The year-long event commemorates the centennial of X-ray diffraction, which allowed the detailed study of crystalline material.
It is also the 400th anniversary of Kepler’s observation in 1611 of the symmetrical form of ice crystals, which began the wider study of the role of symmetry in matter.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m a great supporter of campaigns to raise the profile of science and engineering, and I would like to congratulate the lead sponsor of the campaign – the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) – and their lead partner – UNESCO.
If you’ve encountered the concept of organisational memory loss, you’ll know how frustrating and costly it can be.
We often use the concept in relation to process safety when we fail to learn the lessons of the past to catastrophic effect.
A few days ago I wrote a blog called No time to wait in relation to climate change.
I thought I’d return again quickly to the same topic to show how the knowledge, lessons and messages from the past can easily slip away into inaction – especially as the United Nation’s Climate Change Summit is being held tomorrow in New York.
If ever you try to explain what a chemical engineer does, comparing it to human anatomy may not be your first choice. But there are some useful analogies, for instance the kidney.
The main role of the kidneys is to filter waste products from the blood and convert them to urine. If the kidneys lose this ability, waste products can build up, which is potentially dangerous and can be life threatening.
It’s a principle used widely by chemical engineers to manage all kinds of human and industrial waste.
I think the relationship between chemical engineers and human anatomy is set to become more common over the next few years, and will improve the quality of life for millions of people.
Whether we like it or not, energy from fossil fuels is going to be needed for around another two generations.
It is not a comforting thought to think that our descendants born in 30 or 40 years time may be left with the legacy of not acting now to mitigate the effects of climate change.
We need to press ahead with building capacity for renewable energy. There’s also no time to waste to implement carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology for the hundreds of fossil fuel power stations that will still need to be constructed in the meantime. Without CCS, it is unlikely we’ll get anywhere near the Kyoto targets.
I’ve always been intrigued by buildings with ‘living’ or ‘green roofs’. It’s easy to forget they are not a modern invention. Places like Skara Brae Prehistoric Village in Scotland date back more than 5,000 years and have distinctive roofs using the benefits provided by nature.
Green roofs today are sold on the back of their environmental and economic benefits such as insulation and cooling properties, ability to significantly reduce rainwater run-off from roofs, and their value in promoting biodiversity and habitat in built-up areas. They look very impressive and distinctive too.
I think they are a useful reminder that buildings need to connect more with their environment for good reasons like reducing heating costs and greenhouse gas emissions. In the UK, around 13 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the residential sector.
A few weeks ago, I provided some information to the media in relation to a fracking ‘scare story’. As I always do in these situations, I look at the evidence and provide a factual and objective assessment. As chemical engineers that’s all we can ever do.
Realistically, concerns over fracking are unlikely to disappear. There will always be sceptics, but they have an absolute right to be heard. It’s up to us to listen carefully and respond to these concerns – consistently and in language that everyone understands.
Have you ever wondered why we make mistakes? Well, according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, called Joseph T Hallinan, he thinks ‘humans are pre-programmed to make blunders’. He’s even written a book about it called ‘Why We Make Mistakes’.
Hallinan is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who began to shape his theory while researching a story on anaesthetists.
Hallinan discovered they had a mixed safety record, but noted their safety record was vastly improved by a simple change to their equipment that cancelled out human error. The change was the introduction of a valve that could only turn one way to deliver anaesthetic to a patient.
There’s one thing that the Queen and IChemE have in common – they (we) are both neutral on Scottish Independence.
However, there are lots of individuals in the chemical and process industries that have chosen to support one or other of the two campaigns – Better Together or Yes Scotland.
One of the latest opinion polls by YouGov from 6 September shows just how tight the vote will be on 18 September: The ‘Yes to Independence’ group has a slight edge at 51 per cent, with 49 per cent stating ‘No’. According to YouGov, it’s a ‘statistical dead heat’ with just days to go.
If you get time to study some of the statistics quoted by the aviation industry they are remarkable. Over 65 billion passengers carried over the last century; 58 million people employed; $6.4 trillion of cargo carried each year and around 60 million flying hours.
I recently came across the Ipsos MORI 2014 Public Attitudes to Science study which focuses on public perceptions in the UK to science and engineering.
The survey did not test scientific knowledge but instead examined the social connections between people and science. This approach is useful as it offers an insight into how a person will respond to a specific issue, for example fracking.
In the UK, we’ve been tracking public attitudes to science since 1998.
Some of the central questions in the Public Attitudes to Science survey, by ipsos MORI, is to measure opinions towards ‘pace of change’, how much science is ‘valued’ and ‘trust’.
I’ll be exploring the results of the 2014 survey in more detail in tomorrow’s blog, but today I wanted to look at the issue of trust in relation to nanotechnology.
Some fields of science are more difficult to ‘police’ than others. This is certainly the case for nanotechnology – the creation of materials or processes at the nano-scale – which has attracted concerns about environmental risks that may not become apparent until decades later.
In theory, there’s enough light from the sun to provide all of the world’s energy needs. Clean, limitless and renewable it is a very attractive proposition.
Of course, it is not as simple as that. It doesn’t work at night and seasonality, atmospheric conditions and variable climate conditions (mostly clouds) mean it is less viable in some parts of the world.
There are other practical challenges too. Solar farms need to cover large surface areas to be commercially viable. This demand for space is also reflected for home-based solar power generation. Large solar panels are dotted on house roofs and buildings – not pretty and certainly not integrated into house design the way architects would prefer.
Like most of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, the chemical engineering profession can suffer from a lack of diversity.
The most common diversity angle is the gender balance issue. While there is plenty of room for improvement, we can be proud of the fact that around 35 per cent of IChemE’s global student members are women.
A closer look at IChemE’s membership data shows how the chemical engineering profession is thriving, from a gender perspective, in some countries.
Malaysia tops the list with women accounting for 49 per cent of chemical engineering student members. New Zealand (40 per cent), Australia (35 per cent) and Singapore (31 per cent) also post strong performances for gender balance.
When multinational companies commit to ‘going green’, you know the trend is here to stay. If legislation doesn’t catch you out, then consumers and customers will. It’s just a matter of time.
I think the business arguments for organisations to become more sustainable are clear: reduced waste and costs; greater efficiency; employee approval and loyalty; competitive edge; great PR; adding value to your brand; and even increases to the bottom line are some of the potential benefits on offer.
In 1974, a paper, published in Nature, identified the role of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in causing ozone depletion. This marked an important point in understanding the impact of human activity on our planet.
In recognition of this breakthrough in understanding, Professor Paul Crutzen, Professor F. Sherwood Rowland and Professor Mario Molina were awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
One of the major considerations when making, and buying, modern consumer products is battery life. Cheaper products generally have short battery lives. You’ll pay considerably more for better performance, but even high specification smartphones barely last more than half a day according to a recent test.
There was a great fun story in the media recently when Cambridge University announced they were looking for a ‘Doctor of Chocolate’.
Based in Cambridge University’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, the ‘project will investigate the factors which allow chocolate, which has a melting point close to that of the human body, to remain solid and retain qualities sought by consumers when it is stored and sold in warm climates.’
Have you noticed how often nature inspires technological advancements? It’s something that chemical engineers are very adept at and have made a series of recent discoveries that have great potential.
Research by Newcastle University in the UK found that nickel nanoparticles on the exoskeletons of Sea Urchin larvae gave them the ability to convert CO2 to calcium carbonate. The finding has the potential to help mitigate climate change.
The world of genetics is fascinating and there always seems an endless stream of findings and breakthroughs with the potential for predicting and treating health problems.
This month, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated women with mutations in the PALB2 gene face a one in three chance of getting breast cancer by age 70.
A team at the Institute of Cancer Research, in London, have shown 14 separate genetic mutations can greatly increase the odds of aggressive prostate cancers and form the basis for genetic screening in a similar way to breast cancer in women.
Most of us are familiar and fascinated with ‘big-game’ animals like rhinos, elephants and tigers. Thankfully, they are now protected animals and their numbers have stabilised, but remain perilously low. For instance only around 3,000 tigers remain the in the wild.
By contrast, there are tens of millions of species of bacteria living in the wild. But even these are hard to capture and some are just as elusive as a Siberian Tiger.
Step by step, day by day, country by country, something special is happening in the world of process safety. In chemical engineering hubs around the world, process safety is being taken to new levels led by a network of IChemE members.
They are the vanguard and champions of a long-term IChemE initiative to improve safety and give greater recognition to one of the most important – if the not the most important – discipline in the chemical engineering profession.
Globalisation has created opportunities for many industries, but the growth of some fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) – especially fresh foods – continue to be limited by their relatively short shelf lives.
For some countries, like Australia, it places an unwelcome cap on their exporting potential and economic growth.
For nations with burgeoning populations, especially in South East Asia, the scope and volume of ‘fresh’ food imports can be constrained and place additional burdens on ‘home-grown’ food supplies.
Throughout 2014 there have been various emotional and poignant days recording key events in the twentieth century’s two world wars.
As chemical engineers, I’m sure some of us look at these historical events in contrasting ways, especially when we consider our professional ‘forefathers’ were the architects of weapons production on a mass scale.
Conversely, the mass use of antibiotics considerably reduced the death toll in combat during World War Two.
That’s the dichotomy of chemical engineers – our inventiveness has the ability for destruction and immeasurable good.