of chemistry students in China? Is there a general interest in the subject?
SZ: It depends.
BV: Is there anything else you would like to add following our discussion? A message you want to pass?
SZ: Well… how should I put it? Some of my classmates, and some teenagers in China are given the opportunity to do research, but we are a minority, and the majority of teenagers are never given the chance to go to a lab. And that is something that should be improved. Everyone, including small children should have to opportunity to experience science.
BV: Is there any message you want to leave to the people who might read your interview?
SZ: If you really like something, just do it. Don’t think too much about what other people say. At the beginning, my parents didn’t support me into going into this kind of science research.

In China, and in Chinese tradition, girls are not supposed to be competitive. My mother wanted me to be a teacher. But that’s not what I want to do.

BV: But more and more girls are having careers in science. What is your feeling?
SZ: In recent years it has gotten better. But some years ago, girls were not encouraged to major in science.
BV: That’s very interesting. Thank you very much for speaking with me today and for setting some time for me in your very busy schedule! Congratulations once again for winning the EUCYS EuCheMS award! I wish you the best of luck in the future. Thank you.
SZ: Thank you very much!