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School of Biotechnology Research Day and Belfast Visits

January 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Last Friday saw the return of the SoBT research day at DCU. I had been accepted for an oral presentation earlier on in December, and was looking forward to this first oral presentation of my research in a formal setting. Luckily I was scheduled first up, just after the keynote speaker, and so it meant I could get my presentation over and done with and enjoy the rest of the day, especially since I was part of the organising team on behalf of the Biological Research Society, so it turned out to be quite a hectic day.

However I must say I enjoyed my presentation. I was mostly scared of the questions people would ask, but I believe I managed to answer most of them quite well and some of the insights I got were quite good. Apart from my presentation, I also enjoyed talking to a couple of the academics about my research and also with members of the sponsoring companies (there were 10 sponsoring companies with stands there, representing most of our suppliers, and therefore it was good to have them all there to talk about your research and discuss new opportunities).

The past two weeks I have also been quite busy with two visits to Belfast. I was supposed to have a supervisor up in Queen’s University Belfast, however he has now left the University (although still in sporadic touch via email). Nevertheless, there is still work to be done there, and I have in fact been waiting for the instrument I am supposed to be using there to be fixed. Therefore when the specialist engineer was coming over, I took the opportunity to go up to Belfast and spend time with him to learn about the instrument and get trained, since the person who had used it before has now left and I will be the only person using it once it is fixed.

I had a very productive and interesting 2 days, and the instrument was up and running, so I came back to Dublin for the weekend and planned to go up the next Tuesday, to analyse my actual samples. Unfortunately, when I went back on Tuesday I found out that another part of the instrument has now broken down, as a circuit board has stopped working, meaning the mass spec magnet is no longer operating. Therefore back to Dublin I came after a day of trouble shooting, and we are now awaiting confirmation for fixing the instrument (or not) depending on what the powers that be decide.

Nevertheless, my PhD is now getting into the swing of things, and I am getting busy. I look forward to what the coming weeks and months bring up, and hopefully it will be mainly good news 🙂

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.

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

Biodiversity Training Seminar

October 9, 2010 3 comments

Today, I attended a Biodiversity Training Seminar organised by An Taisce, the national trust for Ireland. I had seen this advertised some time ago, on the ESAI (Environmental Sciences Association of Ireland) listserv, I had joined in before I left for Dublin. The subject and programme content had interested me and therefore I had signed up. In particular I saw this as an opportunity to understand better the Environmental Agencies of Ireland.

The day was fully packed. Three Sessions and a Field Trip were organised. The first session concerned ‘Irish Ecosystem Services’. Three presenters from different backgrounds described how different ecosystems provide numerous services to humankind. This session was not as technical as the following sessions were. However it gave a good introduction to the subject.

This was followed by four presenters in the area of ‘Plans, Strategies, and Legal Instruments’. I really found this session of great interest to me, as it allowed me to understand better the way that different entities in the Irish environmental sphere act. In addition I learnt a lot about the legal frameworks of importance and how these are applied in an Irish context.

The final session was about ‘Information Sources’. Three different presenters explained the best ways of finding and accessing data which is available. The presentation by Sinead O’Brien, from SWAN (Sustainable Water Network) was of particular relevance to my studies. This is because it dealt with accessing water quality data of Irish relevance, in particular in relation to the Water Framework Directive.

In the afternoon, we could choose to go to one of two different field trips. I took the Dublin Bay SPA fied trip, where Siobhan Egan from Birdwatch Ireland and a representative of Coastwatch Ireland explained the different aspects of this site, and the particular challenges faced with the site designation.

First up we went to the mud flats at Dublin Bay, and Siobhan Egan from Birdwatch Ireland explained about the issues related to SPA designation at the site. Another member from Birdwatch Ireland also joined with her telescope to explain about the overwintering birds that were visible.

Dublin Bay Mud Flats

Dublin Bay Mud Flats

After this, we went to Booterstown in Dublin, a bit farther along the coast. The Coast Watch Ireland member explained about the biodiversity we could see along the mud flats. She could recognise the different organisms and shells we found lying along the shore. At the moment the highest spring tides are currently present, and therefore a considerable amount of debris could be seen. She also explained about the issues related to designation, and the concerns they have related to the designation of the site in relation to changes in habitats and their description within the water framework directive.

I am sure that I will make good use of the information gained today at this seminar in my studies. The seminar gave all of us participants an overload of information. nevertheless, it was provided in a manageable way. The presentations were of only 15 minutes, which I found useful. This is because we managed to get a good overview of the various different aspects of biodiversity from the relevant legislation, to their application and how the data collected can be accessed. In addition, the field trips allowed us to see the various considerations in action.

I must congratulate An Taisce, for a wonderful seminar, and I will certainly be back for another event organised by them.