Recognising student talent (Day 277)

MacNab Lacey Medal

MacNab Lacey Medal

I always like to hear about the achievements of chemical engineering students around the world.  IChemE has a long history of recognising such achievements and its a great way of  encouraging and nurturing future talent.

The Macnab Lacey Prize was created when the McNab Medal for the best student design project and the Lacey Prize for environmental thinking were merged in 2011. It is open to final-year students from all IChemE-accredited universities, rewarding the project that best contributes to a sustainable world.

I am pleased to report that a student team from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has won this year’s MacNab Lacey Prize. And they must be doing something right at Monash, because their undergraduates have grabbed the Prize two years running.

Monash University’s winning entry was a conceptual design that determines the feasibility of using black liquor (a lignin rich co-product of wood pulp produced in paper production) as a renewable feed-stock for ammonia production.

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Using a Nanopatch™ to vaccinate the world (Day 276)

detailed earthI’ve talked a good deal in recent posts about novel methods of drug delivery and vaccination (see ‘Making our bodies accept drugs faster’ and ‘Injecting from the instead’) however, today’s blog is about a product that is a step closer to being adopted world-wide.

The Nanopatch™, invented by Professor Mark Kendall, started life at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

Marks’s Nanopatch™ idea was to offer a needle-free method of drug delivery that could be widely used and increase vaccine efficacy.

In 2011 UniQuest, the University of Queensland’s commercialisation company, helped Mark found Vaxxas to advance the possibility of Nanopatch™ becoming a clinically-proven product.

Today, Vaxxas and Mark are getting closer to making that idea a reality by raising £12.7 million of funding for a series of clinical programs and the development of a pipeline of new vaccine products for major diseases.

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Thailand’s world first in waste (Day 275)

A shocking one-third of the food produced for human consumption – over a billion tonnes – is wasted every year – the United Nations tells us.

Global Water Engineering logo - GWE Chok...So you can imagine my delight when I learnt about the ground-breaking system developed by Global Water Engineering (GWE). Their system turns leftover cassava pulp into green energy using advanced anaerobic technology – and it does much more besides.

This certainly is another triumph for chemical engineering, and so it’s only fitting that GWE’s innovation earned them the IChemE Global Award for Energy back in November 2014.

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A day in the life of a professor (Day 274)

Geoff Maitland IChemE PresidentI’ve been blogging continuously for 270 days now and I’m beginning to notice a few trends amongst my followers. Many readers are extremely interested in what chemical engineers do and where our profession can take us.

I’ve shared other people’s chemical engineering good news stories and talked about their work and their careers.  But I’ve not talked about myself all that much. Unless your were present at the 2014 annual general meeting that is, where I highlighted some aspects of my career to date in my presidential address, a recording of which is available to watch here.

brithday cakeBut it’s my birthday today – and given that birthdays are all about the birthday boy or girl –  I trust you’ll allow me to offer a brief insight into my own career. So this posting describes a typical day in the life of yours truly and one that happened last week. The exploits of a professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London and IChemE president.

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Helping our bodies accept drug implants (Day 273)

In recent years we have seen increasing interest in new approaches to drug delivery with greater focus on the efficiency and flexibility of the drugs we use.

robot pillThere are a variety of new methods available to help us do this (some of which I have blogged about before) including: jet injectors; micro-needles; ‘’Injecting’ from the inside’; ‘Using cellular backpacks to deliver drugs’; nano-patches and implants.

Interestingly, the recent Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering winner and chemical engineer Robert Langer has spent a good portion of his career looking at improving methods of drug delivery.

Today, I want to highlight a different approach; the use of implants as drug delivery devices. Implants offer several advantages over pills or injections, but often result in immune responses that hinder their performance.

A group of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), in Bangalore, India, have developed a biodegradable polymer that acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and allows better acceptance of bio medical implants in the human body.

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Hummingbird® propels biofuel technology into the 21st century (Day 272)

hummingbirdMany people share my passion for a world of cleaner transport. So I am excited by the amount of progress that has been made towards lower-emission fuels, especially in the domain of biofuels – fuels made from plants, other vegetable- and animal-derived materials.

In fact, the International Energy Agency‘s (IEA) technology roadmap for biofuels in transport suggests that, by 2050, biofuels could provide over a quarter of the world’s total transport fuel, and avoid around 2 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Perhaps less obvious is the spread of bioplastics – plastics made from vegetable fats and oils, corn starch and other biomass sources – in the form of food and other packaging, crockery, cutlery, straws and more.

Bioplastics have non-disposable uses such as mobile phone casings, car interiors, and even medical devices. This is a fast growing market; I recently read a forecast predicting a doubling in biodegradable plastics alone from around UK£3.6 billion in 2015 to UK£8.2 billion in 2025.

BP logo - BP Hummingbird...For me, the IChemE global award-winning BP Hummingbird® project to develop a catalyst and process for converting bio-ethanol to ethylene is an excellent example of the ground-breaking chemical engineering that is bringing this cleaner, more cost-effective technology ever closer.

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Using your smartphone to sniff out disease (Day 271)

noseThe fight against disease is time dependent. The earlier the diagnosis, the greater the chance of survival.

Cutting-edge work, using smell as a means of disease detection, suggests that our smartphones may be the future of early diagnosis.

A research consortium lead by Professor Hossam Haick at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is developing a device that, when linked to a smartphone, will be able to screen the user’s breath for the detection of life-threatening diseases.

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First-of-its-kind bio-based plant to be built in Malaysia (Day 270)

Two biotechnology companies are joining forces to build a world-first renewable chemical manufacturing plant in Nusajaya, Iskandar, Malaysia.

The plant is said to be the first-of-its-kind; a bio-based plant that will produce 30 million pounds of diacids, including dodecanedioic acid (DDDA), each year.

Verdezyne logoVerdezyne, an American industrial biotechnology company that works to develop technologies to create a positive impact on the environment, has partnered with Bio-XCell, a Malaysian biotechnology park and ecosystem facility aiming to position Malaysia as a world leading biotech location.

So, through their partnership, Verdyzyne has BioXCell Logoleased 6.9 acres of land at the biotechnology park and secured a loan from Bio-XCell of RM 250 million (or UK £49 million) to build their plant.

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Work hard, play hard (Day 269)

IChemE foam finger bus55 years ago, a chemical engineering professor with a passion for sport and a strong sense of fun initiated an annual football game between the chemical engineering departments at Birmingham and Manchester Universities in the UK.

That professor’s name was Frank Morton, and he had strong connections with both departments having taught in Birmingham where he rose to professor, before moving to Manchester as the first head of chemical engineering at the new Manchester College of Technology in 1956.

And his passion for fun lives on in the annual Frank Morton Sports Day

Frank was a firm believer in the principle that chemical engineering students should work hard and play hard. This year’s participants certainly didn’t let him down.

The 2015 Frank Morton Sports Day took place at Frank’s old stamping ground in Birmingham earlier this week, and had he been there to witness the event, I’m sure that he would have had a huge smile on his face.

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A new window on Chinese New Year (Day 268)

chinese new year goatI have always been proud of the international chemical engineering community that IChemE represents. So I thought I would make a point to celebrate Chinese New Year on my blog.

Today, 19 February 2015, is the start of Chinese New Year – the year of the goat. However, the Chinese ‘New Year’ is only described as such in the West; in China, it is the Spring Festival and an official public holiday.

Traditionally, today is an important time of year for families to spend together.So I thought I would bring our chemical engineering family  a little closer together by sharing a good news story from some of our colleagues in China.

Chemical engineers from the East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai Institute of Ceramics, Shanghai University, Shanghai University of Engineering Science and Shihezi University have worked together to develop energy saving ‘smart’ windows that exploit the properties of a heat sensitive gel.

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Making solar energy cheaper (Day 267)

The development of methods to produce greener, cleaner energy plays on the minds of many of us. However, our ability to take the next step and move these strategies forward is often stopped by the dirtiest of all things – money.

Money resting on a photovoltaic panelSo I was interested to read a recently published article in Materials Today discussing methods to bring about ‘Cost reduction in the solar industry’.

Professor Andrew Barron, Ser Cymru chair in engineering at Swansea University, indicates that costs can be reduced up to 20 per cent through changes in the manufacturing process of photovoltaic (PV) panels.

I hope that work like Andrew’s will help us to better understand all the costs and benefits associated with the many different strategies of producing energy and enable us to make more informed decisions based on what is financially possible, as well as what is environmentally viable.

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Students help design a device for capturing rare cells (Day 266)

Rare cell isolation from complex mixtures of cells – such as blood and bone marrow – are used in regenerative therapies and in the management of cancers.

cell mixtureTo improve the process of cell separation and isolation, a multi-disciplinary team of engineers from the University of Florida, US, have teamed up with a biotechnology cell and gene therapy company – Morphogenesis, Inc – to design an advanced, fully automated cell separation system.

Both the faculty members and senior engineering students involved come from a variety of disciplines (mechanical, electrical, biomedical and chemical) and are collaborating with the Tampa based biotechnology company to build a fully functioning prototype of a completed device over the next few months.

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The world’s first carbon capture ready industrial zone? (Day 265)

My enthusiasm for carbon capture and storage (CCS) will hardly come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog (see ‘The Complexities of Carbon Capture and Storage‘ or ‘Planet Poker‘). Nevertheless, today I have a new story about an exciting CCS development announced at the UK parliament last month. Teesside, in North East England, is responsible for six per cent of the UK’s industrial CO2 emissions. The area is also home to five of the UK’s top CO2 emitting plants. Now, with the cost of carbon permits expected to escalate, a consortium of government and industry stakeholders has formed a partnership called the Teesside Collective with the aim of forging nothing less than a new industrial future for Britain based on CCS.

Image courtesy of The Teesside Collective

Photo Credit | Image courtesy of The Teesside Collective

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Stopping Alzheimer’s with beer? (Day 264)

I often find that you can’t pick up a newspaper or read a website without seeing the latest ‘super-food’ (I am reliably informed that last year it was kale).

beer on barSo imagine my surprise when I came across this story of chemical engineers using beer to help protect brain cells from damage.

Researchers from Lanzhou University, China, State Key Laboratory of Applied Organic Chemistry and College of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering have found that a compound (xanthohumol) contained in beer could help protect our brain cells from damage, and slow the development of degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

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Chemical engineering matters of the heart (Day 263)

I would have to say that I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to Valentine’s Day, whilst it is important that we show our love for those in our lives, I wonder if we need a set day of the year to do so.

However, in view of the occasion, today I thought I’d go down a different route.

virtual image of heartThe focal point of Valentine’s Day is celebrating the human heart. And whilst I (and science) would dispute the fact that our emotions develop here rather than in the brain, the heart is symbolic on this day of the year.

Our heart however is a vital organ and when it goes wrong, the consequences can be drastic.

Chemical engineers have also been involved in this struggle, with a particular focus on the materials and flow involved in understanding how blood circulates through the heart.

And so today, I am using today’s blog to highlight the work of a few chemical engineers who are focused on making our hearts beat.

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Using STARS to control gene expression (Day 262)

Sometimes the name you give your work can have a huge impact.

starsI recently came across this story of research from a team of synthetic biochemical engineers at Cornell University, US, who have created a new ‘on’ switch to control gene expression – a breakthrough that they think could revolutionise genetic modification – by using STARS.

Before you think I am a little confused I should point out that STARS, in this case, are Small Transcription Activating RNAs

This work was recently published in Nature Chemical Biology, entitled; Creating small transcription activating RNAs.

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Supercomputing our energy (Day 261)

LaptopsHigh specification personal computers mean that most of us can perform our jobs sat at home, work or even on the road.

But processing and modelling large amounts of data to help our understanding of complex and mammoth tasks like the formation of the universe, predicting weather patterns, or large and complex engineering problems require more than the average desktop computer.

Hence, the growth of supercomputers in recent times. But they don’t come cheap.

Later this year the UK’s Met Office £97 million (US$ 146 million) supercomputer will come online.

Eventually, its processing power will be 16 petaflops – meaning it can perform 16 quadrillion calculations every second.

The “Cray XC40” machine will have 480,000 central processing units or CPUs, which is 12 times as many as the current Met Office supercomputer, made by IBM.

At 140 tonnes, it will also be three times heavier – more a ‘floortop’ than a desktop.

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The accidental biochemical engineer (Day 260)

As you can guess from the title of this blog, this entry isn’t about me. Today’s guest blog is by a fellow panellist at last year’s Chemical Engineers and the Media event, Dr. Tarit Mukhopadhyay, a lecturer at the department of biochemical engineering at University College London (UCL).

So enough from me, I’ll let Tarit explain his route into the world of biochemical engineering.

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TaritName: Dr. Tarit Mukhopadhyay
Job: Lecturer
Course: MEng, biochemical engineering, University College London
Graduated: 2002
Employer: Department of Biochemical Engineering, UCL

 

I didQuote startn’t originally plan on becoming a biochemical engineer. The main bulk of my applications through UCAS were to study medicine – my dad was a GP and perhaps it was an expected route for me to take.

But one of my applications was to study biochemical engineering and to be honest, at that time, I didn’t really know what it was. I chose biochemical over chemical engineering because I was more interested in the pharmaceutical aspect of the discipline.

At my UCAS interview, I felt as if I was being recruited. I don’t recall being asked a lot of questions, but instead being drawn into a world of ‘what if’. What if experimental procedures such as gene therapy or biofuels were successful? And how could I, as a biochemical engineer, be part of the solution?

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Bulletproof batteries (Day 259)

Lithium batteriesLithium ion batteries are used as high density power sources for a range of devices from mobile phones (see my blog ‘The next generation of ultra-fast charging batteries‘) to electric vehicles.

But the use of lithium batteries hasn’t been without some issues. For example, in 2013 Boeing was forced to ground its entire 787 Dreamliner fleet after problems were detected with the lithium ion batteries in the plane’s electrical system.  The batteries reportedly burst into flames under some conditions – not a good state of affairs at 43,000 feet!

This safety issue obviously requires addressing, so researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M), US, have been working to develop an advanced type of barrier between the electrodes in a lithium-ion battery.

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Painting by hedgehogs (Day 258)

HedgehogFor timid slow moving animals, hedgehogs and their relations are found all over Asia, Africa and Europe.

A few years ago they were the subject of a chemically-engineered joke when ‘Hedgehog Flavoured Crisps’ (potato chips) were sold in the UK.

Thankfully, no hedgehogs were hurt in their manufacture, but their taste (whatever that was) was mimicked using pork fat.

Now the hedgehog name has been used in the context of a new environmentally-friendly paint, and other applications.

University of Michigan researchers have developed a process that can sprout microscopic spikes on nearly any type of particle. They are called “hedgehog particles” due to their bushy appearance under the microscope.

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How can we encourage more students to study chemical engineering? (Day 257)

I recently came across an article featured in the Guardian online, eight ways to encourage more students to study engineering, which proved to be a rather interesting read.

The article outlines potential solutions to the engineering skills shortage faced in the UK and the rest of the world. And I have to say that I agree with their suggestions – put together by academic and policy experts.

Classroom scienceHowever, I have to commend the chemical engineering community for already having taken action to increase student numbers. For example, in the UK student numbers have been increasing year on year. In fact, over the last five years there has been a 97 per cent increase in the numbers of students starting a chemical engineering degree course – that’s nearly double!

But we still need to do more to bridge this skills gap.

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Using pedal power to charge phones (Day 256)

Charging batteriesNot being able to recharge your cell phone, and other small electronic devices, due to lack of access to power is a common problem the world over.

Part of a solution is being addressed by developing the next generation of ultra-fast charging batteries.

But what if you don’t have round the clock access to electricity or power such as those living in rural areas who experience long hours of power cuts every day?

As part of a project called “Engineering for the World’s Poorest” at Case Western Reserve University, US, chemical engineer professor Daniel Lacks and two of his students have developed a solution to this problem – a foot-powered cell phone charger.

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What’s it like to be a third year student? (Day 255)

Hello and welcome to Day 255 of my IChemE presidency. Some of you may know that I occasionally feature guests in my blog to share their own thoughts and passion about the chemical engineering profession.

I’ve featured professionals starting a chemical engineering career in academia, a day in the life of a chemical engineering graduate,  and even the journey from process engineer to IChemE’s technical vice president in the form of Ed Daniels.

Today, undergraduate Reshma Varghese, a third year student at the University of Surrey in the UK, shares some of her experiences of one of the courses accredited by IChemE.

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Reshma VargheseName: Reshma Varghese
Job: Student
Course: MEng in Chemical Engineering
Graduated: 3rd year
University: University of Surrey, UK
Salary: n/a

 

Quote start

I’m currently in my third year of an MEng in Chemical Engineering at Surrey. The programme covers all the key issues addressed by the modern engineering sector, and the structure of the course is well spread out, so it’s not overwhelming when you first start.

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Chemical engineers on the toilet (Day 254)

ToiletThere was a great news story in January about Bill Gates drinking a cup of clean water that, five minutes earlier, had been raw sewage.

It was a fantastic PR stunt that drew attention to how engineers can change the world in all sorts of ways.

It was also a good illustration of how trust is important to get our engineering ideas off the ground.

The ‘Omni Processor’, which processes the sewage into drinking water, was created by Janicki Bioenergy; a company which received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This project reminded me of a similar but separate Gates Foundation initiative called the ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.’ This initiative sought to develop a waterless, hygienic toilet that doesn’t have to be connected to a sewer.

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Robert Langer, chemical engineer, wins Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (Day 253)

My aim in writing this blog has been to ensure the voice of chemical engineering is heard in all corners of the world.

Trophy

Photo Credit | Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering
Trophy

Yesterday was a breakthrough moment in terms of recognition, as Robert Langer – chemical engineer and professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, US – was awarded the second ever Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

Bob Langer’s achievement demonstrates the importance of chemical engineering on a truly global scale.  His pioneering work in drug delivery, tissue engineering and nanotechnology has touched the lives of billions of people.

He has developed a field that, quite simply, didn’t previously exist.  This highlights the most important role that chemical engineers play in society today – improving quality of life for all.

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Spreading the engineering message through immersive theatre (Day 252)

Climate change and water scarcity are issues that we all need to keep talking about. But I recognise that perhaps we need to talk about them in more interesting ways than just lecturing.

You could say that the reality of climate change and water scarcity hasn’t hit home with the general public because the effects aren’t immediate and felt on their doorstep. The data, facts and figures are there but the urgency of action isn’t.

As a chemical engineer, I can talk about the issues, I can lecture, I can discuss at length with my peers and even the media, but it is easy for my voice and others to get drowned out.

New Atlantis theatre production. Image courtesy of LAStheatre

New Atlantis theatre production. Image courtesy of LAStheatre

One interesting way to engage the public about such issues is through immersive theatre.

You might think that engineering and theatre couldn’t be further apart, but a theatre production called New Atlantis by LAStheatre, held in London, UK, has provided an entertaining way to bring key messages and solutions of the future to a willing audience.

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More uses than an old toothbrush (Day 251)

Old toothbrush and toothpasteIf there’s nine billion people on the planet by 2050 and we all follow our dentist’s advice, we might end up using around 36 billion toothbrushes or replacement heads in our quest for excellent oral health.

That’s also a lot of toothpaste tubes (assuming we still use them in 2050).

Old toothbrushes have many cleaning uses once they are past their best – cleaning jewelry, bathroom taps and appliances, computer keyboards and even applying hair dye (see my profile page and you’ll know I don’t do this – yet!).

But recycling toothpaste tubes hasn’t been that easy – they just end up in our trash once we’ve squeezed the life out of them.

However, some chemical engineering wizardry developed at the University of Cambridge, UK, can now turn toothpaste tubes and drinks pouches into both aluminium and fuel in just three minutes.

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Ten tips to become a chemical engineering consultant (Day 250)

ConsultingI am often amazed at the diversity of our small chemical engineering community and the numerous roles and positions we fill in the work place.

One important group of chemical engineers are consultants.

I recently logged in to listen to a very enlightening webinar organised by IChemE’s Consultancy Special Interest Group (SIG) called ‘Ask a Consultant’ which offered an insight into life as a chemical engineering consultant.

IChemE members Dr Andrew Campbell, Dr Martin Currie and David Hough gave the webinar and, from their comments, I have compiled a list of some of their tips on how to become a successful chemical engineering consultant. I’m sure there are many more, but here’s ten things to think about and get you started:

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