Recognising excellence in chemical engineering research #ichemeawards

It’s Friday, and the final stage of our IChemE Global Awards winners round-up. We hope you’ve enjoyed the posts this week, and learnt a little more about each of our winners.

jr3c3118

Today we are shining a light on the research superstars of the Awards. IChemE has always maintained strong ties with the academic community, supporting the host of ChemEngDayUK each year and accrediting courses. We also do proactive work with our UK Research Committee, who last night launched ten chemical engineering research case studies that have had a significant impact on the UK economy. Read all about the research event, held in Parliament, here.

So, on to the winners and the final three IChemE Global Awards videos, produced in association with Morgan Sindall. All these winners have demonstrated fantastic research capability, but most importantly their studies have a real-world application that can really make a difference.

Enjoy these final three videos, and season’s greetings to all our members worldwide.

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Chemical engineering creates products that are changing lives #ichemeawards

Last month the IChemE Global Awards 2016 were held in Manchester, UK, in one of the biggest celebrations of chemical engineering achievement worldwide. Our judges had a difficult task narrowing down 16 winners from 120 amazing finalists.jr3c3275

The ceremony was held at the Principal Hotel and welcomed over 400 guests from around the world to recognise and celebrate chemical engineering success stories.

For many, success doesn’t end after collecting a trophy, but marks the starting point on a journey to excellence. An IChemE Award can take you to some unexpected places, make commercialisation easier, help to develop your team or grow your portfolio. You could even get a letter from the US President. 

So every day this week we’ll be dedicating special blog posts to the 2016 Award winners and their innovative, fascinating, problem-solving projects. With the fantastic support of Morgan Sindall we have produced a video for every one – enjoy!

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Five chemical engineering research stories from September 2016

To help you stay up-to-date with the latest achievements from the chemical engineering research community here is our monthly instalment with some of the latest stories.

September’s five stories of amazing chemical engineering research and innovation are:

The Popeye effect – powered by spinach

spinachPopeye was right; we can be powered by spinach! Researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a bio-photo-electro-chemical (BPEC) cell that produces electricity and hydrogen from water using sunlight, using a simple membrane extract from spinach leaves. The article, publish in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrates the unique combination of a man-made BPEC cell and plant membranes, which absorb sunlight and convert it into a flow of electrons highly efficiently. The team hope that this paves the way for the development of new technologies for the creation of clean fuels from renewable sources. The raw material of the device is water, and its products are electric current, hydrogen and oxygen.

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Relevance in a Changing World

On 24 May 2016 at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Professor Jonathan Seville was inaugurated as IChemE President for 2016-17. The Executive Dean of Engineering at University of Surrey delivered his Presidential Address on the subject of relevance. Jonathan challenged us all to think: how will the Institution and the profession stay relevant in a world that is rapidly changing?

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Five chemical engineering research stories from May 2016

Since the end of ChemEng365 our ChemEngBlog has become a little quiet. To make sure you stay up-to-date with the latest achievements from the chemical engineering research community we will be providing you with monthly updates on some of the latest stories.

So here are five stories of amazing chemical engineering research and innovation:

Seven chemical separations to change the world

Floating energyDavid Sholl and Ryan Lively, chemical and biomolecular engineers, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, US, highlighted seven chemical separation processes that, if improved, would reap great global benefits. The list they have drawn up is not exhaustive (we are sure there are more we could add!) but includes; hydrocarbons from crude oil, uranium from seawater, alkenes from alkanes, greenhouse gases from dilute emissions, rare-earth metals from ores, benzene derivatives from each other, and trace contaminants from water.

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Guest blog: #WorldWaterDay

IChemE’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are an essential way for our members to share knowledge and collaborate on initiatives, which are of significance to their sector.

drop on water

Today is World Water Day, and our Water SIG is a hugely important part of providing expert advice and consultation to the innovations that could change our world. Water is essential to life, it must be sustainable or we cannot survive. Chemical engineers are an important part of making sure water provision is sufficient, clean, economical, and environmentally-friendly.

Chris Short, Chair of the IChemE Water SIG, explores in more detail the current challenges for the water sector in today’s blog post. Read on to hear his thoughts, and feel free to join the conversation on Twitter using #WorldWaterDay or by leaving a comment below:


chris-short

Name: Chris Short
Job: Consultant and Chartered Chemical Engineer
Company: Chris Short Water Quality (previously Yorkshire Water)
Special Interest Group: Water, Chairman

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Today is World Water Day, and I’ll be attending a conference in Leeds, UK, on Innovations in Wastewater Treatment. The focus will be on the recovery of value from wastewater and I expect to hear how leading-edge technologies are performing and what new processes are being evaluated by researchers.

This is exciting stuff.

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Why are we wasting so much energy in industry? #COP21

shutterstock_274012796Yesterday we outlined the IChemE Energy Centre’s five priority topics for focus at COP21 to help solve the global climate change challenges we face today.

The first is energy efficiency, a central part of ensuring we maximise the energy we produce to reduce both waste and harmful emissions.

The need to improve energy efficiency is perhaps one of the easiest topics to get a consensus on, and it will form an imperative part of an effective agreement at the Paris climate talks over the next week.

The numbers speak for themselves. The 2012 Global Energy Assessment revealed that 66 per cent of the energy produced today is wasted. For the chemical process industries and the chemical engineering sector, the implications of this statistic are huge.

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Chemical engineers can help solve the climate challenge #COP21

COP21 logoThis week saw the start of the 21st Conference of Parties, COP21. More than 190 countries and 150 global leaders have gathered in Paris, France, to discuss a new global agreement on climate change.

The United Nations (UN) event will host around 40,000 people and runs right through until the end of next week (11 December).

The future of the natural world, and the animals and plant life that call it home, depends on the outcome of this conference. If we don’t limit global warming to 2 degrees, the consequences will be catastrophic.

Polar bearWhilst we cannot accurately predict the scale of any potential impacts now, what we do know for certain is that climate change is happening, and we have a responsibility to reduce any further damage.

Chemical engineers are part of the solution, and the IChemE Energy Centre has identified five priority areas where technology can be deployed now to help mitigate climate change.

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Creating products to Goldilocks’ standard (Day 342)

goldilocksMost people, in the UK at least, will be familiar with the fairy tale of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears‘, where Goldilocks, a young girl, seeks out products that are not too strong and not too weak – aiming for ones that are ‘just right’.

This is the aim of chemical engineers who work on the development and delivery of consumer products. There is a strong focus on achieving a consistent outcome that the customer deems to be ‘just right’.

I recently attended a talk given by Professor David York, Chair of Structured Particulate Products, from the University of Leeds, UK, on how to convert commodities into high value components.

David described how science and engineering are applied to transform household detergents into higher value specialty products. He went on to explain how improved consumer satisfaction is being delivered by creating a washing product that leaves an appealing fragrance on freshly laundered clothes.

David and his team achieved this by creating a product that deposits perfume micro-capsules onto fabric during the wash cycle. The capsules subsequently fracture and release a pleasing odour in controlled doses.

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Chemical engineer develops sanitary towels to help girls stay in school (Day 335)

Here in the UK and other developed countries, it’s all too easy to take some things for granted, such as access to education, to clean water and to sanitary facilities.

When we look at the developing world, it can be difficult to comprehend the challenges people face on a daily basis.

Photo Credit | Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

Photo Credit | Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

In Ethiopia, as many as 18 million young girls and women have no access to sanitary towels. This forces many young girls to drop out of school. But the good news is that one chemical engineer is trying to change that.

For most girls, their first menstrual cycle is awkward and embarrassing, but seen as a natural transition towards womanhood. However, in Ethiopia it can be an incredibly taboo subject. As a consequence, misinformation, negative beliefs and myths hold sway.

In the rural Tigray region of Ethiopia, where chemical engineer Freweini Mebrahtu grew up, young girls found out about their menstrual cycle through overheard rumour and myth; often leaving them shocked, confused and afraid.

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Nanofibres can ease the pain of Parkinson’s disease (Day 331)

In the UK this week, it is Parkinson’s Awareness Week. The aim is to raise awareness of the disease by doing a good deed and tweeting about it using #upyourfriendly.

We can all get involved; just by being nice to the people we meet. You can make new friends and maybe someone’s life a little easier without even knowing it. Check out the campaign to learn more.

Pair of carbon nanotube fibres

Photo credit | Rice University
Pair of carbon nanotube fibres

With this strategy in mind, I thought I’d raise awareness of the work of some chemical engineers who are definitely ‘up-ing their friendly’ by working behind the scenes to help combat the symptoms of this debilitating disease.

Researchers at Rice University in Texas, US, have developed flexible carbon nanotube fibres, that may provide an effective way of communicating directly with the brain.

Parkinson’s disease affects one in every 500 people. That’s an estimated 127,000 people in the UK – or around 8.5 million globally.

It is a progressive neurological condition that affects nerve cells in the brain, causing them to die. This results in lower dopamine levels in the body with serious implications for mobility and emotional behaviour.

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The sweet smell of success (Day 321)

We all want to make a good first impression, but when we feel anxious our body responds by sweating and this can result in an unappealing body odour.

When we want to make the right impact at an interview or on a date, we need a little help to make sure we are smelling fresh.

So fear not. There’s now a perfume that improves its performance the more we sweat.

Release of fragrances triggered by water

Photo credit | QUILL
Release of fragrances triggered by water

Researchers at the Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre in Belfast have developed a unique perfume. It releases its aroma the more it comes into contact with moisture. So the more you sweat, the better you smell!

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Behind every good manicure is a great chemical engineer (Day 320)

ManicureAs one industry cuts back on jobs due to the recession, another blooms. Last year $8.5 billion was spent in US nail bars. That’s a $1 billion increase since 2012.

So why are more people visiting nail bars now, than when times weren’t so tight and we had more cash in our pockets?

One explanation is the ‘lipstick effect’. When our budgets are squeezed, rather than losing the taste to splurge we simply trade large extravagancies for cheaper luxuries to cheer ourselves up. Cue the nail bar, manicures and chemical engineering.

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New drug approved to fight ovarian cancer (Day 317)

Now that we are in the home stretch of my presidency, I thought I’d look a little closer to home for examples of chemical engineering success. IChemE’s Corporate Partners are a great place to start.

AstraZeneca, a multinational pharmaceutical company employing around 57,000 people worldwide, were awarded Silver Corporate Partner status in 2011.

woman with cancerThey are one of only a handful of companies involved in every aspect of pharmaceutical production from start to finish; from research to supply. So next time you pick up a prescription, there’s a good chance that AstraZeneca might have been involved.

One of their latest drugs to be approved is Lynparza, which is prescribed to patients who have been diagnosed with a mutated form of ovarian cancer.

Over 7,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. It’s the fifth most common cancer among women, mainly affecting the over 50’s – although it can affect women of any age.

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Fighting skin cancer with a bracelet (Day 311)

Skin cancer is amongst the most common forms of cancers in the world with its highest incidence in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Europe.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between two to three million non-melanoma and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed each year.

Dr David Hazafy

Photo Credit | Queen’s University Belfast
Dr David Hazafy

So researchers from the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, UK, have developed an early warning sunburn indicator that could tell sunbathers when to take to the shade.

The team, led by Dr David Hazafy, have developed a strip of plastic – containing ‘smart’ ink – which turns colourless from an initial blue colour to indicate a high exposure of ultraviolet light from the sun. This should prompt the user to move into the shade before burning, reducing the risk of skin cancer.

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Catalysing a gold rush (Day 310)

We have been attracted to gold for millennia both for its beauty and its value.

Gold is considered so attractive because it does not corrode or tarnish. It’s also very ductile. These properties have led to gold being used in works of art and treasures of great historical and cultural significance.

Gold has inspired great art, but what about great chemistry and chemical engineering?

Professor Graham Hutchings

Photo Credit | Cardiff University
Professor Graham Hutchings

At the end of February I attended a dinner at the Royal Society hosted by the UK Catalysis Hub. There, I discussed catalysts with IChemE fellow Professor Graham Hutchings, director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute at Cardiff University.

During the evening Graham shared many interesting insights into UK catalysis research. Catalysis is at the core of the UK economy and contributes over UK £50 billion annually. It is central to the wellbeing of society and is involved in some way in 80 per cent of all manufactured goods.

Graham then told me about his work with gold catalysts. With his team, he has discovered that gold has the potential to improve health, clean up the environment and save lives.

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Engineering hydrogels to treat spinal cord injury (Day 308)

Spinal cord injuries are extremely serious and the road to recovery is often a long one.

Two million people worldwide are affected by spinal cord problems that result in the loss of motor and sensory function below the point of injury, which can be devastating.

I’ve blogged previously about a team from Stanford University, which is working reduce the trauma of injections and improve the ‘healing help for spinal injuries‘. It’s an area where chemical engineers are making a difference. Here’s another great example.

Dr. -Ing Laura De Laporte

Photo Credit | Dr. -Ing Laura De Laporte

The European Union has awarded a 1.5 million Euro grant to a chemical engineer, Dr.-Ing Laura De Laporte, from DWI – Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials to research an injectable hydrogel that will help spinal cord repair.

Laura’s research objective is to develop a minimally invasive therapy for spinal cord injury. She will do this by engineering a biomaterial in a project she calls ANISOGEL.

Her goal is to develop an injectable material with the potential to provide biochemical and physical guidance for regenerating nerves across an injury site.

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Ten animals that are also chemical engineers (Day 300)

Day 300 and counting.  It’s a nice round number so I thought I’d talk about something a little bit different.

We often assume that engineering is something unique to humankind. However, if you take a closer look at the animal kingdom, you soon realise that this is not the case.

Some animals have been exploiting chemical engineering principles for so long, we are now taking inspiration from them; see my blogs on ’Deep sea printers’ or ‘‘Hand-made’ pills inspired by a starfish‘.

The classic example of an animal engineer is the beaver, behaving like a civil engineer and building dams. This made me curious to find animals that act like chemical engineers and here are my ten favourite examples:

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Chemical engineering students and the perfect pint (Day 294)

beerThe Students’ Union bar sometimes proves a more attractive option than completing that tricky course work and I have often wondered if extra-curricular high jinks might be the reason behind some of the dazed expressions that greeted me during the dreaded 9 o’clock Monday morning lecture.

But given that brewing is one of the earliest examples of chemical process engineering, maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on those who enjoy the end product.  Nonetheless, beer like many other chemically engineered products is best enjoyed in moderation!

Chemical engineers are still working to improve the brewing process and today I am highlighting the work of students from Newcastle University, UK and the University of Sheffield, UK, who have shown great entrepreneurial spirit and brewed their own beer.

Stu Brew, is a sustainable microbrewery managed by students for students. It was set up in partnership with the School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials at Newcastle University. The microbrewery acts as a research unit for sustainable brewery design, with some students involved as part of their academic studies.

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Smarter Teflon recycling in South Africa (Day 293)

Fluorspar, or fluorite, is the mineral form of calcium fluoride and the key raw material in the production of hydrofluoric acid, a significant commodity chemical with a wide rage of uses. South Africa is a producer of acid grade-fluorspar, but around 95 per cent of its production is exported.

However, heavy reliance on income from the export of low value materials can hamper a nation’s economic prospects and render it vulnerable to global price fluctuations.

An initiative from the Southern African Department of Trade and Industry aims to address this challenge via a two-pronged approach. First, by developing cutting-edge technology in fluorochemicals and also by accelerating the skills development in fluorine engineering through world class research.

University of South Africa, Pretoria

University of South Africa, Pretoria

Chemical engineers working in the Department of Chemical Engineering at University of Pretoria, South Africa, have focused their work on the production of novel fluoro-materials, development of dry-fluorination reactions and modification of polymer properties by reactive processing.

Their research also involves chemical engineers from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and an industry consortium.

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Suspending a liquid within a liquid, within a liquid… (Day 280)

When I read through scientific journals, the articles that grab my attention aren’t always the ones describing the most novel ideas. Sometimes it’s enough to just make something easier. That’s why today’s story appealed to me.

Many everyday products including medicines, beauty products and foodstuffs contain emulsions: liquids with tiny droplets of another liquid suspended within them (see my blog ‘food, glorious, food…emulsions‘).  A classic example that we all can create at home is vinaigrette (salad dressing), which is an emulsion of oil and vinegar.

MIT researchers designed these complex emulsions to change their configuration in response to stimuli, such as light, or the addition of a chemical surfactant.

Photo Credit | Christine Daniloff\MIT
MIT researchers designed these complex emulsions to change their configuration in response to stimuli, such as light, or the addition of a chemical surfactant.

Vinaigrette is a straightforward two component mixture. However, things get far more interesting when you suspend a liquid within a liquid, within a liquid. These complex emulsions (in this case a double emulsion) can be tailored for use in specific applications.

A team of chemists and chemical engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, have found a way to simplify the process of creating complex emulsions. Their method offers possibilities for rapid production at scale.

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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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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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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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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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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 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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How to best load a dishwasher, by a chemical engineer (Day 243)

Loading a dishwasher is one of those daily household chores that usually doesn’t involve too much thought; you pack the dishwasher with dirty crockery, remember to use detergent and then press the on button.

But there is more to loading a dishwasher than meets the eye as chemical engineers at the University of Birmingham, UK, in collaboration with industry, have conducted research on how best to load a dishwasher.

Dishwasher in between PEPT cameras. Image courtesy of Chemical Engineering Journal

Dishwasher in between PEPT cameras. Image courtesy of Chemical Engineering Journal

Dr. Raul Pérez-Mohedano, who led the project, published the group’s findings in the article, Positron Emission Particle Tracking (PEPT) for the analysis of water motion in domestic dishwasherfor Elsevier’s Chemical Engineering Journal.

The technique of Positron Emission Particle Tracking, developed at the University of Birmingham, was used to track and analyse the flow of water in the dishwasher through non-invasive 3D spatial detection of radioactively labelled particles i.e. tracers.

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Protecting your e-device (Day 226)

OLED TVIf you are an early adopter of technology, you may be aware of a new generation of televisions slowly entering the market called OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TVs.

They aren’t cheap. The few production models available cost between £3,000-£7,000. But they have aspirations of being just 4 mm thick, are able to curve, 3D, have great colour, picture resolution and so on.

Interestingly, OLED’s are made from organic semiconductors, along with other development products such as organic solar cells and organic electronic products including smart labels and wearable electronics.

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Motoring slowly towards the future (Day 221)

Car pollutionTowards the end of last year, car pollution came under the scrutiny of some UK politicians who recommended that new schools, care homes and hospitals should be built far away from major roads because of the dangers of air pollution.

In Europe, there was a similar anti-car theme, when, around the same time, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, announced she wanted to ban diesel cars and the pollution they bring from the streets of the French capital.

The Mayor also wanted to limit traffic in pollution hotspots, by only allowing ultra-low emission vehicles within them. In addition, new speed limits were mooted of 18 mph (30 km/h).

These proposals would be a major challenge in France with around 80 per cent of the cars on the country’s roads being diesel-powered.

From next month, France will start applying stickers to vehicles emitting the most pollution; diesel cars more than 13 years old will get a red sticker.

It is clear there is a mini backlash against cars at present, but where does all this leave current transport policy and how can engineers influence it?

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