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ATWARM Meeting: November 2011

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

This week I attended my third ATWARM meeting. I have written about the previous two here and here. The first day was the typical QUESTOR meeting, with presentations about current and upcoming projects. We also had an interesting presentation by the Environmental Sustainability KTN, which was a new concept to me, and which I found really interesting. We also had the student council meeting, where the new President and Secretary were elected, and my position as student council President came to an end. Following the student council meeting I attended the Supervisory meeting as a representative of the student council. I always find attending the supervisory meeting beneficial, and I really wish that all students could be present (even if just as observers) at this meeting as I think it is a good idea to know what aspects are concerning the supervisory board and how we can work together.

This time apart from being the usual QUESTOR/ATWARM meeting it was also time for the mid-term report which is due regarding the ATWARM project for FP7. Therefore the research officer responsible for the project came over for the ATWARM part of the meeting and we had a day of meetings with him. After an introductory report, all the fellows had to give a short 7 minute presentation about their background, research activities and our aspirations. I really appreciated that this time we kept strictly to the time allotted, since some people tend to keep talking way over the allotted time, and as has happened at these meetings before, people who are to present towards the end have had their presentation truly shortened or alternatively even transferred to another day at the end of a long programme. This was followed by a meeting between all the fellows and the research officer. The research officer was certainly not what most of us were expecting. The thing which surprised me most was that he was not too obsessed with the rules and regulations, but was very flexible to hearing what we had to say. He understood that the most important aspect of the fellowship was that we get training and get our PhD rather than fulfilling the original plan to the letter.

Alas, after the wonderful two days we made our way back to Dublin, albeit not without an initial stop at the Belfast Christmas Market for an hour or so, until the planes, trains etc were due to leave, or alternatively for those who were staying the night to go to their next outing of the night. I look forward to our next meeting in May, where we should be heading to Cranfield, at our partner site there.

DCU and Sustainability

This week seems to have been a big week for DCU and sustainability. One of my supervisors was part of this initiative and so people from our lab got roped in to attending a couple of meeting organised. Yesterday was a lunchtime talk organised by the Biological Research Society at DCU and the Institute of Biology in Ireland. The talk was given by Professor Roland Clift and it was on ‘Bioenergy – and why biofuels for transport are a nonsense’. Professor Clift is at the top of the pyramid in the area of environmental science and sustainability. I really enjoyed listening to him and getting an idea of how things work, especially in relation to policy making.

It was especially enlightening to see the openness with which he gave the presentation, and particularly relieved to see that even in the higher echelons of science and even more so in policy making, pragmatism is one of the main considerations. You do not necessarily do what is the best out there (and very often you would not even know what is the best), but you take a decision based on practical factors, some of which are not wholly ‘scientifically’ based. For example, why a particular year was chosen by himself and the rest of the team preparing a policy document in relation to a particular target, where one of the reasons was that it is not too close that people in government say it is not possible and therefore not do anything about it, yet not too far away that people can afford to sweep it under the carpet.

I could link his train of thought very well with some decisions I have had to make as part of my PhD, where sometimes selection was based on practical rather than a wholly ‘scientific’ basis, such as the selection of analytes for my project…it would have been nice to be able to analyse for everything (this could run into the hundreds), but it is simply not possible, and the analytes finally selected were based on a number of criteria, which include financial considerations and time considerations rather than simply ‘scientific’ considerations.

Then today, a one day forum was held on Sustainability at DCU. I could not attend the whole day, since I was getting some other training related to my PhD, but I really enjoyed the parts I could attend. I missed out most of the morning session, where different members of the panel presented what is currently being done at DCU in achieving a green campus and future initiatives to reducing the University’s environment impact and making the campus more sustainable. I was present for part of the presentation by Dr Yvonne Ryan from An Taisce, regarding the Green Campus initiative. I had previously attended a seminar by An Taisce, when I had just moved to Ireland, where I had seen their enthusiasm in the area of environmental awareness and initiatives. This was followed by a presentation by Maggie Fagan, a student at Colaiste Dhulaig, who was part of the ‘green committee’ at the college for further education for the past 3 years, during which time they have maintained their green campus status. Maggie talked about the initiatives they have taken and the particular considerations of importance.

After these talks, a DCU campus environmental audit was carried out. However I had to be back in training, and therefore missed out on that, though I was back for the reporting back by the different groups. One of the suggestions which was of great interest to me was the introduction of a Dublin Bike stand at DCU for students to use. This would be really handy, and I would definitely use it to go to the city centre or so, if it becomes available. I have been toying with the idea of buying a bike, and this would be a good alternative.

In the afternoon session, principal investigators from the different DCU schools (including my supervisor) gave a short presentation on the research in the environmental and sustainability sector being carried out within their groups, giving a better idea of what is happening on campus. I had known what some of the other groups are doing, particularly from the Chemistry and Biotechnology schools. However I had no clue about the research being carried out in the school of engineering.

Overall, successful meetings, and I look forward to seeing what comes of these couple of days.

ATWARM Meeting: May 2011

May 13, 2011 1 comment

The second ATWARM meeting has come and gone. It was held from the 10th-12th May 2011, at the University of Duisburg-Essen. I had written about my first ATWARM meeting in November previously, and the format of the meeting was relatively similar. On the first two days, the QUESTOR meeting was held, and on the last day the ATWARM meeting was held. Since the ATWARM programme is coordinated by the QUESTOR centre we were all invited to all the sessions.

We traveled over to Germany on Monday evening, since the programme started on Tuesday morning. The first activity was a choice of 2 site visits, and I joined the Water Purification Plant site visit. We visited the RWW Mülheim Water Treatment Plant, where we had a shot introduction to the processes they use, namely the Mülheim method. They do not use chlorine during the treatment, but rather treatment is based on the use of a sand filter, activated carbon, ozone, UV etc. After the short presentation, we all went on a site visit of the plant.

After lunch, and a formal introduction to the QUESTOR meeting, a brokerage event was organised, for one-to-one meetings between the industrial members of QUESTOR, academics and researchers. I had requested meetings with three different companies, and it was a good opportunity to meet with them, discuss my project, how we could collaborate and see their opinions. In the evening a networking dinner was then held at the Museum der Deutschen Binnenschiffahrt (namely museum for German inland shipping). We had an opportunity to visit the museum, followed by a delicious dinner at the restaurant within the museum.

On the second day of the meeting, presentations by students and academics involved in QUESTOR funded projects, updates on the progress of new initiatives and also 2 ATWARM project presentations. In the evening, the QUESTOR industrial advisory board had its meeting, and therefore we had some free time, for some sightseeing.

The third day of the meeting was the ATWARM meeting. This was the most intensive day and the most productive. The first session was on the progress of the ATWARM programme and a discussion of issues related to the programme in general of interest to all researchers, academics and industrial members. After that came 10 minute poster presentations by each ATWARM researcher. This was the first time that all projects were represented, since at the last meeting not all researchers had been appointed or could make it. That made 16 presentations in all. We had all prepared a poster, and we had to present to all the other attendees what our project is about, progress made and future plans. This was followed by questions from the audience. I found this session to be highly interactive, with comments, queries and suggestions, including suggestions for collaborations and the like being discussed. I think the relaxed nature of the session, whereby people were standing/sitting informally on chairs helped for such an informal discussion.

Once all presentations were delivered, and lunch eaten, a session on the secondment process was held. This was followed by the student council meeting. During the student council meeting, all researchers meet to discuss aspects of the ATWARM programme which are of interest to them. Aspects discussed during this meeting included financial issues, how to acknowledge the funding agency and secondments. Once the meeting was reaching its end, an election should be held to elect the student council president and secretary for the next 6 months. Since during the previous 6 months the students were from QUB and UDE, we agreed to have representatives from DCU and Cranfield this time round. Francesco Ometto from Cranfield and myself were nominated to the positions, and therefore for the next 6 months I will be acting as student council president and Francesco as secretary.

Following the student council meeting, the supervisory board meeting was held. The previous president and secretary of the student council attend to bring forward any issues felt by the students, and the newly elected president and secretary attend as observers. It was interesting for me to attend the meeting, and understand the way the supervisory board functions, and how willing they were to take on board our opinions.

Alas, the meeting was now over, and we started making our way to the airport, saying our goodbyes to all our ATWARM friends, and looking forward to our next meeting for the ATWARM summer school, to be also held in Germany in July.

As all ATWARM meetings to date, this was a successful meeting. I feel honoured to be part of the ATWARM programme, and the QUESTOR centre. In particular I believe the strong industrial-academia partnership is extremely important as it allows for immediate and continuous feedback from individuals from industry and also academics from different institutions, allowing for more effective collaboration.

If I were to change anything in the meeting format it would be factors such as the short length of the student council meeting (we had 30mins scheduled and stretched it to 1 hour, however if perhaps it could happen at the same time as the industrial advisory board meeting, it could have been more successful, as we only end up talking about the more important aspects, and less about the possibilities for collaboration and the like). another aspect is the financial aspect. I believe that if for example, we shared rooms or so, we could have all stayed in 1 or 2 hotels (rather than being spread over 4 – due to the Eurovision being held in nearby Dusseldorf, most hotels were quite full) and also saved money from our funding.

However, overall, the meeting was extremely successful. I always feel energised coming back from these meetings, and being in the company of the ATWARM fellows, all of which are really nice and supportive.

Making Connections

March 17, 2011 1 comment

Since my research concerns environmental and local issues as a start, I am fast recognizing the importance of having connections with the relevant agencies and companies working in the area. Being part of QUESTOR certainly helps in getting the foot in the door, particularly for first contacts, for meeting QUESTOR industrial partners. Therefore, over the past months I have been trying to get into contact with relevant agencies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

I have met informally during QUESTOR events with one of the companies in the RoI, who have shown willingness to give support to my project. I have been in contact with them, and hopefully things will move forward soon. Yesterday, I had a meeting with another agency in Northern Ireland. I had been in communication by email for a couple of months now, and had finally managed to organise a trip to their offices, where I was to meet people involved in water chemistry.

Over the past week I was pleased to see that my supervisors were showing interest in attending, with 3 out of my 4 supervisors (the fourth is sick and so could not make it) attending the meeting. It feels good to see their interest in this project, and that they could be present to show support. Therefore yesterday morning saw my two supervisors attending from DCU and myself driving up to their offices. Once we arrived we met with my supervisor from QUB and in we went.

First up, after initial introductions was a short presentation I prepared about my project. This was the part I was most scared about. I was not sure of how much detail I should include or how technical the people I was meeting were. I decided to give a short presentation of around 10minutes. Had only managed to try it completely from start to finish once, yesterday morning. However it seems to have gone well. They commented that it was succinct and to the point at the end, and my supervisor from QUB requested that I send a copy. So it seems that my worries were unfounded.

After my presentation, we got to discussing our possible collaboration and what logistical issues need to be sorted out, what support they could offer etc etc. In general it was a very positive meeting, and I hope that something fruitful comes out of it. They seems really interested in the project, and as usual the main feeling at the end of me explaining what I am working on is that ‘if this works, it will be great’. But Oh Well. That is research.

I hope that what we discussed will come to fruition, but I am sure that even if it does not, this initial contact has been useful and will bring some benefits somehow.

QUESTOR@DCU

As I have said previously, although my PhD is funded by the EU, through the FP7 Marie Curie people project, the QUESTOR centre is the coordinating body. Apart from the 5 ATWARM students at DCU, there are a couple of other QUESTOR funded (these are actually funded by QUESTOR) students within DCU, and yesterday (Friday 4th March), we had the annual QUESTOR@DCU meeting. It was the first time, I think, that all QUESTOR funded students at DCU met since I have started my PhD, although most of us met in Belfast for the QUESTOR/ATWARM meeting in November. The director of the QUESTOR centre was also present, as were a couple of people from industry, who are either part of QUESTOR or are thinking of joining.

After introductory presentations form the QUESTOR@DCU coordinator, Prof Fiona Regan and the director of QUESTOR, the student presentations were next. We were 12 students in all. In order to limit the length of the day, we only had poster presentations. So the way it worked out was that we all got to stand in front of our poster and speak for around 5 minutes about our project. After this, questions were asked by the people present. I think I did quite well in my presentation and I got a couple of questions I could answer and a couple of suggestions etc. However the problem which always comes up in my presentations cropped up again, where I start talking and halfway through the presentation my mind wanders and then my brain notices that my mouth is talking but I have no idea what I am saying. People say that they do not notice it (although my sister has commented on it before, in that my eyes start to wander), and so think it was overall successful.

After lunch, we had two presentations from the Industrial partners. The presentation by Mark Bowkett from T.E. Laboratories was particularly interesting, as it showed me how companies look at research, and how academic and industrial partners can come together and make it work for them. After that was a presentation by Dr Conor Tonra from PatelTonra Ltd. who gave us a case study on the application of scientific and environmental knowledge to the business mindset. Although this last presentation was interesting overall, I think it was too focused on what the company does, rather than how we can get into such an area or make it work for us.

The day had come to an end, however before we left we had some important discussions to make. The next QUESTOR/ATWARM meeting, will happen in May in Germany, and we all got together to discuss how to organise the trip. We will probably all go together, get the same flights and stay at the same hotels etc. We should be getting further details in the coming weeks, however by next week we will probably know what flights we will be getting. Germany here we come.

The QUESTOR@DCU students with Prof Regan and the director of QUESTOR

The QUESTOR@DCU students with Prof Regan and the director of QUESTOR

Lab Meeting

On Thursday I managed to squeeze in a lab meeting with two of my supervisors on Thursday between the two lab demonstration sessions. Rather than a lab meeting where all of us are present, it was an individual meeting where only myself, the two supervisors (the other is away sick) and the lab post-doc was present. I had not had such a lab meeting in more than a month, so it is good to give a presentation on progress.

First up for discussion was the literature review. One of the supervisors had seen it and all that I had done was work on the changes she suggested. However the other knew that I was working on it, but not on the progress. The changes are by no means completely done, but hopefully I can polish it up somewhat in the coming weeks. I am pleased that there were not many changes suggested by my supervisor, though there are a couple of areas I feel I need to improve.

I then discussed my method development. I have now nearly determined the method for the first few analytes. On Thursday, after the meeting I also received the next few analytes, so what I am doing today is trying to include them in the same method, to reduce sample preparation and analysis time. It was good to present some actual findings in the meeting, and got some good suggestions from one of my supervisors, who is a chemist and knows a whole lot about everything.

As with all of my meetings, it was a short and sweet meeting. I hope I manage to have some good results for the next meeting, whenever that will be. Hopefully I will have nearly finalized my HPLC method, so I can go on to SPE and LC-MS method development. I have some analysis currently running, so hopefully by the end of the weekend I will know a bit better about how much more work is needed. Wish me luck 🙂

Another Week is Over

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment

The past week has been a hectic week PhD wise. I had a conference on Monday and Tuesday, a meeting with my supervisor on Wednesday and lab demonstrations on Thursday. In addition I have been working to develop my HPLC Method. I have spoken about the conference and lab demonstrations previously. I have also touched upon the HPLC method development.

The method development has been progressing slowly but steadily. If things keep on progressing the way they are I would be indeed quite happy. I tried out some things suggested by a girl I met at the conference last Tuesday, and things have improved. I did some more runs yesterday (yes I know it was a Saturday) and got the results this morning (yes it is a Sunday), and I am quite pleased with the way things are progressing, though 1 peak is still missing/it peeks out a bit from behind another, so that it on my agenda for tomorrow. The R squared values for the calibration curve I did are all greater than 0.99, so not too bad, though there is room for improvement. Once I (hopefully) separate my current 6 peaks, I will then need to add in another 5 compounds (ordered this week 🙂 ), and then start working on joining the HPLC method to the sample preparation technique and the Mass Spec analysis technique. So still a way to go to be able to start collecting samples for analysis. But we will get there.

I also had a meeting with my supervisor on Wednesday. We generally have lab meetings every Thursday, but since I am demonstrating all day Thursday, I will be having meetings with my supervisor every now and then depending on need, until I finish demonstrating. During the meeting we discussed a couple of things I had been meaning to talk to her about, in particular things which do not lend themselves well to discussing during a lab meeting.

First up was the thing I was dreading most. I had given her my literature review a couple of weeks ago (just before she went on holiday, and she read it during her holiday). I was quite pleased with the feedback however. She said it was quite good for a first try (that is what we aim for after all), and she gave me a couple of changes to make. I have now carried out all the minor changes, and will start focusing on the sections which involve searching for more data and so on. The main issue I need to do is to summarize  everything  at the end, rather than simply saying what other people said, without giving any opinions, and therefore this leaves everything hanging a bit. She also noticed my love of the words therefore, nevertheless etc, and was told to cut down on those. The last part of the meeting consisted of me discussing some points I wanted to talk to her about, such as ordering of the new chemicals, how my progress is getting along, the conference details, and lastly, but quite importantly for me, we discussed time off. I now have approval for my days off till the end of August. It feels good to know roughly when I can get to go home etc etc.

Overall, a busy but pleasant week. I could do with it being slightly less hectic, but rather a week like this one, to a slow week, or one when nothing goes well.