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Resonance The University of Sheffield’s Chemistry News Team Issue 5 | October 2016

Resonance The University of Sheffield’s Chemistry News Team Editor Zoe Smallwood Design Stella Kritikou Contributing Authors Dr. Tom Anderson Juliette Craggs Beth Crowston Phil Docherty Dan Jenkinson Maria Kariousou Amelia Newman Aylin Ozkan Dr. Peter Portius Zoe Smallwood Matthew Watson Kayleigh Wilkinson Jamie Wright Copy Editors Beth Crowston Samuel Hogg Stella Kritikou Zoe Smallwood Dr. Anthony J. H. M. Meijer Prof. Mike Ward Email Facebook Resonance News Printers Print and Design Solutions Bolsover Street Sheffield S3 7NA

Resonance Resonance is a biannual newsletter produced by chemistry students at the University of Sheffield. It aims to provide insights into unheard stories from the Department and to engage you with issues in the wider scientific world.



ello and welcome to Issue 5 of Resonance News! For those of you coming back into your next year of study, welcome back- for those of you who are here in the department for the first time, welcome to Sheffield and to the Department. We hope your time here will be everything you hope it to be- I love Sheffield and I’m sure you will too! Check out page 3 for our top tips and advice on getting settled in and making the most of everything the city has to offer. Our famous alumni are a theme of this issue. We sadly noted the passing of one of our most famous alumni, Sir Harry Kroto, in May, and we have a tribute to his life and work on page 15. With the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games having recently drawn to a close, we chat to another famous alumnus, Paralympian David Wetherill. It has also been 25 years since Helen Sharman, another graduate of the department, became the first British person in space- Resonance spoke to her to discuss her adventures, which can be found on page 5. Finally, this issue marks my last one as Editor. I’ve had a fantastic time and really enjoyed working with a great collection of people, on a huge variety of articles- interviewing an astronaut was a definite highlight for me! I hope that you enjoy the issue, and get in touch if you would like to get involved with Resonance.

Zoe Smallwood, Editor


Table of Contents Welcome to the Department.......................................................... Page 3 The Periodic Table is Complete..................................................... Page 4 Elemental Factfile: Molybdenum................................................. Page 4 From Sheffield to Space!.................................................................. Pages 5- 6 Flashes & Bangs!.................................................................................. Page 7 Volcanic Chemistry........................................................................... Page 8 Nanjing Joint Degree......................................................................... Pages 9-10 Winter is Coming................................................................................ Page 11 12 Flavour.................................................................................................. Page Page 13 Knowing your Coffee........................................................................ Scientifically Sublime Sponges...................................................... Page 14 Pages 15-16 In Memoriam: Prof. Sir Harry Kroto............................................ Sleeping Stem Cells............................................................................ Page 17 At Any Cost?......................................................................................... Page 18 Surgical Serums................................................................................... Page 18 Pushing the Limits.............................................................................. Page 19 Dave Wetherill Goes for Gold...................................................... Page 20 News from the Department ............................................................ Page 21


Welcome to the Department! Top tips for your first weeks of university

By Kayleigh Wilkinson Welcome to the Chemistry Department, and welcome to the University of Sheffield! Fresher’s week is an exciting time and the buzz about campus is felt by everyone as a sea of new faces from all over the country and world come together. There is a lot to take in as you discover what the university and the city have to offer. This can be a bit overwhelming at first, so we would like to give you some helpful information and tips for starting your university life here at Sheffield.

There will be a whirlwind of information as you get into the swing of your timetable, friendship groups, tutorials and new surroundings. Get a diary and set reminders for the first few weeks. Extracurricular

• A cheap way of getting your coffee fix every morning is to take a thermos flask with instant coffee from home and use the hot water available in the union shop. This is also great for noodle lunches or tea. • Valley Centertainment has a cinema, restaurants and bowling alley and it is only a 25 minute journey on the yellow tram route from the university stop towards Meadowhall • Stock up on cold and flu remedies early, as no one is safe from the dreaded Fresher’s Flu! • The Student Union is in partnership with City Taxis. If you find yourself with no way of getting home from a night out, the Safe Taxi Scheme will take you home in exchange for your Ucard as payment, on the condition that you pay the fare at the Students’ Union to get your Ucard back. • Go and explore the Peak District. Travel just 5 miles out of the city centre to be in beautiful rolling countryside, picture-perfect fields with dry-stone walls, idyllic villages, and caves to explore, it is a rambler’s delight. Plus you can get a single to Fox House for £1 with your UCard!


Enjoy your time here in Sheffield- your education, experiences and friendships will last a lifetime!

Course Tips

• Use your notebook app to jot down anything that you may need to refer to later, like your registration number and what room your tutor group meets in. • Many people find their first experience of labs the most daunting part. The first few weeks will be OK for a lot of you, but others (myself included) may find it a little more stressful- but it’s OK, you’re learning and building on practical skills. Take a deep breath, stand back and talk it through with someone; keep calm and keep safe. • Get to know the PhD students in labs. They are friendly, approachable, and passionate about their research- ask them questions! They have been there, done that, or know someone who was in a similar situation. They are an invaluable source of help in all aspects of university life. • There is a computer room on G floor. It’s not a secretbut having only found out about it in the second semester, it turned out to be extremely handy when the IC is busy over the exam periods. • ChemSoc holds a book sale in the first few weeks of the semester, so try and hold off on that online purchase and you could grab a bargain. • Finally, remember that if you need help or advice on money, exams, housing or anything else, then the Student Union is the one-stop shop for information and guidance. Your personal tutor is also a friendly face in the department who you can go to if you are struggling.


By Maria Kariousou

at least as far as we know!

© Compound Interest 2016

The Periodic Table is Complete* The 7th row of the periodic table is now complete with the discovery of the super heavy elements 113, 115, 117 and 118. These discoveries had been made at Nuclear Physics Accelerator laboratories in Russia (Dubna) and Japan (RIKEN) as well as in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (USA), between 2004 and 2012. But how are those super heavy elements created? Superheavy elements are made by smashing two elements together, in the hope that they will stick and produce a larger element; this requires the appropriate speed. To achieve this, a particle accelerator is used; however the issue with this process is that very few impacts have the right speed and orientation to fuse two elements to give a larger one. Another problem with these heavy elements is that they are unstable, and fall apart quickly. Because they do not exist for long, not much about them can be known.1 The element names can be sorted into a list of categories such as mythology, properties, places, people and outer space.

For example, ‘mercury’ and ‘titanium’ got their names from Greek mythology, ‘americium’ is under the category of places and ‘tungsten’ translates to ‘heavy stone’, so it falls under the category of properties. IUPAC confirmed the existence of elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 in January 2016, their names were announced in June of the same year. Element 113, nihonium, was named after the nation of Japan—Nihon means "Land of the Rising Sun" in Japanese. Nihonium (Nh) was synthesized in Japan. Researchers did not identify the element directly since it is very unstable. So they identified it through its decay products instead. Elements 115 and 117 are now named moscovium (Mc) and tennessine (Ts), respectively. Moscovium takes its name from the capital of Russia, Moscow since it was synthesized by Russian scientists. Tennessine is

named after the state of Tennessee, where Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Tennessee at University of Tennessee at Knoxville are situated. This is the second US state to be honoured in the periodic table. The first was California, referenced by californium (element 98). The last element on the list is 118 oganesson (Og), honouring Professor Yuri Oganessian for his pioneering contributions in the synthesis of these superheavy elements.2 Concluding, all four superheavy elements exist only in research laboratories, where once created they only survive for a few moments. Oganesson, the heaviest element created, has a half-life of 890 microseconds (1 million microseconds = one second).3

By Phil Docherty According to the departmental staff pages, Professor Mark Winter “believes firmly that molybdenum is the best element on the periodic table.” A strong statement perhaps, but with a little research it is quite an understandable one. The name, Molybdenum, comes from the Neo-Latin word molybdaenum, meaning lead, quite simply because people thought that molybdenum ores were actually lead ores. Elemental molybdenum is not naturally occurring on Earth, however it can be produced artificially – this is required

because molybdenum is very useful for making high strength alloys and superalloys when combined with steel. This accounts for 80% of molybdenum production. In addition to this, molybdenum-99 is used as the precursor to form technetium-99, the most commonly used radioisotope, which acts as a radioactive tracer within the body. However, it is the biological applications of molybdenum that are most astounding, as it is essential to life; most organisms have various important enzymes that contain molybdenum. The most important of

these are the nitrogenase enzymes, which contain molybdenum in the active site, and are found in bacteria that live in the roots of certain plants. These are responsible for the reduction of nitrogen to ammonia, using energy from the hydrolysis of ATP. This converts nitrogen in the atmosphere to a form that humans, and other living organisms can digest, allowing it to be used for many vital functions within the body. This biological process is done at a much greater efficiency than our own artificial Haber-Bosch process, which requires quite extreme conditions.

1. 2. 3.

Elemental Factfile: Molybdenum


From Sheffield

Helen Sharman grew up in Sheffield and completed her degree she was selected to train as an astronaut for Project Juno. space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. Zoe Smallwood

What first got you interested in chemistry?

What did you get up to after you graduated?

So how did you decide to become an astronaut?

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in life- I knew I loved science, but I also loved languages and music, so I was struggling a bit to decide. I decided in the end science was going to keep my options open for a longer period. To me, chemistry was a nice middle science, something that interested me and yet was going to give me as many opportunities as I could think of later on.

I went to work for the General Electric Company in London, looking at the phosphor coatings of cathode ray tubes. I really enjoyed my time there, and after I had been there for about a year or so, the managing director came to me and suggested I should start a PhD. So I started a part-time PhD at Birkbeck College, University of London around 1985, looking at the luminescence of rare earth ions, in particular europium and terbium.

It was just an amazing opportunity. I knew that as soon as I heard it that it was a job of a lifetime just to do the training. Not only was I learning about the science of the experiments we were going to do and the technology of the spacecraft, but I was also going to be living in Star City near Moscow, learning to speak Russian and doing physical training. I thought, wow! Where else can you do all that as part of one job? I struggled to decide between languages or science when I went to do A-Levels, so this was my dream job where I could combine everything together.

What are your fondest memories of your time in Sheffield? I remember my first ever cheese and wine party- that was an amazing event, we thought it was very glamorous. I also remember a particular experiment in the 2nd year which left us smelling horribly of mouse urine and people avoiding us on the buses going home, thinking that we hadn’t washed for ages!

In our final year we did 2 research projects- I chose physical and inorganic for my research projects and loved them both. My physical project was making organic molecules and recording their NMR spectra, whilst the inorganic project was looking at ruthenium carbonyl compounds.


© Helen Sharman

Did you get the chance do any research during your degree?

Was any part of your degree useful for your selection and during your training?

After a couple of years, I applied for a job at Mars confectionary. I was a research technologist, working first of all on ice cream, then eventually in the chocolate department. I had been at Mars for a couple of years, when I had the opportunity to go and be an astronaut, so I left Mars confectionary and also never completed my PhD.

I think they wanted somebody who had got some science, engineering or medical background, it didn’t really matter what degree you got. The person who I did my training with, who became my backup in the end, got his degree in aero engineering whilst he was with the army. He had got aeronautical experience, so when it came to learning about orbital mechanics and ballistics and flight and so on he could help me, and when it came to learning about the experimental stuff in space and microgravity and so on I could help him.

to Space!

in Chemistry in this department. After responding to a radio advert, In 1991, she became the first Briton in space when she travelled to the Mir spoke to her about her time in Sheffield, in space, and her current work.

What experiments did you carry out in space? I did some work on some new materials, in particular ceramics. I had to put a series of different ceramic films outside the space station and we were monitoring the effects of radiation and the vacuum of space on them. They were looking at future space station exteriors and some of them might also be used for high temperature superconductors. The other bit was growing some protein crystals- I grew luciferase. You don’t really operate as a scientist in space, we are technicians- we carry out the jobs that the scientists have designed and then we bring the results back for the scientists to analyse and make the conclusions. We talk about being scientists in space but we’re not, if we’re honestthe scientists stay on the ground. What was your favourite moment about being in space? I think the entry to the Mir space station was the best bit. After 2 days of orbiting the earth, we were really looking forward to getting to the space station. The docking wasn’t automatic in the end, so we worked really hard together as a team. Then, the 3 of us that were in the spacecraft joined onto the space station and met the 2 who were already there- that wonderful feeling of camaraderie, of being able to float into these long modules and

stretch out after a very cramped existence for a couple of days. It was a fabulous feeling! You are operations manager at Imperial College London. Would you like to tell us a bit about your current role? I make sure that the department continues to do what it needs to do. I enable everybody else in the department to carry out their research and teaching, for the students to get the university experience they deserve. So it’s a combination of budgetry and people management, and I work very closely with the head of department. I’m loving it- I’ve only been here a few months, so there’s still things cropping up that surprise me, but being in an academic environment like this is great. To be around people who are sparky, making all sorts of changes to enable the students to have a better education, to enable a better research environment and are excited by that research is a very interesting environment to be in.

“Opportunities come our way only once and you can spend a long time regretting if you don’t try.”

© Thomas Angus, Imperial College

Do you have any advice to current chemistry students at Sheffield? There’s going to be so many more opportunities open than they can even imagine at this momentalways be open to that. It’s lovely to have an aim in mind, but if we close ourselves off to new opportunities that we might not previously have thought of, we may be denying ourselves an absolutely amazing chance. I never imagined I could go into space whilst I was at university- I thought, “I shall use my degree in industry”. It was great, I enjoyed it and I probably would have enjoyed it for the rest of my life, but if I hadn’t been open to that new opportunity then I wouldn’t have had an amazing experience in space either. Opportunities come our way only once and you can spend a long time regretting if you don’t try. Would you go back to space if you got the opportunity? Oh, definitely! Every astronaut would go back into space if they could!

We would like to thank Helen for taking the time to speak to us and answer our questions.


Flashes & Bangs!

The science (and art) behind fireworks

By Zoe Smallwood

By the time you are reading this article, Bonfire Night is fast approaching, and the skies will once again be lit up with flashes of colour and the night peppered with bangs and whistles. First developed in ancient China, modern displays comprise different types, sizes and amounts of fireworks, each designed to create a different effect. Although most people associate the words ‘fireworks’ and ‘pyrotechnics’ very closely, a pyrotechnic is anything that creates an effect- this can include the generation of heat and smoke, as well as the fireworks we are all familiar with. The word ‘pyrotechnic’ stems from the Greek for ‘fire’ and ‘art’- therefore, a pyrotechnican is someone who is trained in the art of handling fire.1


Colourants are often salts of heavy metal elements. The excitation and subsequent relaxation of the heavy metal electrons emits coloured light. For example, green light can be generated by using barium nitrate, Ba(NO3)2, whilst strontium nitrate, Sr(NO3)2, emits red light. Using iron metal creates the ‘sparkles’ that can be seen in some fireworks.2,3 Confining the pyrotechnic mixture in a tube results in a loud explosion when the mixture decomposes.

A firework is made up of several different parts, each of which play a different role. Before a firework can ‘go off ’, it must first be launched into the sky, high enough to be away from the ground and be seen by observers. This is achieved by a propellant such as gunpowder; which generates gas upon decomposition. This creates thrust, which pushes the firework upwards before the effects begin.

Despite creating some amazing effects, fireworks are not problemfree. Everyone who has been to a large fireworks display will have seen the huge amount of smoke generated. This is due to incomplete combustion of the pyrotechnic formulation, leaving unburnt carbon in the air as soot. External oxidisers such as ammonium perchlorate, NH4[ClO4], are often included to increase the amount of oxygen available for the other components to use. Although this reduces the amount of smoke generated, many of the compounds used as oxidisers are harmful for the environment and to humans. The heavy metals used in colorants can also be problematic for health and environmental reasons.3

Each firework is designed around the effects that it is intended to produce, so compositions of pyrotechnic mixtures vary hugely!

For these reasons, research is being conducted worldwide to discover and investigate more environmentally-friendly

compositions for pyrotechnics. Nitrogen-rich compounds require less oxygen for complete combustion, producing less smoke. Another bonus is that the main product of decomposition is non-toxic, environmentallyinert N2 gas. As a result, nitrogenrich compounds, such as hydrazinebistetrazolate or HBT (Figure 1) are being investigated as replacement propellants for pyrotechnic mixtures.4

Figure 1: Structure of HBT

However, it’s not just in propellants that nitrogen-rich compounds are of interest- a nitrogen-rich boron compound, which emits green light when ignited, has shown promise as a replacement for barium nitrate as a colourant.5 The chemistry and formulation of fireworks is extremely complex; each is designed to achieve a certain height, size and cause certain effects. Despite being so complex, all of this work goes out with a bang, literally, in just a few seconds! 1. 2. 3. G. Steinhauser, T. M. Klapötke, J. Chem. Ed., 2010, 87, 150. 4. G. Steinhauser and T. M. Klapötke, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2008, 47, 3330. 5. T. M. Klapötke, M. Rusan and V. Sproll, Z. Anorg. Allg. Chem., 2014, 640, 1892–1899.

Volcanic Chemistry By Maria Kariousou

The word ‘volcano’ comes from the little island of Vulcano in the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily. In Roman mythology, Vulcan, the god of fire (also known as Hephaistos in the Greek mythology), was said to have made tools and weapons for the other gods in his workshop at Olympus. Volcanoes are formed when magma from within the Earth’s upper mantle works its way to the surface.1 Magma is molten rock underground, but when this molten rock reaches the surface it is called lava. Lava is made up of crystals, volcanic glass, and bubbles. Chemically, lava includes silicon, oxygen, aluminium, iron and magnesium. A magma’s viscosity is largely controlled by its temperature, composition, and gas content. Viscosity is defined as the ability of a substance to resist flow. In a sense, viscosity is the inverse of fluidity. Also, the higher the temperature, the more fluid a substance becomes, thus lowering its viscosity.


Most people associate volcanoes with destruction and something deadly. But what is behind those eruptions and what is happening with lava on the inside?

Because oxygen and silicon are by far the two most abundant elements in magma, it is convenient to describe the different magma types in terms of their silica content (SiO2). A magma’s resistance to flow is a function of its “internal friction”, derived from the generation of chemical bonds within the liquid. Oxygen is the only anion in the elements found in magma and silicon is the most abundant cation. Thus, the Si-O bond is the single most important factor in determining the degree of magma’s viscosity. These two elements bond together to form the so-called “floating radicals” in the magma, while it is still in its liquid state

(i.e., Si-O bonds begin to form well above the crystallization temperature of magma). These floating radicals contain SiO4 ; as the magma cools, more and more bonds are created, which eventually leads to the development of crystals. However, while still in the liquid state, the bonding of tetrahedra results in the polymerization of the liquid, which increases the “internal friction” of the magma, so that it more readily resists flow. Magmas that have a high silica content will therefore exhibit greater degrees of polymerization, and have higher viscosities, than those with lowsilica contents.2 1. Crystalinks Online, 2.


Nanjing Joint Degree

© Mike Ward

The lab In their first year, the students do some experiments designed by Dr. Julie Hyde. In years 2 and 3, they do experiments taken directly from the level 1 and 2 practical courses our undergraduates take here. So, the experiments are similar, how different could the lab’ really be? The Chemistry Department has offered a joint “3+1” degree with Nanjing Tech University in China since 2011.1 This course gives Chinese students the chance to study in Nanjing for three years, with teaching from Sheffield staff, before joining our third-year undergraduate students in Sheffield in their final year. In 2016, our second intake of Nanjing students all graduated successfully. The content students cover in Nanjing is roughly equivalent to foundation year up to level 2 chemistry here in Sheffield. Lecture courses in Nanjing are given by our own academics, chiefly by Profs Mike Ward and Mark Winter as well as Dr. David M. Williams and Dr. Lance J. Twyman. The lab’ course is delivered primarily by Dr. Julie Hyde.2 Since 2014, when we first had three full cohorts of students out in Nanjing to teach, she has also been helped by some of our graduate teaching assistants or GTAs. This is where I came in – in 2014 I was one of the first GTAs to help teach out in Nanjing, and my involvement has continued. In 2016 I worked with Dr. Julie Hyde for three months out in Nanjing, to deliver the lab’ course on the largest scale yet. It feels fitting that now, as we prepare to receive our largest cohort of Nanjing students yet, to look back on the course so far and the journey our Nanjing students take to get here.


Although the lab’ isn’t as well equipped as in Sheffield, thanks to the technician, Shirley (a chemist with an industrial background and the patience of a saint) the experiments have been carried over from the UK very well. Over the three years I’ve been to Nanjing, Shirley has gone from speaking only a few sentences of English to being able to have full conversations about non-work topics with me, without a translator. Her efforts to learn English (self-taught and through her daughter, currently in high school) have put my attempts at Mandarin to shame. Working in the Nanjing lab’ definitely gives you an appreciation for expensive things we take for granted: vacuum lines and inert gas plumbed into fume cupboards; double-barrelled Schlenk lines; multiple IR spectrometers in each undergraduate lab’! However, the lab’ has always been equipped with everything we need to carry out the course. Other members of the Chinese staff have helped us in the lab’, and several of these have come to conduct research here in Sheffield as part of the ongoing links between Sheffield and Nanjing Tech. Over the past three years, the lab’ course has become a well-oiled machine, with a structure reflecting Sheffield’s but with unique features of its own.

© Zoe Smallwood

By Jamie Wright

The students The students themselves were very enthusiastic, and English communication was not the issue I thought it would be. While most were quite shy at first, I found that over the course of three months we developed a great working rapport. I even managed to get people to volunteer answers in class (no, really)! Giving the students the chance to practise their English as much as possible is very important. Incidentally, this has also been very useful in learning about some great restaurants in Nanjing. As the class sizes have increased over the last few years, it has admittedly become harder to remember everyone’s name. The convention of Chinese students adopting English monikers has helped in the past (albeit with a few interesting choices…), but as we become increasingly familiar with Chinese language and culture this isn’t something all students choose to do, and rightly so. Better start practising that pronunciation. In general, the theoretical knowledge of the students was excellent (and this helped when we were trying to explain new concepts in their second language). The biggest challenge was teaching scientific writing to the students, which is hard enough for our home students! Writing oddities such as the experimental format, Latin phrases and finer points like how abstracts differ from conclusions were particularly tough to explain. However, the students by and large rose to the occasion.

I can only imagine, experiencing all these things in our country, how intimidating coming to the UK for a whole year must be for our students. I want to invite people to stop and chat to them, whenever they get the chance. If we can extend to them even a fraction of the courtesy we have been offered in Nanjing, they will be just fine.

© Mike Ward

The future The joint degree continues, with its sixth intake of students in 2016-17. As well as chemistry, there are now Sheffield-Nanjing Tech joint degrees in physics, financial mathematics and engineering (though chemistry has run for the longest). The format of the lab’ course continues to evolve and adapt to the challenges we have faced so far, and I’m confident of future success. Finally, welcome to our new students from Nanjing Tech – I hope that your time in Sheffield is as enjoyable as mine was in Nanjing.

© Mike Ward

China in general Nothing quite prepared me for how different China is from the UK. Nanjing is a city of over eight million (comparable to London), and yet it is not even the largest city in Jiangsu province. As with all big cities, there was plenty of background noise, and even in the beautiful XuanWu lake park, there were crowds at every time of day. Being in a city where you can’t even read the street signs (never mind speak to people in any meaningful way) was pretty intimidating. Thankfully the people were very welcoming, particularly at tourist attractions (of which Nanjing has many). Over the past three years the ‘language barrier’ has shrunk significantly; it was easy to hold conversations in English while in China, particularly with the younger people. This again put our efforts at Mandarin to shame. The food has been a constant source of discussion among the people who came to Nanjing. I’d like to think I’ve been quite brave, but some dishes were maybe a little too exotic (not limited to: pig’s tail; ‘drunken’ prawns; cow’s throat and preserved duck eggs).

From left to right: Catherine (graduate of the joint chemistry programme), Coco (teaching assistant), Shirley (teaching lab technician), George (graduate of the joint chemistry programme), Dr. Julie Hyde, Zoe (GTA) and Jamie (GTA). The photo was taken in the teaching labs at NJTech.

I’m not the only one who had this excellent opportunity. To date, seven of our Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA’s) have been to Nanjing to help teach the lab’ course. Here’s what some of them had to say: Beth Crowston: I was both excited and a little nervous when I found out that I’d been selected to teach over in Nanjing, but I’m so glad that I took up such an amazing opportunity. Everyone I met was so friendly and made my time over there very enjoyable. The lab setting was very different to the one here in Sheffield and I had to adapt my teaching accordingly, however, it made me appreciate how spoilt we are here. I would definitely recommend that the other GTAs take up the chance to go to Nanjing, as it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but don’t forget to take your own teabags! Tom Roseveare: The biggest challenge I found was adjusting to the Nanjing Teaching Lab, there are so many pieces of equipment and resources that you take for granted when teaching in Sheffield. Needless to say despite the slightly hindered conditions, with help from the technicians, the students were able to record reliable and reproducible data. Zoe Smallwood: Being able to travel to Nanjing and assist in the teaching and demonstrating for the programme was a fantastic opportunity, I’m really glad I was able to take part. I think it has helped improve my teaching skills, especially having the opportunity to teach and provide feedback in a group setting outside of the lab, which was something that I hadn’t had much experience of before.

Dr. Julie Hyde has also written an article on the Nanjing Tech-Sheffield collaboration, that can be accessed at:


Winter is Coming By Dan Jenkinson

With the tell tale signs of autumn becoming apparent, it’s fair to say that winter is well on its way! This includes the spectacular change in colour in the leaves of deciduous trees from the spring and summer shades of greens to the autumnal hues of yellow, orange and red. But what are the chemicals behind these changes? Summer greens The chemical that gives leaves their green colour during the warmer months is chlorophyll. It appears green, because it absorbs light in the red and blue sections of the visible spectrum, allowing green light to pass through or be scattered. Plants require warmth and sunlight to produce it. In autumn, the amount of chlorophyll plants are able to produce decreases and existing chlorophyll is broken down and harvested for an additional source of energy.

Chlorophyll A

Oranges and yellows



As chlorophyll is broken down the other chemical components of the plant’s leaves remain. Xanthophylls and carotenoids are responsible for the yellow and orange colours in leaves. These compounds appear this way due to their absorbing in the blue and green regions of the visible spectrum. Two of the more prominent xanthophylls are lutein and β-carotene which are carotenoids. They are responsible for the yellow colour in egg yolks and the orange colour of carrots respectively. These compounds also start to break down along with chlorophyll, but this happens much more slowly.

Dead red As chlorophyll, xanthophylls and carotenoids are broken down, the synthesis of anthocyanins is kick-started by the increased concentration of sugar in the leaves. Their exact role in the leaf is unclear, but it has been theorised that they protect the leaves from excess light absorption, prolonging the time before they fall. Anthocyanins appear red because they absorb all light from the ultraviolet end of the spectrum up to the orange region of the visible spectrum.





In March we were joined by Dr. Jane Parker for a Chemsoc lecture on “Flavour”. Dr. Parker is the manager of ‘The Flavour Centre’ at the University of Reading. She specialises in sensory and chemical characterisation and the mechanisms by which odour compounds form during cooking. Most people naturally associate the word flavour with taste, however as we learned, it is much more than that. By Amelia Newman Dr. Parker tells us “Flavour is the multisensory experience created by our brain from all the sensory inputs it receives during eating and drinking.” Many flavours like coconut, olives or onions are not detected by receptors on the tongue but instead depend on our other sensory inputs to be detected.

Next time you have a juicy sweet try holding your nose while you first eat it. On releasing your nose, the flavour of the sweet is significantly enhanced! This aroma reaches the nose via “retronasal olfaction” where the volatile aromatic compounds drift backward up the nasal passage.

The first component of flavour is taste. There are five main tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Everyone can immediately associate a flavour with the first four. However, the last is less commonly known. Umami is a Japanese word for “pleasant savoury taste”. This umani is found in meat, cheese, and tomatoes, and achieved from a balanced combination of glutamate and nucleotide-rich foods. These two components are synergic and achieve the delicious umami hit. An example is when Worcester sauce is added to spaghetti Bolognese; the flavour is compounded due to the fish component of the sauce combining with the tomato in the Bolognese!

This sequence of molecules is like a chord on a piano; by changing one note, the whole nuance can change. Some strange aromas have compounds in common in their “chords”. Ever been confused between popcorn, peardrops or blue cheese? They all have diacetyl in common! Between your coffee and crisps? The methional will be responsible! Next time you go to open a can of sweetcorn, smell the can straight afterwards. Sweetcorn, raspberries, or the ocean? Dimethyl sulfide is a key component in the aroma of all three! Produced by bugs on algae near the ocean, the latter is also a key top note added to make raspberry flavourings smell more genuine.

Another key component is aroma. Researchers estimate up to 90% of what we perceive as taste actually comes from smell.1 Aroma is given by a much more complex pattern of molecules, which involve more than one smell receptors; this way a wider range of smells is perceived.

True, these foods aren’t commonly mistaken for one another, but when smelt with no other sensory input, things get confusing! This is also due to another key component of flavour- appearance. Chef Heston Blumenthal worked with renowned scientists to further investigate the

multisensory experience of flavour perception. He created a blood orange flavoured red jelly, and a beetroot flavoured red jelly. When we eat, our brain makes connections and assumptions of flavour based on the appearance of our food, causing confusion when our sense perceptions of the food do not link up. By creating these jellies, Blumenthal managed to create a wholly confusing flavour experience for his guests. Chemesthesis sensations arise when compounds activate receptors associated with physical pain and thermal perception and is yet another component of flavour. During the flavour perception of menthol, a cooling sensation is felt; with ginger and black pepper, an irritating sensation, and anyone who has eaten Sichuan peppers will be familiar with the overwhelming numbing of the lips that follows. Understanding the mechanisms of flavour as an experience involving all of our sensory inputs is a field investigated by chefs, scientists and commercial manufacturers the world over. Chemsoc would like to thank Dr. Parker for such an interesting and interactive lecture! 1. J. Walters, Heaven-scent diet, London Evening Standard, 2004. C. Spence, Current Biology, 2013, 23, 365.


Knowing Your Coffee

With approximately 70 million cups of coffee being consumed in the UK each day, it is clear that we are hooked on this once-exotic drink as a nation.1 Coffee contains thousands of different compounds and in this article, Aylin Ozkan explores what gives coffee its bitter taste and how caffeine affects our bodies. Why is Coffee So Bitter? The distinctive, bitter taste in coffee is mostly caused by chlorogenic acids (CGAs), which are phenolic compounds. These compounds are produced by plants to combat environmental stress conditions. A typical green, unroasted coffee bean will have a CGA content of up to 14%. CGAs are formed from the esterification of trans-cinnamic acid with quinic acids (figure 1a).2 An example of a CGA found in a coffee plant is 4-O-caffeoylquinic acid (figure 1b).

However, the roasting of the coffee beans at high temperatures sets off multiple chemical reactions and almost half of the CGAs degrade during this process. Some of the CGAs form chlorogenic acid lactones – a source of bitterness in the light to medium roasted coffee. In darker roasts, such as ones used to make espresso, phenylindanes, which are the chemical breakdown products of chlorogenic acid lactones, cause an even harsher taste. A chemical reaction between proteins and sugars, named the Maillard browning reaction, responsible for flavouring many different types of food, also thought to be responsible for forming melanoidins – bitter-tasting antioxidant polymers which give coffee its distinctive bitter flavour. Keeping Alert with Caffeine

Figure 1a. Trans-cinnamic acid (left) and quinic acid (right)

Figure 1b. 4-O-caffeoylquinic acid


Adenosine is produced naturally and its levels are monitored with receptors found in the brain. When it accumulates, it attaches to these receptors and activates them – stimulating signals telling the body to get some rest. Caffeine can attach to these adenosine receptors due to its molecular similarity. However, it doesn’t activate them like adenosine does - it merely blocks them. This means that nerve activity in your brain does not slow down, keeping you more awake and energetic. 1. 2.

Scientifically Sublime Sponges By Beth Crowston

There’s nothing better to brighten a rainy afternoon than indulging in a deliciously soft, freshly-baked Victoria Sponge cake, accompanied by a refreshing cup of hot tea. Now that the nation’s favourite baking show is back on, many of us are inspired to a spot of baking ourselves. Armed with the a plethora of the latest time-saving gadgets, many a naïve baker is confidently throwing ingredients into a bowl, giving them a quick mix around and bunging them in to bake, only to be disappointed when they open the oven door to a burnton-the-outside, but raw-on-theinside mess. So what’s the secret to producing the perfect showstopper? And how can the crushing disappointment of a ruined cake be avoided? The simple answer lies in the appreciation of the science of baking.1 The light and airy texture desired for a melt-in-the-mouth cake begins with the creaming process. As the mixture is beaten, air is carried along the rough surface of the sugar crystals creating gas bubbles which are then encased in a fine layer of fat to produce foam. At this stage it is all too appealing as a desperate baker to substitute caster sugar for granulated sugar when you find your cupboard bare. However, the larger surface area of the smaller caster sugar crystals incorporates more air in to the batter, making for a fluffier cake overall. For the more health conscious, the temptation to use low fat butter can also cause efforts to be in vain. The fat is necessary to coat flour protein and starch to avoid the formation of tough gluten, which can give the cake a bread-like texture. The sugar works in tandem with the fat to soften the flour proteins and tenderise the cake. 1 2

Once the fat-coated air bubbles have been formed, the beaten eggs are added to form a protective layer around them. Upon heating, the protein lecithin in the egg coagulates, essentially building a rigid wall which prevents any bubble-bursting. The flour builds the structure of the cake. The proteins glutenin and gliadin draw together to make gluten in an extensive, elastic network allowing the batter to expand when heated. Being too excitable when folding the flour in forms too much gluten, however. This spoils the cake’s texture and causes the crucial gas bubbles to pop. Baking powder is the cake’s saviour here, however, as it helps to incorporate those all-important bubbles in to the batter.

3NaHCO3 + NaAl(SO)4 → Al(OH)3 + 2Na2SO4 + 3CO2 Baking powder is a blend of the dried acid sodium aluminium sulphate with the alkali bicarbonate of soda. Upon the addition of moisture, bubbles of carbon dioxide are formed. However, being overly zealous with the baking powder can cause too many gas bubbles which merely float to the top and pop, leaving the cake sunken. The baking process can be divided into three stages; expansion, setting and browning. As the temperature of the batter begins to rise, the baking powder releases CO2 gas which starts to expand the gluten network. Steam expands the air pockets in the cake ever further; however, vigilant temperature control at this point is crucial to success. With the temperature set too low, the gas bubbles expand to produce a heavy texture which causes the cake to sink.

Conversely, with the temperature set too high a peaked ‘volcano’ surface on the cake is observed. This is due to the outer portion of the cake setting, before the inner portion has finished expanding. It is when the cake reaches 80 °C that it takes on its permanent shape. The egg proteins coagulate and the gluten loses its elasticity, which prevents further expansion. When a skewer is inserted into the cake and pulls out cleanly, your cake is done! The final stage of the baking process is the flavour-enhancing browning reactions, which fill your kitchen with the sweet smell of caramelisation. A reducing sugar such as glucose condenses with a free amino group on an amino acid to give an unstable N-substituted glycosylamine. From this point, a complex mechanism of cyclisations, dehydrations, retroaldolisations, rearrangements, isomerisations and further condensations takes place until brown melanoidins are finally produced, giving your cake that beautiful bronzed sheen.2 So what next? You’ve made the perfect sponge, but now you only have a limited time in which to enjoy it before it becomes hard and unappetising. This is due to the crystals of starch found in the flour. During baking they become gelatinised as they take up water, however, once released from the oven they begin to slowly recrystallise as water is drawn out of the gel. Higher sugar content can help to combat this, as sugar absorbs water from the atmosphere, but the best remedy to avoid a hard cake is to eat it fresh from the oven; the perfect excuse for indulging in that extra slice with your afternoon tea!

The Guardian, 2010, The Science of Cake, Available at: S.I.F.S. Martins, W. M. F. Jongen, M. A. J. S. van Boekel, Trends in Food Science & Technology, 2000, 11, 364–373


In Memoriam Prof. Sir Harry Kroto, FRS 7th October1939-30th April 2016

It was announced with great sadness on the 30th April that Professor Sir Harold (Harry) Kroto, FRS had regrettably passed away. Harry was one of the most famous alumni from the Chemistry Department and indeed from the University of Sheffield in general. Although born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire to Edith and Heinz Krotoschiner in 1939, Harry was raised in Bolton after the family relocated at the end of the Second World War. He attended Bolton School where he excelled not only in chemistry, physics, and mathematics, but was also a gifted artist and keen sportsman. On the advice of his sixth form chemistry teacher, Professor Harry Heaney (now an emeritus Professor at Loughborough University), Harry came to the University of Sheffield in 1958 to study for his first-class honours BSc degree in chemistry. Having enjoyed his time at the university so much he stayed to complete a PhD in molecular spectroscopy between the years 1961-64, alongside Prof. Richard V. Dixon, FRS, now emeritus at Bristol University. Alongside his academic achievements at the university, Harry was also accomplished in many extracurricular activities. In an article published in the student magazine ‘Darts’ in 1964, Harry is quoted as saying: “many students apologise for their failure by saying University is there to give a rounded view of life. A degree is all important and in achieving it a normal person will pick up activities on the side”; a statement he endorsed enthusiastically.1 Not only was he the art editor of the student magazine ‘Arrows’, the



By Beth Crowston

President of the Student Athletics Council (1963-64) and a member of Folk Song Society, he also played tennis for the University first team for three years. Amongst his busy schedule he also found the time to take care of the important matter of marrying his university sweetheart, Margaret Hunter. The article in ‘Parts’ depicts Harry as a witty and charming ‘very good bloke’; a view shared by all who knew him, both in a professional and personal setting. The department’s own Prof. Charles Stirling, FRS was a personal friend of Harry’s and reiterates that ‘Not only was [Harry] an extraordinarily imaginative chemist, but also a gentle companionable aesthete’. Prof. Patrick Fowler, FRS adds that “his personal example of scientific rigour, enthusiasm and quirky humour will remain an inspiration to all of us who had the good fortune to work with him, or simply to attend his spectacular lectures.”2 Harry’s time at the University was only the start of what would go on to be an illustrious career in the sciences, however. After obtaining

his PhD, Harry moved to Ottawa, Canada to take up a two-year postdoctoral position at the National Research Council, before moving on to Bell Laboratories in New Jersey for a further year. It was when he moved back to the UK in 1967 as a tutorial fellow at the University of Sussex, however, that his research career was really kickstarted. During the years 1970-80, Harry worked alongside John Nixon to produce the first compounds with carbon-phosphorus double and triple bonds. This work resulted in the establishment of the new fields of phosphaalkene and phosphaalkyne chemistry.3 A collaboration with Richard Curl, James Heath, Sean O’Brien, Yuan Liu, and Robert Smalley from the University of Rice, Houston, Texas in 1985 provided Harry with his most notable contribution to the field of chemistry, however. Together they discovered a new allotrope of carbon known as a C60 buckminsterfullerene (‘buckyball’); a symmetrical football-shaped array of 60 carbon atoms made up of 12 pentagons and 20 hexagons.4

“His personal example of scientific rigour, enthusiasm and quirky humour will remain an inspiration to all of us who had the good fortune to work with him, or simply to attend his spectacular lectures.” Prof. Patrick Fowler, FRS

Indeed the satisfaction would not stop there for Harry. He went on to be elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) in 1990; was appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 1996 New Year Honours List for contributions to chemistry and later that year shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with his collaborators. Harry’s success did not go to his head, however, as his down-to-earth, jovial manner was still apparent in the Christmas pantomimes he wrote, directed and starred in for the department in Sussex.


Between the years 2002-04, Harry was the President of the RSC, before moving to Florida State University to take up the role of Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry in 2004. Whilst there Harry continued with the outreach work he started in 1995, having set up the Vega Science Trust, an educational charity which produced high quality science films that streamed for free.

© The Royal Society of Chemistry

© The University of Sheffield

When discussing his discovery, Harry ‘consider[ed] [the] single NMR line confirming that all the carbon atoms in C60 are equivalent one of [his] group’s, and [his] personal, most satisfying contributions, if not the most satisfying’.5

In 2009, this was supplemented with a second science education initiative, Geoset (Global Educational Outreach for Science, Engineering and Technology); an online collection of recorded teaching aids that are free to download by all. Harry’s involvement in the dissemination of science to the younger generation did not stop there, however, as in 2014 he and his wife Margaret set up the Innovative Use of Technology in Science Learning prize. This was awarded to any school child from around the world aged 11-18 who could produce the best five minute STEM video. Harry’s face was not an unfamiliar one here in Sheffield either, as he devoted a portion of his time every summer to running a ‘buckyball’ workshop for primary school children, known as Kroto Days. The department’s Dr. Julie Hyde notes that ‘Sir Harry was committed to outreach for the young and not only did he run these workshops in the UK, they were delivered worldwide. He would sit on the floor with the students, talk to them, and generally just inspire them.’2 This year, the annual Kroto Day was held in Harry’s memory.

Throughout Harry’s full and prosperous life it can be seen that his diligent attitude to his work paid dividends, however, he will be remembered not only for his great contributions to science but also for his affable disposition.

“He would sit on the floor with the students, talk to them, and generally just inspire them.” Dr. Julie Hyde

The science community suffered a great loss when he passed away but he will continue to inspire a new generation of scientists for many more years to come, with his dedication to the field and the solid foundations he has built for outreach. He was, and still is a great inspiration to staff, students and the wider community alike and will be deeply missed by all who had the good fortune to know and work alongside him.

1. Darts, Sheffield University Union of Students, no.241, 23rd June 1964, pg 3. 2. 3. M. J. Hopkinson, H. W. Kroto, J. F. Nixon and N. P. C. Simmons, J. Chem. Soc., Chem. Commun., 1976, 513-515 4. H. W. Kroto, J. R. Heath, S. C. O’Brien, R. F. Curl and R. E. Smalley, Nature, 1985, 318, 162-63 5. Harry Kroto, 2016, Main Contributions, available at: An autobiography for Harry can be found at ; an enjoyable read for all who admire Harry and his work.



Sleeping Stem Cells By Zoe Smallwood

© Irene Canton

Work by Prof. Steve Armes and colleagues, recently published in ACS Central Science, has shown that stem cells can effectively be ‘put to sleep’ for up to two weeks using hydrogels. In nature, stem cells are ‘pluripotent’- this means that they are capable of becoming any type of cell. For example, human stem cells could become brain, heart or liver cells, to name but a few. These cells are hugely beneficial in modern medicine and in principle can be used to treat many medical conditions, such as age-related blindness, leukaemia, and diabetes. Thus, the long-term storage of human stem cells without loss of their pluripotency is of potentially huge importance in mankind’s attempt to tackle such conditions.

Using a hydrogel that mimics the mucus around embryos in diapause, U. Sheffield researchers are able to prevent stem cells and human embryos from differentiating.


One of the biggest challenges facing the use of stem cells is their limited timeframe of application, before the cells start to differentiate into other cell types. In nature, some mammals such as kangaroos are capable of undergoing a process called ‘embryonic diapause’. This is where animals choose to delay the gestation of an embryo, to ensure that the conditions are most optimal at the time of birth.

The hydrogel is also thermally responsive, turning into a liquid upon cooling, which means that the embryos can be readily isolated from the hydrogel as required. This hydrogel could be an improved way to store stem cells for longer periods of time. For the first time, the same effect appears to occur when human embryos are used. The authors acknowledge funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Embryos are covered in soft mucus, and this was what Prof. Armes and coworkers replicated using a soft polymeric hydrogel. When the embryos are placed into this hydrogel, it mimics the natural mucus that is present during mammalian embryonic diapause, and stops them growing at body temperature- effectively mimicking embryonic diapause. When the cells were removed from the hydrogel, they resumed growing at a normal rate.

Dr. Nicholas Warren, a member of the Armes research group, was awarded third place for his work on the above research topic in the ‘Health and Wellbeing’ category of the RSC’s Emerging Technologies competition held in June 2016. Nick is a former University of Sheffield PhD student and has just started as a Lecturer at the University of Leeds. Congratulations Nick! Read more at:

I. Canton, N. J. Warren, A. Chahal, K. Amps, A. Wood, R. Weightman, E. Wang, H. Moore, and S. P. Armes, ACS Cent. Sci., 2016, 2, 65–74.

At any cost?

The scandal surrounding performance enhancing drugs By Juliette Craggs

Looking back at sporting headlines in a year that has included the Rio Olympics and Paralympics, there have been some notable stories, and not all due to fantastic sporting achievements. Doping is a word that has become all too common recently, with some of the world’s most popular sporting champions falling foul of WADA (the World Anti Doping Association).

The tennis player Maria Sharapova, is one of the most recent athletes to hit the headlines after testing positive for mildronate, only banned in January of this year. Mildronate is only approved as a pharmaceutical drug in Russia, and is used to treat ischaemia (a lack of blood flow to parts of the body).

There seems to be endless vitamins and supplements available, even just for the public, and it’s sometimes hard to know what sporting supplements contain. So where is the line between a healthy supplement and a banned performance enhancing drug? And if a drug’s not on the banned substance list but you’re still only taking it to enhance your performance, are you cheating? Comparing them to some legal supplements and drugs commonly found in the diet can make it clear how blurry the line of illegality seems. Most of you will consume caffeine on a daily basis, so its clearly not illegal. But it was on the WADA banned substance list until 2004. Any athlete found to have greater than 12 μg/mL in their bloodstream was considered to be using caffeine to enhance their performance, as it not only stimulates the brain but also helps athletes train harder and longer.

Caffeine was removed in 2004 as it was considered too difficult to determine where the cut off lies between a normal dietary intake and a performance enhancing dose. This means athletes are free to use it to improve their performance as much as they like. It’s therefore difficult to see why some drugs, like mildronate, should be banned when caffeine isn’t.

It’s incredibly difficult to decide which substances should be legal but the line has to be drawn somewhere, and once it has been athletes should stick to it or face serious consequences. Setting up a zero tolerance culture seems to be the only way of preventing doping from marring future sports events.

Surgical Serums

After recently having an operation on his knee, Dan Jenkinson started wondering about the different drugs and chemicals that got pumped into his body. Here’s what he found out! “Here comes the sleepy juice” said the anaesthetist as he prepped me for surgery and injected me full of a milky looking blend to make sure I couldn’t see, hear or feel anything that would happen over the course of the next two hours. As a scientist I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly the sleepy juice was, but I had passed out before I was able to form this sentence out loud. Intravenous anaesthesia is often made up of a cocktail of different substances, each with their own specific purpose. The active component of the milky concoction was likely to be a molecule called propofol whose job is to induce amnesia and ensure that there is no memory of the period of time that propofol is in the body. It usually comes as a mixture of 1% propofol, 10% soybean oil, 1.2% egg phospholipid as an emulsifier, 2.25% glycerol as a tonicityadjusting agent (to balance osmotic pressure), and aqueous sodium hydroxide to adjust the pH. It is believed to interact with the GABAA receptor – a ligand gated ion channel found in nerve cells that is involved in virtually all brain functions. The inhibitory action of propofol drastically slows the progression of signals through the nervous system meaning that the patient would not be able to think or create any memories, wouldn’t be able to move, see or hear anything and most importantly would not be able to feel any pain during the operation! The levels of anaesthesia in the body are closely monitored to ensure they don’t wear off during the procedure. In general the duration of action of intravenous anaesthetics is between 5 and 10 minutes after which the patient will spontaneously regain consciousness. To stop this from happening, the level of anaesthetic in the body is maintained either by via a suspension of propofol in a drip that enters the body through an intravenous catheter, or by the inhalation of a volatile anaesthetic such as sevoflurane. Historically volatile solvents such as chloroform and diethyl ether have been used as anaesthetics which can cause light-headedness if you breathe in too much!


Pushing the Limits

How science is advancing the performance of athletes By Matthew Watson


reason a bat’s two sides must be red and black. The players can inspect each other’s bats, noting the surface of each coloured side. This allows a player to better predict what his opponents shot will do when hit by a certain coloured side.

A useful case study of the effect science has had on sport is the table tennis racket. In previous forms it was a simple wooden bat with a sand paper surface. This provided minimal grip and so prevented the application of spin to the ball, which meant that many of the incredible curling shots seen in table tennis today could not happen. The addition of rubber to the surface of the bat was a game changer and for more than one reason. The surface now had the possibility to have large amounts of grip, allowing the player to spin the ball and add more shots to their arsenal. A bat of course has two sides though, and while one side may be a rubber surface designed to get the most spin, the other can be designed to get the most speed out of a shot. This allows a player’s single bat to be used for a variety of shots. This is a part of the

The advancement that science has had on the performance of athletes has been monumental, whether you have noticed it or not.

A technological advancement was the addition of a special glue known as speed glue. The effect of using this glue to affix the rubber surface to the bat results in an increased amount of spin and speed applied to the ball. It works by making the pores of the rubber surface expand, increasing the surface tension and providing a trampoline-like effect for the ball to rebound off. The alteration in the surface only lasts a few hours, so it must be added just before the actual required usage.

Speed glue was banned however, just before the 2012 London Olympics. The official reason cited was health concerns of using volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Nonetheless, many say that it was actually banned as it made the game too fast. It would not be an anomaly in sport either, cries of has “science gone too far?” have been met many times with a firm “yes”.

Perhaps the most famous example is the result of the LZR Racer swimsuits. They were designed to increase buoyancy, reduce drag and mould the body into a more effective shape. These improvements were possible by making the suimsuits out of non-textile material (in some cases, being made entirely out of polyurethane). Almost immediately after they were introduced, world records began tumbling to such a great extent that action was taken by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) to limit the area of the body that could be covered by a suit and what material it could be made of. Another piece of technological advancement to help athletes is in the running track, literally! The track at the Olympic stadium in London was designed to have a special shaped diamond surface to reduce the loss of lateral energy when an athlete impacts the surface. The impact that science has had on the performance of athletes has been monumental, whether you have noticed it or not. It has not always been a smooth track however, and questions can be asked about the point of advancing technology in sport further if we have already seen equipment capable of assisting competitors to an extent beyond what sporting bodies deem acceptable. So what can the future possibly hold? No matter what the answer, the key role science advancement has played, and will continue to play is evident, and will ensure that records keep falling.


The involvement of science in sport has recently been a prominent issue; unfortunately, however, for the wrong reasons due to doping scandals and bans on athletes competing at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. On a positive note, however, sports science has helped athletes train harder for longer and more effectively without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. A further key thread in the entwinement science has with sport, not to be focused upon is the ground-breaking cutting-edge science in their equipment. Be it a table tennis racket, boots, or swimming costumes, scientific advancement has helped shave seconds off times, take the point and all round give competitors an edge.

Dave Wetherill goes for Gold!

© All images reprinted with permission from David Wetherill.

Matthew Watson spoke to Dave Wetherill about what got him into science, table tennis and balancing the two while at University. This summer had no shortage of sporting heroes and hopefuls to cheer for. What you may not realise is how closely connected you are to some of them! At the time of writing, The University of Sheffield has two alumni silver medallists at Rio, Jessica Ennis-Hill in the heptathlon, and Bryony Page in trampolining. Someone also looking to win a medal at Rio and even more closely connected to us is Dave Wetherill, who graduated from our department in 2011 and has represented GB in table tennis at Beijing, London and now the Rio Paralympic Games.

thinking of it as “the thing my dad plays”. He said he just wanted to run around and play football. He broke his leg playing football at the age of 10 so he shifted to table tennis- Dave says “I found it to be a good sport, where I could compete without too many limitations, especially against able bodied people- and as it turns out, I was quite good at it.” His dad helped by taking up coaching and his brother got into the sport. Dave says this gave him “that target of always trying to beat him, and now I’m miles better than him and I’ve got the bragging rights!”

Being a scientist and a professional athlete are usually thought of as poles apart, so what brought Dave towards both of them? As it turns out, they both have a related origin; Dave has a rare genetic condition and while he pointed out he doesn’t let his disability define him, it has had an impact on his life. He became interested in science from the biological side of things as it directly related to him, which is why he took modules in genetics. Combined with a natural ability in chemistry and drive to do something meaningful, the choice to do a biological chemistry degree was a natural one. Surprisingly, at an early age Dave wasn’t interested in table tennis,

While Dave is clearly gifted athletically and academically, he says that balancing the two was tough and required a lot of discipline and a lot of hard work. While he put his body through a tough regime to be an athlete, he said “it took more mental perseverance than physical to turn up to early morning lectures, be in the lab all day, then go straight on the tram over to the training centre and train all evening and then do a lab report.” The stress of doing the degree while being an athlete was worth it though“having a chemistry degree from the University of Sheffield is in the bag forever, that’s a great thing to have and it fills me with a lot of pride”, he says. Dave also acknowledges the University, who “trusted me to balance the two and helped me when I needed it”.

Dave has competed at Beijing in 2008, where he finished in the top eight, and London 2012. Although exiting after the second round in London, he was still able to play what was called by some “the shot of the tournament”; the video so far has nearly six and a half million views on YouTube. Speaking of his time at London he said “the home support of friends, family and even some of my class mates cheering me was a surreal experience; being at centre stage, everyone cheering you on, the experience will stay with me forever”. However, along with the highs, he says “it was also one of the biggest disappointments of my career not getting a medal” due to his run-up being stalled by injuries.

“Having a chemistry degree from the University of Sheffield is in the bag forever, that’s a great thing to have and it fills me with a lot of pride.” While “not wanting to jinx anything” he said his preparation for Rio is progressing well and so long as he can stay injury free he is hoping to see what he can really do. We all wish Dave the very best going to Rio and for his future success. His impressive hard work and dedication have done the department and university proud.

David Wetherill’s Paralympics journey ended in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, September 10th in the quarter-finals after missing out on match point in the third set. Read more at:


News from the Department By Dr. Tom Anderson, Beth Crowston, Phil Docherty, Dr. Peter Portius, and Zoe Smallwood

On March 2nd Dr. Tom Anderson gave a Science Week outreach talk titled ‘Journey to the Centre of the Atom’ with assistance from Level 2 student Dan Reader, Level 1 student Joanna Curtis and technical support from Adam Ford.

Journey to the centre of the atom

Dr. Anderson’s father Stephen also contributed his guitar skills to demonstrate the principle of a standing wave! The talk showed how our ideas about the atom have evolved since the days of Democritus in Ancient Greece, and how, in many ways, modern public views of the atom are still many decades behind the scientific cutting edge. It also included some memorable practical demonstrations, illustrating the principle that a flask of brightly coloured, fuming liquid is not 'real science' unless we are trying to figure out just what is going on there, rather than merely being a

prop in the back of a Hollywood science lab. The event was well attended with a public turnout of over 60 people and Dr. Anderson hopes that the next South Yorkshire Science Week, which is on the 10th – 19th March 2017 (a bit longer than a week!), will be equally popular.

This summer, three scholars from the Lycee PierreGilles de Gennes - ENCPB in Paris visited Sheffield as part of the European Erasmus+ programme to conduct summer internships. Over the course of eight weeks, Romy Jambon, Namizata Fofana and Angèle Reiller conducted preparative inorganic and coordination chemistry projects in the research groups of Prof. Jim Thomas, Dr. Mike Morris and Dr. Peter Portius, respectively. All three projects were met with success, and the three young scholars said that they enjoyed their stay and being in the city of Sheffield.

© Sharon Spey

John McCormick Retires!


On the 29th July, John McCormick, the Chemistry department’s loveable porter, retired after 43 years of service for the university. John began working for the university in 1973, and took up his position in our department in 1977. Over the years, he has made numerous friends, many of whom came to celebrate his retirement with him at his party on the 1st of August.

© Peter Portius

ENCPB students visit Sheffield

The impressive turnout was a testament to John’s popularity here in the department, with many current students and members of staff attending as well. John was a friendly face around the department, and could always be relied on for a warm smile and pleasant conversation on his rounds delivering the many Amazon parcels to the PhD offices. However, in a speech given by the Head of Department, we discovered that there was more to John than many of us ever knew. Not only does he enjoy taking walks in the Peak District with his son and visiting Blackpool with his wife, he is also an avid Elvis Presley fan and impersonator. With some egging on from other members of staff, we were treated to a fine rendition of ‘The Wonder of You’, which was met with a roar of applause. John now hopes to enjoy his retirement alongside his family, as well as partaking in one of his favourite hobbies; betting on the horse racing. All of us here in the Chemistry department wish him a happy retirement and hope he gets some well-deserved rest.

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