All posts by Nick Johnston

Turin network meeting – November ’17

Remediate welcomes a new ESR to the project: Matthias Metzger is working at DCU, and his first impressions of us were formed at the network meeting in Turin!

First Remediate group meeting in Turin, Italy

After the warm welcome I received via Whatsapp and Twitter, I really looked forward to the Remediate group meeting on the 23rd and 24th November in Turin, Italy. I joined up with Coren and Peter on the flight from Dublin to Milan and we shared a rental car to Turin. Shortly after arriving in Milan, we noticed the smog that engulfed the city and most of the countryside. The locals told us that it was becoming a real problem and that they were hoping for strong rain and winds to clear the sky once again.

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Turin itself is a lovely city with lots of very old culture, architecture and history. It was also much less crowded than expected and had a brilliant public transportation system that could get you anywhere for just €1.50.

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photo 5Typically German, I arrived too early for the meeting, but soon met up with all the other ESRs and supervisors. It was great to finally meet everyone whom I only knew by Whatsapp or email. The presentations were very interesting and it was great to see so many people of different cultures and backgrounds working together towards a common goal. I also gained a bit of inspiration for my own project and hope to be working closely with some of the other ESRs in the near future. On the second day of the meeting we had the opportunity to meet some of the people from SMART GROUND and discuss possible ways of improving our respective work or even working together.

All of us were eternally grateful to Giovanna for organising the delicious group diner and the lovely tour of the city, with the hot chocolate coffee at the end. Turin is a place to remember and revisit.

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To get the most of our trip to Italy, Peter, Coren and I took an extra day to visit Acqui Terme, to the south east of Turin. It is a nice little town with the ca. 75 °C hot spring “Fontana della Bollente” and a lovely restaurant where we had an unforgettable Lunch.

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All in all it was a great experience and I look forward to the next meeting in Germany. Hopefully I’ll be able to show the group some of the great things about my home country as well.

MedGeo’17 Conference in Moscow

Remediate excellence endorsed at the MedGeo’17 Conference in Moscow
This year I had the great opportunity to attend the 7th International Conference on Medical Figure 1Geology, held in Moscow, Russia, where I won an award. During this time, I realised one golden rule: science is felt and understood in the same way all over the world and it doesn’t have any geographical or political borders.

What a great lesson learned!

Before embarking on my journey to Moscow, I received the news that I had been awarded a student travel grant from the International Medical Geological Association (IMGA) and I’m very grateful for this award. The travel checklist was complete: good research results; documents ready; my Russian skills turned ON; and as an extra bonus my first name which originates from Russia!

Pre-conference course
People interested in learning more about Medical Geology were able to attend pre-conference courses given by experts and leading practitioners in this field. This workshop was very inspiring: my scientific horizons were expanded, and I realised that I can do many things with my research data.

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Four days of interesting talks and original postersFigure 3
There was a diverse conference program, including topics from large research areas such as Geology, Chemistry, Microbiology, Toxicology, and Policymaking. This event gathered scientists, experts, and students from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America, who shared innovative ideas, experiences, and offered constructive feedback.

My presentation was scheduled for the 3rd day of the conference, so I had plenty of time to meet and talk to people, to attend different presentations, and to see what other scientists are doing in my research area of human health risk assessment of contaminated land.
The day before my presentation, I was honoured to be asked if I could chair a session “Urban Medical Geology: Integrating Geologic and Anthropogenic Processes”, a challenge which I accepted with great pleasure. I really enjoyed this experience, and it made me determined to develop these skills for my professional career.

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My presentation was also included in this session, and switching from chair of the session to presenter was easy. After my presentation, the audience asked some very good questions and the feedback was positive and constructive.

Social program and networking
The gala dinner was organised on a cruise on the river Moscow. Once we stepped on board the beautiful boat Chizhik-2, we enjoyed magnificent views of the Russian capital. Inside the restaurant there was a lovely atmosphere with good music in the background and delicious food. The emotional toasts made by the organisers of the conference and founders of IMGA turned this evening into a great one.

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Closing Ceremony and Awards
After a week of great talks, inspiring research and interesting posters, the closing ceremony summarised the achievements of the conference, acknowledged the attendance and work of every participant, and presented awards for the best presentations. I was already very pleased by the good experience I had in Moscow, the nice people I met and new friends I had made, but hearing my research work classified as the «Best Oral Presentation Award» represented an unforgettable moment in my life.

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I am honoured and grateful for the recognition I received for my work and I would like to express my gratitude to our research team for helping me reach this high level. Special thanks go to Dr Mark Cave (British Geological Survey) for his assistance in setting up the Unified BARGE Method and to Dr Rebekka McIlwaine for providing the urban geochemistry data set for Belfast.

Overall, The MedGeo’17 Conference was a big success and I would like to thank to the organisers for their hard work invested to offer us, in turn, a memorable experience.

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I look forward to attending the next MedGeo Conference, which will be held in Guiyang, China, August 12-15, 2019.

ISMET 6 report

A report from Panos Kirmizakis, who travelled with other REMEDIATE participants to Lisbon to attend a conference/workshop!

Bio-electrochemical Workshop 2017

This month Peter and I had the opportunity to attend ISMET6, a bio-electrochemical meeting and workshop organized by International Society for Microbial Electrochemistry and Technology which took place in Lisbon, Portugal from the 3rd to the 6th of October. I effectively learned in four compressed days what I usually learn in a month. The presenters were able to take the complex and make it simple. I now have a much better understanding of the interactions of microorganisms and electrodes, while finding novel ways to use them for sustainable applications.
ISMET6 covered the whole palette of interest of the community including fundamental aspects of biochemistry, microbiology, and the ecology of relevant organisms and communities, as well as improved materials and designs of devices and their industrial applications. Students had the opportunity to attend a pre-ISMET workshop with teaching sessions delivered by renowned leaders in fundamentals of electrochemical methods, molecular techniques for understanding and engineering electroactive organisms, and electricity driven carbon capture and utilisation.

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But even at an international workshop like this, fun wouldn’t be missed. We thank the organizers of the workshop for the social events, the tour of Lisbon and great monuments like the Belem Tower, and the fantastic dinner at Sintra in a friendly atmosphere where we made some new friends.

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We look forward to attend the next ISMET workshop, which will take place in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. To learn more about ISMET 2018 and the activities that will take place, visit the central website of EU-ISMET 2018 (https://conferences.ncl.ac.uk/eu-ismet2018/)

Science Uncovered 2017

The ESRs based at QUB recently attended a public engagement event. Here’s Panos with his thoughts:

Science Uncovered, which has been held in over 300 European cities for many years, took place on Friday September 29th with great success. The venue where European Researchers’ Night 2017 took place – Ulster Museum – was flooded with people; it attracted young and old alike. The audience, with particular love, embraced this multidisciplinary scientific event and listened to a variety of scientific talks, met young researchers, and participated dynamically in this fascinating tour of the world of science, research and technology.

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It turns out that science keeps not only the interest of the public but also of the scientists/researchers themselves. The REMEDIATE team was there with Panagiotis, Tatiana, and Ricardo to welcome the public and speak about “Monitoring & clean up of contaminants using natural microbial batteries”, “Bioaccessibility of heavy metals in urban areas” and “Gene sequencing of contaminated groundwater (Do bugs catch colds?)”. We were asked a number of great questions, and enjoyed talking to everyone who came to our stand, as well as meeting other researchers who were at the event.

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To learn more about Science Uncovered and the participating research groups, visit the Ulster Museum website

https://www.nmni.com/whats-on/science-uncovered

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EUROANALYSIS 2017 – the noob’s perspective

A great post from Nenad, the Remediate ESR based at UDE. He travelled to Sweden to attend a conference.
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I spent the last few days of August in Stockholm, Sweden, attending the 19th EUROANALYSIS conference, one of the biggest analytical chemistry conferences organized in Europe. This was the first conference I have attended for REMEDIATE and therefore I feel the need to share my experiences with the readers of the REMEDIATE blog.

Organizers and participants

The conference was organized by the Analytical Chemistry Division of the Swedish Chemical Society, in collaboration with the European Chemical Sciences’ Division of Analytical Chemistry and the Swedish Pharmaceutical Society, and despite having “EURO” in its name, it gathered chemists from all around the globe, from Brazil to Japan, from South Africa to Canada. Around 500 of them, to be precise.

Lectures

Aside from the afternoon opening ceremony, Monday was the day for short courses that were taking place from the early morning on. There were many topics to choose from, but one was particularly interesting to me – Solid phase micro-extraction (SPME), offered by Janusz Pawliszyn from the University of Waterloo, inventor of said technique. Because of my own research I am well accounted with SPME, and following the course wasn’t difficult at all, although in 3 hours we covered 30 years of the SPME’s past and at least 10 years of its future. Inspired by the prospects to which I was introduced, full of ideas for improving my own work, I left the lecture room and went to the opening ceremony and first plenary lecture. There, Klaus Unger from Johannes Gutenberg University talked about the history of separation sciences, all the way from their infancy to present day capabilities and challenges. Afterwards, we had the time to display our posters, register, briefly check out who the other participants were, and briefly meet some of them.
On Tuesday, Luigi Mondello from University of Messina compared different multidimensional approaches in coupling chromatography to mass spectrometry, with anemphasis on marine organism lipidomics. Afterwards, Marja-Liisa Riekkola from University of Helsinki presented the work of her group; studying the formation of aerosol particles in the air. Both presentations emphasized the importance of pushing the limits of instrumental analysis even further to unravel the mechanisms behind complicated processes that are happening in the environment.
After the plenary lectures, we had some time to check-out the first group of posters and make contacts with other researchers.
I ended the day by attending session in separation sciences, where lecturers presented their work on nano-LC, tips for improving UPLC conditions, open-tubular LC columns, scaling down and transferring methods to different instruments without the loss of separation efficiency.
The most interesting day for me, however, was Wednesday. It started with a plenary lecture by Stefan Hell from Göttingen’s Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. Although my background in imaging and microscopy is very thin, listening to a Nobel Prize laureate talking about STED microscopy turned out to be much easier than I expected. The presenter covered, in very clear, simple and effective way even the most difficult and technical details of his work, ending his talk with some fresh results and future challenges that his laboratory will tackle. Probably the most interesting lecture throughout the conference followed, and it was given by Mario Thevis from the German Sport University Cologne. He concentrated on the analytical work done by his laboratory in order to test professional athletes during major sport events all around the world, such as the Olympic Games. In an extremely charming and engaging way, he demonstrated how far the athletes and their medical advisors are ready to go, just to get the extra boost in strength and stamina, and how creative chemists must be in order to detect those who are “stacking the deck” by abusing forbidden substances. The day continued by having poster sessions of the second group of posters and lecture sessions in imaging, environmental analysis, and electrochemistry.

My 15 minutes of fame

Thursday was my day. Finally, the third group of posters, the group in which my poster was located, was to be visited by attendees. Immediately after arriving to my poster I realized I have made a huge rookie mistake – not enough business cards and no A4 printouts of my poster. Despite that, determined to leave the best possible impression on my audience I explained to everybody who was willing to listen the importance of what I do, how useful it can be, how tough are the challenges that I have to overcome and how everything fits into a big picture called REMEDIATE. Judging by the number of people I talked to and the interest they demonstrated for individual elements of my work, I’d say I did a pretty decent job for a noob. I couldn’t offer a printout, nor a business card, but I think my enthusiasm and interesting story were enough to buy their attention for 10 to 15 minutes. Contacts were made, and comments that I received resulted in some new ideas for the continuation of my experiments.

Summary

All in all, in a very short period of time, I had the opportunity to meet and presented my work to various kinds of people. Their cultural, professional or educational background varied greatly, but the big number of participants ensured that there was always at least a dozen people with whom I shared similar problems, opinions, or interests. Therefore, establishing contacts was not that hard. Presenters were very interesting, regardless of the topics of their lectures, and most of them represented the very top in their own respective fields of research.

Although quite non-specific and broad, this conference was a great opportunity for a young researcher like me to get a grasp of where the final frontiers of the modern analytical chemistry stand. I will definitively try to attend the next one in Istanbul in 2019.

AquaConSoil 2017

Tatiana Cocerva and a number of the other Remediate ESRs went to ACS2017 this summer. Enjoy her great summary of the events they all enjoyed!

Working hard setting up experiments, getting the expected results, and publishing your work in great journals are all key goals for a researcher; communicating your research at a conference is also a professionally valuable experience.
This year, REMEDIATE participants had the opportunity to attend the AquaConSoil Conference that took place in Lyon, France on the 26th-30th June 2017. This event brought together students, scientists, industry professionals, and policy makers from all over the world. Presentations covered the areas of sustainable use and management of soil, sediment, and water resources.

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Sabrina, Tatiana, Stacie, Panagiotis, Yi, Morteza, Diogo, and Neha (REMEDIATE Early Stage Researchers) presented their research to a wide audience in a special session “Improved decision making for contaminated land site investigation and risk assessment”, chaired by Professor Frederic Coulon (supervisor at Cranfield University). It was a very interesting session, after which we received valuable feedback and appreciation of our work. Ricardo, Coren, and Peter chose to disseminate their work in a poster session, where they actively engaged with other conference attendees, and exchanged ideas with many of them.

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 Being a researcher should be challenging and fun
Social events and informal meetings are the best way to create new collaborations and build new friendships. What can be more rewarding than having dinner with your colleagues after a full day of listening to interesting presentations and meeting nice people? The REMEDIATE team added researchers and new friends from Italy, Germany, Netherlands, and Chile to its network.

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The conference dinner was organised in a friendly atmosphere where REMEDIATE supervisors and researchers socialised with different conference attendees in a relaxed, informal environment. Tatiana engaged in interesting discussions with the team from BRGM (French geological survey), and found that they shared a similar network and friends in France. What a happy coincidence! After dinner, a DJ boosted everyone’s energy and we all remembered that professional people can combine research and fun.

Tatiana Cocerva with a part of the BRGM team; Photo by BRGM

We are very grateful to all the organisers for this amazing, memorable conference. This was a great experience for all of us and we were inspired, challenged, and more motivated in our work. We look forward to attending the next conference with the same positive mood!

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Summer School in Raadvad

Neha Mehta gives us her thoughts on the second REMEDIATE Summer School, which was held at Lyngby Vandrerhejm. Thanks to Lisbeth Axelsen and Kristian Brandt for their hard work in organising a great week!

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Thanks, Web of Science!

This is how every one of us feels after finding a paper that describes a statistical approach to the experiments we are doing. Nanoseconds of utmost joy, a colossal amount of gratitude towards the author, the publisher, and Web of Science for sharing the knowledge. And what if the same concept is shared by someone to us through a talk? This knowledge sharing while giving appropriate examples from different  studies was done by the tutors at Summer School 2.
This summer school promised to hone our skills in statistical applications and paper writing. This was actually an understatement. The truth is that we were immersed in a captivating series of lectures, rewarding discussions, and individual study time to apply newly learned concepts to our own projects. Summer School gave us the chance to learn things like:

The importance of microbiology in risk assessment
Remediation of contaminated sites is a complex, lengthy, and costly procedure. To decide the remediation goals, it thus becomes imperative to understand the risks to human health and environment due to contaminants. Most of the environmental risk assessment framework used for decision making at present only accounts for chemical analysis. It seems equally important to understand the health of soil in terms of the microorganisms; the effect of metal content on the growth and development of microorganism colonies, as much as knowing the total metal concentration and their bioavailability. To further elaborate our understanding on the subject we visited the Collstrop site to see how different contaminants may cause risk to environment.

Environmental risk assessment methods should try to reveal the soil health in terms of ecology, toxicity, and chemical analysis as defined in the TRIAD approach.

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Paper writing skills
Correcting one report, modifying the next; hopping from one experiment to another; meandering from one university to a different university for a secondment; presenting a poster, giving an oral presentation; preparing a to-do list to glancing at a done list; scheduling ICP-MS time to learning SEM; running a code on R to installing MATLAB: life is always a roller-coaster. Amidst all this, one thought that keeps on popping into our brains: AM I GOOD AT WRITING?
The problem was solved by the session on paper writing that told us that every researcher should first identify themselves as a writer. How a simple thing like saving the bibliography in a separate folder for the article we are working on right now, can save a lot of time. The introduction should always follow a funnel approach and we should first start working on the body of the article were some of the tips shared to make writing easier.

Like all things that are worthwhile, it takes time to publish; it also gets easier with practice. So don’t wait any longer. Start writing that paper now.

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Presentation Skills
This time we had a project meeting just before the summer school. Every presentation was recorded on a video camera. Supervisors were given a form to comment on the presentation skills of the ESRs.
Ohhh no… I did not rehearse… you did not tell us… this is not fair, we just came yesterday night and did not get a proper sleep. Yes, this is how we all reacted to the idea of Julie-Anne and Nick. But we had a sigh of relief, when these forms and videos were shown to us again in groups and we had chance to discuss among ourselves on how we can improve. There was no mentor, no supervisor telling us we were right or wrong. We were all friends set on a mission to improve ourselves, to help each other, looking at videos, eating the evening snacks and telling each other.

We may have discovered a simple procedure to help in the remediation of brownfield sites, now we should get out there and tell everyone.

Discipline
Preparing for next set of experiments in lab at night to submitting a report in wee hours of morning. We all have control of our schedules. One of the biggest benefit of being a PhD student is that we have all the freedom to plan our day according to the workload. In such a scenario, we often fall out of daily routine.
So here came lessons on discipline. Summer School was organised at away from the hub-bub of Copenhagen. So if we woke up late and missed the breakfast, there was no 7Eleven nearby. Lunch timings and dinner timings were fixed. Finishing dinner till 7:00 pm led to a situation when some of us were running in night, starving and looking in each other’s room for food. This is how we were all given a chance to live a healthy life. Waking up early to attend lectures, going for long walks to see deers and stroll on the beach in the evening, getting to sleep on time kept us motivated and energetic throughout. It was also important for inculcating self discipline.

Self discipline is when your conscience tells you to do something and you don’t talk back.
W.K. Hope

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Statistical methods and application of R
Hovering a cursor from MS Word to MS Excel; writing an email, to using Mendeley for managing my bibliography; plotting maps on QGIS, to using SURFER for interpolating the data: we forget to pay heed to R, or to any statistcial software for that matter.
Somehow, everything that we forget or do not pay attention to, was included in the program of Summer School. The session on application of R taught us about writing code and data analysis using linear regression method, Principal Component Analysis and clustering approaches.

Statistical methods provide us with the conceptual foundations in quantitative reasoning to extract information from the sea of data.

Team Building
Missing a call from one of our fellow researchers, replying late on WhatsApp; looking at our Facebook feed, finding out about our friend’s achievement through Researchgate: there are multiple occasions when we find ourselves guilty of not remaining in touch with our friends. When an interdisciplinary project has students in five different countries, this is something that is bound to happen. To make the bonds of friendship stronger, no stones were left unturned by the organisers. We spent one of our evenings at Dyrehavsbakken Amusement Park. It is the world’s oldest amusement park. Pedaling cycles to the park, holding each other’s hands on a horror ride, shouting together in another ride gave a joyful refreshment to our friendship.

Away from the city, in a lush green location, learning from people who know their subject down to the minutest detail. Lessons not just on science, but on every aspect of being a successful researcher, was definitely a wonderful experience.

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