Category Archives: Workshops & Outreach

15-21 Nov: GreenSTEMS @ Science Week

This year saw Science Week, a celebration of scientific research at the University of York, run for the second time. Ten student societies and groups helped to organise a range of fascinating events.

Each day of the week featured an evening event, organized jointly by two societies. Among these was “Sustainable Chemistry and Beyond”, an event run by greenSTEMS, in collaboration with ChemSoc, on Friday 20th November.

Tom and Erin, despite some technical and organizational issues, managed to put together an interesting mix of talks and live experiments!

Dr. Ian Ingram from the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence (GCCE) demystified the “traditional” way of classifying products and processes as “green”, analysing some real life examples of good and bad practices in the field. At the end of the talk, Tom showed how, simply using microwaves, some components from orange peels can be extracted and used as precursors for the production of bioplastics, in a completely petroleum-free process!

Nichola Egan, a PhD student also at the GCCE, took the audience on a  journey towards the sustainable production of antioxidants from discarded lignin-rich materials.

The event was concluded by Dr. Tim Doheny-Adams, who works at the York Environmental Sustainability Institute with Professor Sue Hartley. Tim’s work is fascinating, investigating greener plant defense systems as an alternative to the use of environmentally harmful pesticides.

In light of predicted climate change effects on crop productivity and of issues with feeding the growing global population, the importance of finding resilient, safe, and sustainable strategies to ensuring food supplies is critical. In his presentation Tim described some of the common issues with current practices, presenting examples of agrochemicals which contaminate soil, and affect our safety and those of pollinators, key players in plants reproduction and biodiversity.

The alternative he suggested is a technique called biofumigation, which consists of dispersing a solid glucose-derivative (glucosinolate) on the soil surface. This bio-derived compound would gradually hydrolyse and liberate isothiocyanates, reactive gasses which have been proven to kill pests in the concentrations of study. The residue remaining in the ground is a sugar-like structure which is easily biodegradable and not a risk for water fields or soil ecosystems. Tim’s presentation received a great response from the audience, with loads of challenging and curious questions! Let’s hope this technique gets taken up soon!


We organised a 1-day early-career workshop: ‘Building a Bio-based Economy for Europe’ (BBEE)

BBEE workshop agenda-1Yes, we did! Once we heard that Renewable Resources and Biorefineries conference (RRB11) was going to be held in York this year, we couldn’t help but getting involved! The conference was to attract researchers and professionals from all over the world, and we envisaged creating an opportunity for the early-career fringe of participants to connect, discuss togetherthe possibilities and challenges of the bioeconomy, and meet experts in the field.

As early as October 2014, we put together an organising team and started planning our 1-day early-career workshop by the title ‘Building a Bio-based Economy for Europe’. The core team was composed of Jennie, Maria, Tabitha, Giulia, Tom and Karla, with support from Ruth and Rosa, 8 enthusiastic young researchers various corners of the University: Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence (GCCE, Chemistry), Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP, Biology) and the Environment Department. On the 2nd of June, at the Biology Department of the University of York, our workshop took place!

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On that sunny morning we welcomed 33 registered participants from all over Europe! The range of backgrounds and affiliations covered was broad and a great vibe was set since the very start!

Thanks to a successful pitch proposal to the Graduate Student Association’s Community Fund bid, Maria and Jennie had been able to secure 5 free tickets available to applicants from the University of York and extra money to support the organisation of the event. The workshop found great financial support from NNFCC Bioeconomy Consultants, who have been co-organisers along with us and NESSE.

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The main idea behind this event was to bridge the gap between the different ends of our modern economy providing ground for constructive discussion and enlarged collaboration between parts. We invited academics in the field of biotechnology, chemistry and engineering, and engaged consultancy firms, policy-makers and industries.

The workshop started with representatives of the partnering organisations introducing themselves. Jennie Dodson, Research Associate at the GCCE who introduced the Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers (NESSE), followed by Giulia Paggiola’s overview on the activities & impact of the greenSTEMS group at the University of York. Dr. Adrian Higson’s presentation of the vision of the NNFCC consultancy company.

This was followed by an career-themed ice-breaker game to let the participants and senior speakers familiarise with each other and get the interaction started!

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The exercise proved to be a big success and set the atmosphere for the central part of the day which included talks from field experts such as Leo Gomez (CNAP), Adrian Higson (NNFCC – the Bioeconomy Consultancy), and Will Cannon (Croda).


After a brief coffee break the workshop re-opened with the “BioEconomy Challenge”, consisting of group discussions guided by the experienced mentors. The attendees were subdivided into six groups and each, swapping tables time to time, had three hot topics to discuss about in a limited amount of time. Very lively discussions arose, due to the participants diverse backgrounds.

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What are the key technological challenges for the bio-based economy?

With regards to the first question all the participants agreed on the key technological challenges being process scale-up, yields, downstream separation, logistics, with the integration of renewable sources of energy in the processes as a main technological barrier. Overarching financial challenges were also discussed including need of funding for basic research as well as for pilots development.

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What is needed to promote the rapid transition to the bioeconomy?

In response to the second question for discussion policy-makers were seen to have a crucial role for promoting a switch to a more bio-based economy. The transition, as discussed by the participants, could be pushed by additional funding towards the creation of industry/academia collaborations, by promoting open innovation providing training to academics on Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer. Furthermore, the public and the media, influenced by policy-makers, were enlisted as influential factors towards the bio-based economy.
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How can we ensure that the bio-based economy is sustainable?

Finally, the third point stirred interesting debates on whether the term “bio” is correctly or misleadingly associated with “sustainable”. A truly sustainable economy shall evolve and employ new technologies and create a standardized certification system. This system shall take into account energy utilization, resource management, waste minimisation as well as workers’ social rights and employment laws. At the end of the session, a summary of all discussions had over each topic was presented by a participant.

Two parallel sessions, focusing on the basics of Biotechnology and Green Chemistry, were organized by Dr. Alexandra Lanot and Lorenzo Herrero-Davila respectively, with the support of Maria M. Razalan and Jennie Dodson.

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The Green Chemistry workshop introduced the application and importance of green chemistry within industry, education and research. Green Chemical principles should be applied to all industries through the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. The session challenged whether biobased chemicals are really green. Many green processes can be more environmentally impacting before they are refined due to the scale or other extraneous factors. Green chemistry is not just about making new products and processes it is about taking those processes that exist and changing them so that they are more efficient.


The Biotechnology session covered all the basic concepts of the discipline, from Biology’s central dogma (DNA > RNA > proteins), to the key steps and tools for Synthetic Biology, such as high-throughput DNA sequencing, genetic engineering, cloning and protein expression.  All these tools can be exploited for a wide array of downstream applications, ranging from healthcare (through drug discovery and development), to Agriculture & Nutrition (improved crops) as well as Anthropology and Archaelogy studies (through genetic analyses).
Biotechnologies, as ways to make products out of biological sources date back to millennia, for example with the production of wine from fermented grapes, having nowadays a huge impact in terms of Economy and Business. Biotech startups are blooming around the world, with numbers of hands and minds involved rocketing if we also consider the academic connections, IP firms and suppliers. For this reason we believe that it is of great importance to establish a parallel route between Green Chemistry and Biotechnology also creating a dialogue between the technology-makers (academia and industry) to the policymakers and the public towards the development of a greener and more sustainable Economy.

Followed by a brief tour of the CNAP laboratories was also provided by Leo Gomez for interested participants. 🙂

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The last part of the afternoon involved two parallel sessions, on commercialisation of science and on influencing policy were run by Dan Wood from UK Houses of Parliament and Ed Green from CHAIN Biotech & Sarah Hosking from Unilever respectively chaired by Giulia Paggiola and Tom Dugmore. The participants evenly signed themselves up for the two sessions, both very relevant to most researchers work.

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At “Influencing policy”, Giulia introduced both speakers, Dan Wood and Adrian Higson. In the first half of the session Dan Wood gave great tips on how researchers can – and should! – engage with parliamentarians, outlining the systems that are in place to facilitate contact with relevant Select Committees or local MPs. He also advised on the format and language to use in order to catch the interest of politicians for them to take our cause further. In the second half of the session, Adrian Higson presented a case-study carried out by NNFCC on anaerobic digestion as a real example where the consulting company bridged the gap between government and industry catalysing the implementation of this green technology.

In the end, we wrapped up the day with a discussion about how to take forward the connections forged at this event and build and connect to a larger number of early-career researchers and professionals working in the field of the bio-based economy. Lots of ideas were generated, particularly to use LinkedIn and twitter to share resources, ideas, discussions and career opportunities. Three of the attendees, Iris, Hannah and Emile, are taking forward the ideas of the fantastic group of people who attended with the support of NESSE to reach a wider audience and to continue the connections.

Finally the party started, with drinks and nibbles to end a brilliant day. The feedback from the event was excellent with all of the attendees praising the speakers, the networking and the opportunity to discuss the big issues related to the bio-based economy with such a broad range of people.

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The BBEE organising team would like to thank all participants, sponsors and helpers!

-Maria M. Razalan, Tabitha Petchey, Giulia Paggiola, Ruth Haley, Jennie Dodson, Tom Dugmore,  Karla Valenzuela Beltran


Building a Bio-based Economy for Europe (BBEE)

Come and joins us at our new greenSTEMS event: 

Building a Bio-based Economy for Europe (BBEE)

 An early-career WORKSHOP to get your hands on BioEconomy!

This event has been organized by young researchers from different departments across the University such as Environment, Chemistry and Biology, interested in sharing green knowledge from different points of view.  

Hope to see you all there!

For application instructions :

We are offering a limited number of free places for University of York students. If you are interested in applying for one of these, please specify on your application form (and apply by 31st March).

 P.S. For more information check our flyer, below!

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Celebrating International Women’s day with ScienceGrrl at the Yorkshire Museum

Which better occasion in the year to celebrate Women in Science and Science itself than the International Women’s day?!

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Last Sunday greenSTEMers Giulia and Maria joined the Science Grrl  team at the Yorkshire Museum, along with several other researchers from a wide array of disciplines, such as Nuclear Physics, Astronomy, Psychology, Chemistry and Biology.

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Giulia, on the left photo, drew the connections between an orange and a bottle of washing-up liquid: everyone was amazed to discover the incredible potentiality of such fruit, not only as a source of Vitamin C, but also for the production of bioplastics, detergents and aromas!

I brought in a 3D model of a protein secondary structure, complemented by a stick&balls representation of water which I’ve made in the morning with my colleague from Biology, Laziana! Together and in this colourful way we’ve introduced young visitors into the world of Biochemistry!

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Other insights into Biology and Structural Biology were given by Hannah, Katie and Sandra, whereas Danielle, Rachel and Julia shared their knowledge in Chemistry and Green Chemistry.

Gemma, the chair of Science Grrl-York, and her colleagues from Nuclear Physics brought along a Geiger counter, some radioactive rocks and a gamma ray detector, to explain radioactivity, the technology behind the detectors and the importance of the electromagnetic spectrum. A view of the sky through the Cosmodome was also presented by physicists from the Astrocampus team. Amy from Atmosperic Chemistry entertained the youngsters showing how to make clouds in a bottle…so fun! 😀

There was a good turnout of families strolling around the museum, with the children being as enthusiastic and curious as their accompanying parents!

It certainly was a great opportunity to take our projects out of the lab, demonstrating how scientific impact is conceived by bright minds and passion, regardless the gender, with the aim of inspiring the new generation of enthusiast scientists!

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— Contributed by Maria M. Razalan

greenSTEMS exhibition @ YorNight 2014

On 26th September, the city of York was one among the 200+ European cities simultaneously hosting Researchers’ Night events! How mind-blowing the thought of thousands of researchers across the continent pulling off what was a fantastic occasion for social participation and knowledge sharing! I could lose myself wondering about all the individuals involved, all getting ready to set up their activities and exhibitions and to share the passion for their work. So many life-stories behind each one, so many ambitions, efforts, hopes! GreenSTEMS was there, in its first public exhibit and it was just incredible! Our exhibition run from 4pm until 9.30pm as part of the Smart & Green section of YorNight event, and was located in a dedicated marquee in King’s Manor, a terrific venue in the heart of town!

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At our stand there were chemists, biologists and environmental scientists eager to take you with them in a journey around the world, a sustainable one! In fact, the overarching theme of the greenSTEMS exhibition was ‘waste’,  and how we should start considering it as a rich resource rather than a mere refuse. Incredible volumes of  waste biomass are produced all around the world, filling up landfill sites and being utterly under-utilised.  Yet these natural, renewable materials conceal an enormous value and could play a revolutionary role in our future economic, social and environmental development! Sustainability is all about joining together three aspects and this is the message that the greenSTEMS team was enthusiastically delivering last night!


Jen Chapman, our representative for Environment studies, introduced our visitors to the cost and impact of bio-waste around the world with the aid of a big map behind us displaying several samples of agri-food waste being investigated by our sustainable scientists: Chinese seaweed, Indian straw, British pea-pods, Brazilian coffee grounds, etc.


Our chemists group made by Dr Ian Ingram, Dr Jennie Dodson, Dr Tom Dugmore, Ceren Ulger and myself, presented the example of a value-added chemical which can be extracted from waste-orange peel: limonene. This versatile, scented, oily compound can be used as natural and safer alternative to petrochemical-based solvents for its outstanding ability to dissolve polymers and other materials. During the exhibition we demonstrated to visitors – especially children! – how just few drops of limonene could make a polystyrene packaging bead quickly “disappear”! Several potential applications of this interesting bio-based solvent are being explored in Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence in York.

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A large number of biologists have also manned our stand, describing the recent successes of the “Gribble project”  – also recently featured in a report on Channel 4 – developed by researchers at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in York. Our members Kyriakos Tzafestas, Nicola Oates, Nurashikin Ihsan and Federico Sabbadin from CNAP – pictured herein – invited visitors to meet the gribbles and closely watch them moving around and eating small woody sticks. What makes these tiny marine species so exciting is their ability to digest ligno-cellulosic material into simple sugars, which could then be fermented into second-generation bio-fuels – i.e. those produced from waste biomass rather than from dedicated crops that could dangerously compete with food supplies.

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The turn out at King’s Manor was impressive, and the feedback from visitors was really amazing! Children were absolutely captivated by our ‘magic’ quick experiments and loved digging their hands – and noses! – into the different samples of biomass on display! Likewise, adult guests seemed fascinated by the scale of the bio-waste issue and opportunity and actively engaged in detailed discussions with our researchers.


What I found as one of the greatest outcomes of this event was the wonderful encouragement we received as a group for our ambitious interdisciplinary initiative. As some visitors and colleague presenters pointed out, it is big challenge to get disciplines to communicate and work together. Historically, the various disciplines of natural and social sciences have progressed fairly independently with very little overlap – and with a fair amount of preconceptions on one another. To date, the serious global challenges we are facing, such as climate change and resource wastefulness, are calling for joint action by all disciplines and sectors in order to timely develop means for our sustainable development. Through greenSTEMS, we hope to catalyse this much needed interaction among York scientists as they – WE! –  will play a determinant role in the next generation’s technological development. YorNight was a fantastic occasion for us to get out and interact with members of the public as well as with other researchers and projects! Keep up with our upcoming events and other exciting projects starting this academic year!

— Giulia Paggiola (Chair of greenSTEMS)