Renewable Chemicals from Waste symposium

It will be held in Burlington House, London, on 20th November 2015

Don’t miss out! Submit your poster abstract for the Renewable Chemicals from Waste symposium – deadline 27th September.

Improved waste valorization demands that we salvage the molecular value inherent in waste streams. This interdisciplinary symposium aims to spotlight the research and applications which take us to the next stage where value chemicals are being captured in combination with more conventional waste valorization processes.

Confirmed speakers include leading academic and industrial scientists. Key themes include: bio-refinery approaches to recover molecular complexity as well as energy, high value metals and other inorganic chemicals plus horizon scanning.

Chair of the Committee, Professor James Clark looks forward to welcoming you to Burlington House, London on 20th November for this exciting symposium!

Poster abstract deadline: 27th September

Registration deadline: 6th November

Download the Sponsorship Menu.

For further details, please contact us

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Most accessed Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts articles in June 2015

In June 2015, our most downloaded Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts articles were:

Christopher Exley
DOI: 10.1039/C3EM00374D

Lu Lu, Hongguang Cheng, Xiao Pu, Xuelian Liu and Qianding Cheng
DOI: 10.1039/C4EM00502C

B. D. Shoener, I. M. Bradley, R. D. Cusick and J. S. Guest
DOI: 10.1039/C3EM00711A

Identification of polymer types and additives in marine microplastic particles using pyrolysis-GC/MS and scanning electron microscopy
Elke Fries, Jens H. Dekiff, Jana Willmeyer, Marie-Theres Nuelle, Martin Ebert and Dominique Remy
DOI: 10.1039/C3EM00214D

Brian G. Rahm and Susan J. Riha
DOI: 10.1039/C4EM00018H

Weile Yan, Hsing-Lung Lien, Bruce E. Koel and Wei-xian Zhang
DOI: 10.1039/C2EM30691C

Interesting read? Let us know your thoughts.

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Decomposition pathways of oceanic plastic debris

a blog article by Fernando Gomollón-Bel, PhD student at the University of Zaragoza

Bisphenol A, phtalates, PCBs and other organic pollutants often embedded in plastics have been under the spotlight for a while. However, very few people have studied the degradation pathways of oceanic plastic debris. An article recently published in Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts critically reviews this topic.

Plastics have been widely used since the 1940s. In 2013, global plastic production reached 300 mega tonnes (50 times the Great Pyramid of Giza). We discard most of the plastic right away, within 3 years of its production. Yet, it is engineered to last for hundreds or even thousands of years. Thus, tonnes of plastic debris accumulate in the environment.

Scientists are especially concerned about plastic debris accumulating in the oceans. By 2050, 99% of all seabirds will have ingested, at least, one small piece of plastic. Nowadays, plastics represent more than 60% of all the floating debris in the oceans. All these pieces of plastic may release organic pollutants to the sea, either additives or adsorbed substance. Despite their high stability, plastics might also decompose by the action of different factors, releasing potentially dangerous chemicals.

Graphical abstract - pathways of plastic degradation

Polymer degradation is, technically, a decline of its original properties. Usually it can be easily spotted by observing the colour changes or cracking of the surface. Small plastic particles decompose faster, due to their higher surface to volume ratio. Depending on the structure of their backbone, plastics can degrade in very different ways. Plastic with carbon-carbon backbones (i.e. PE, PP, PS, PVC) often suffer abiotic decomposition, usually initiated by UV radiation or thermal processes. Plastics with heteroatoms in their backbones (i.e. PU, PET) may also suffer abiotic decomposition, but in this case hydrolysis is the most common process. Furthermore, enzymes may also break amide and ester bonds, therefore these plastics are also exposed to biodegradation.

If you want to better understand the different degradation pathways, I strongly recommend that you go over this Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts Critical Review where all the mechanisms are carefully examined and explained.


Click on the link below to read the full article for free*:

Pathways for degradation of plastic polymers floating in the marine environment
Berit Gewert, Merle M. Plassmann and Matthew MacLeod
Environ. Sci: Processes Impacts, 2015, 17, 1513-1521
DOI: 10.1039/C5EM00207A

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About the webwriter

Fernando Gomollón-Bel is a PhD Student at the ISQCH (CSIC-University of Zaragoza). His research focuses on asymmetric organic synthesis using sugars as chiral-pool starting materials towards the production of fungical transglycosidase inhibitors.

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* Access is free through a registered RSC account.

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Going deep: investigating the physical and chemical properties of humic substances in groundwater

By Ian K.

a new blog article by Ian Keyte, Doctoral Researcher at the University of Birmingham

Humic substances play an important role in the speciation of metal ions in the aquatic environment. Understanding these processes is important to ensure the safety of drinking water. In this study, Japanese researchers reveal how physiochemical properties and ion-binding behaviour of HSs can differ between surface water and groundwater environments.

Groundwater constitutes the largest reservoir of freshwater in the world, accounting for over 97% (excluding glaciers and ice caps) of all available freshwater on the planet. It is estimated that about 75% of EU inhabitants depend on groundwater for their water supply. Groundwater also plays an integral role in the hydrological cycle, crucial to the maintenance of wetlands and river flows. Maintaining the quality of groundwater resources is therefore of major environmental, social and economic importance. This requires a good understanding of the physical and chemical processes that may influence groundwater environments.

For future use of deep underground space it is necessary to monitor and protect the quality of deep groundwater. The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges the importance of groundwater resources and the potential risks that poor quality groundwater can cause to human health. Indeed, the WHO has produced a guidance document, “analysing hazards to groundwater quality, assessing the risk they may cause for a specific supply, setting priorities in addressing these, and developing management strategies for their control.”

Humic substances (HSs) are a class of natural organic molecules, ubiquitous in various environments including surface and ground water, oceans, soils, and the atmosphere. HSs are known to play an important role in freshwater systems. For example HSs can effectively capture inorganic and organic contaminants due to the tendency of protons and metal ions to readily bind to the functional groups of HS ligands e.g., carboxylic and phenolic groups and to a lesser extent amine- and sulphur-containing groups. This process can therefore alter the reactivity, bioavailability, and mobility of chemical constituents in fresh water.

The physical and chemical nature of HSs is likely to differ between deep underground and surface aquatic systems, due to slower water movement and more prolonged contact with underlying rocks and dissolved/suspended components, low oxygen, and lack of sunlight. However, while some characteristics of groundwater HSs are understood, their ion binding properties over a wide range of conditions is largely unknown. Given that in many areas, deep underground space may be used in the future for such uses as geological disposal of nuclear wastes, the potential deterioration of groundwater quality, the ion binding properties of deep groundwater HSs need to be studied carefully, and mechanistic models developed to describe these processes.

This study by Takumi Saito and co-workers investigates the physicochemical and binding properties of HSs isolated from deep groundwater in a sedimentary rock formation in the Horonobe Underground Research Laboratory of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). Binding isotherms of protons (H+) and copper (Cu2+) were measured over a wide range of conditions by potentiometric titration and were fitted to the NICA-Donnan model and the obtained parameters were compared with average parameters for HSs from surface environments. The oxidation state and local coordination environment of Cu2+ bound to the HA fraction of the HSs were also assessed by X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS).

The results clearly indicate distinctive physical and chemical characteristics for the HSs from surface and groundwater environments. It is found that the deep ground HSs were characterised by high aliphaticity and sulphur (S) content and relatively small sizes. Differences in the binding behaviours of H+ and Cu2+ with the HSs in deepwater and surface water were also observed.

The authors discuss the differences in chemical binding behaviour with reference to the unique chemical nature of the functional groups of groundwater HSs compared with those of surface waters and how the binding sites and binding mode can change with changes in conditions (e.g. pH). X-ray absorption spectroscopy also revealed that Cu2+ binds to O/N containing functional groups and to a lesser extent S containing functional groups.

The study therefore demonstrates how HSs could influence freshwater resources differently in deep-ground and surface environments. Although the HSs in this study were derived from a single groundwater source, the authors suggest the outcomes can be applied or be a good starting point to estimate the degree of metal binding to HSs in sedimentary groundwater in general.

The authors also suggest these results should be examined in the future by performing similar investigations for HSs isolated from a range of different groundwater samples and for a wider range of metal ions. This would allow accurate and realistic parameter sets applicable for groundwater HSs to be developed for further modelling for a more extensive range of chemical species.


To read more about this research, download a copy of the manuscript for free* by clicking the link below.

Physicochemical and ion-binding properties of highly aliphatic humic substances extracted from deep sedimentary groundwater
Takumi Saito, Motoki Terashima, Noboru Aoyagi, Seiya Nagao, Nobuhide Fujitake and Toshihiko Ohnuki
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2015,17, 1386-1395
DOI: 10.1039/C5EM00176E

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Ian Keyte

About the webwriter

Ian Keyte is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the sources, behavior and fate of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the atmosphere.

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* Access is free until 20/09/2015 through a registered RSC account.

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Assessing the impacts of human activity on plants in one of the world’s most remote regions

a blog article by Abha Parajulee, PhD student at the University of Toronto

These days it seems human activity knows no bounds, reaching as far as the polar regions which have seen an increased flurry of anthropogenic disturbance due to research and tourism. As a result of these activities, fuel spills and their detrimental effects on the local ecosystem are not uncommon in the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic.

It has been estimated that soil in the Antarctic covering an area the size of (10 million cubic meters) is contaminated with hydrocarbons. This environment presents barriers to natural removal of hydrocarbons including low nutrient content and low temperatures that limit microbial activity, as well as low rates of volatilization and evaporation caused by the same reason. Establishing reasonable remediation targets requires a thorough understanding of the biological effects of petroleum hydrocarbons, which can be achieved using biological assays. Though international protocols for such assays have been modified for application to Arctic and cold-climate species, our knowledge of the effects of hydrocarbons on plants in these regions is still lacking.

A recent study by Macoustra and co-workers is one of the few to provide such data for the sub-Antarctic region. The researchers first collected seeds from 12 native plants on Macquarie Island, the site of one of Australia’s scientific research stations and multiple diesel fuel spills. They tested the seeds for their suitability for bioassays in the lab, and used the species that successfully germinated in a second bioassay involving exposure to a range of diesel concentrations in soils, at both high and low organic carbon contents. Only four species were able to germinate during the second bioassay, indicating that diesel-contaminated soils reduced germination success.

Using the four species that germinated during the second bioassay, a final bioassay was performed over a 28 day period, again with soils exhibiting a range of diesel contamination and either low or high organic carbon content. The endpoints assessed were germination success, and early-life root and shoot growth. The researchers found that soils with low organic carbon content were generally more toxic to plants than high organic carbon content, and attribute this to the lower bioavailability of organic contaminants associated with higher levels of organic matter, in addition to higher nutrient levels that promote plant growth and higher rates of microbial degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons. Root growth was the most sensitive endpoint, likely due to the high permeability of early-life root tissues.

Though the concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons necessary to inhibit early growth were similar to those likely to be found very close to a spill site, the unique conditions in the sub-Antarctic that greatly inhibit hydrocarbon loss processes mean that such concentrations can persist in the environment.

Prior to this study by Macoustra and co-workers, there was no such toxicity data for early life stages of native sub-Antarctic plants exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons. This data is extremely useful for models currently being developed to assist in creating remediation targets for the sub-Antarctic, as the models require a certain number of species from a minimum number of taxonomic groups.


To read more about this research, download a copy of the manuscript for free* by clicking the link below.

Impact of hydrocarbons from a diesel fuel on the germination and early growth of subantarctic plants
GK Macoustra, CK King, J Wasley, SA Robinson and DF Jolley
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2015, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/C4EM00680A

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About the webwriter

Abha Parajulee is a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She is interested in water resources and the behavior of organic contaminants in urban environments.

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* Access is free until 06/09/2015 through a registered RSC account.

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Joint US-UK Workshop on Understanding the Potential Environmental Impacts of Unconventional Hydrocarbons

The UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the United States National Science Foundation (NSF), along with the Environment Sustainability & Energy Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry, are inviting applications from UK scientists to attend a jointly organised workshop on Improving Understanding of Potential Environmental Impacts Associated with Unconventional Hydrocarbons in Washington DC on 5-6 November 2015.

The deployment of hydraulic fracturing technology to exploit shale oil and gas reservoirs in the USA and now potentially in the UK has raised a number of environmental concerns. This workshop brings together researchers in the USA and the UK to learn from each other to identify the areas of major environmental uncertainty, the focused scientific research questions that need to be addressed, and the opportunities for innovation and translation of existing research within this area.

For further information, please see the Announcement of Opportunity online. The deadline for applications is 16:00 (BST) on Wednesday 9 September 2015.

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Getting to the chiral centre of aquatic pollution

By Ian K.

a blog article by Ian Keyte, a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Birmingham

The chemical behaviour of pollutants in the aquatic environment requires careful monitoring in order for us to understand the toxicity different compounds will exert on natural ecosystems. Researchers from Israel describe a new modelling approach that may provide an exciting new technique to address a specific aspect of the chemical and environmental behaviour of pollutants.

The term ‘chiral’ is given to molecules that exhibit identical composition, but where the components of the molecule are arranged in a non-superimposable mirror image composition, centred around an asymmetric carbon atom. The two ‘mirror images’ of a chiral molecule are termed enantiomers. The study of the enantiomer-specific properties and how these vary between different molecules is of major interest within the broad fields of inorganic, organic, physical, biological and environmental chemistry.

Many anthropogenic chemicals of environmental concern, such as pesticides, are chiral molecules. These compounds can potentially be major threat to aquatic ecosystems. For example, the molecular structures and environmental implications of many chiral pesticides have been discussed in a review by the USEPA. It is important, therefore,  to have means of accurately tracing the alteration of these compounds in the environment, particularly with reference to their enantiomer-specific environmental toxicity.

Researchers have previously proposed an enantiomeric enrichment factor (EEF), to describe the enantiomeric enrichment – conversion relationship of chiral compounds, derived using the Rayleigh equation, which describes the relationship between changes in the isotopic composition against the contaminant concentration during the degradation process. The EEF can therefore be used as an identifying tool for a specific enzymatic reaction of different molecules.

Developing models to describe enantio-selective biodegradation can alleviate the need for laborious practical work. To achieve this, there is a need to improve our understanding of the mechanisms of biodegradation, to classify chemicals according to their relative biodegradability, and to develop reliable biodegradation estimation methods for new chemicals. Quantitative structure–activity relationship (QSAR) models are typically derived based on the correlation between experimental data and physical properties (e.g. lipophilicity, steric and electronic parameters) and can be used to identify bioavailability, toxicity and biological activities of compounds as dependent variables.

This study, conducted by researchers from The Institute of Chemistry at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The Geological Survey of Israel, develops a QSAR model to describe the dependence of the enantiomeric enrichment factor on molecular structures and uses this method to evaluate EEF values for unstudied chiral compounds.  The authors used the multiple linear regression (MLR) method to build the QSAR based on the Linear Hansch model. The enantioselective hydrolysis of 16 derivatives of 2-(phenoxy)propionate (PPMs) (some of which are common herbicides) using three  different lipase enzymes was analysed.

The study provides a demonstration of the predictive power of QSAR and Hansch modeling for analysis of the structural dependence of the EEF, with the model shown to effectively correlate biological activity with key physicochemical properties. More importantly, at times, the QSAR of EEF values was shown to be a much better predictive tool than the QSAR of just the underlying individual kinetic parameters, clearly indicating this method could mark the way forward for research in this field.

The authors note that the use of the QSAR modelling technique used in this study may serve as a powerful tracer tool in environmental studies, assisting in source tracking the enantio-selective conversion of both known and unstudied chiral compounds in aquatic ecosystems.



To read more about this study, download a copy for free* by clicking the link below.
Quantitative structure–activity relationship correlation between molecular structure and the Rayleigh enantiomeric enrichment factor
S. Jammer, D. Rizkov, F. Gelman and O. Lev
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2015, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/c5em00084j

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About the webwriter

Ian Keyte is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the sources, behavior and fate of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the atmosphere.

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* Access is free until 30/08/2015 through a registered RSC account.

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Hungry Ghost festival behind annual air quality decline in Singapore

a Chemistry World article by Sage Bowser

Researchers in Singapore have linked late-summer spikes in air and rainwater pollution with incense and paper offerings being burnt during local celebrations of the Hungry Ghost festival.

During the month-long festival, when deceased relatives are believed to return to their families, colourful joss paper and ‘hell bank notes’ are burned as gifts for the visiting ancestors to take back to the underworld.

[...]

To read the full article, please visit Chemistry World.

Annual air pollution caused by the Hungry Ghost Festival
B. Khezri, Y. Y. Chan, L. Y. D. Tiong and R. D. Webster
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2015, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/C5EM00312A

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Detecting endocrine disrupting chemicals in wastewater

a blog article by Fernando Gomollón-Bel, PhD student at the University of Zaragoza

Some steroidal estrogens and certain polyphenols may be a threat to aquatic ecosystems. These compounds, usually known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) pollute our water inducing a potential ecological risk. They may be artificial waste products from chemical industries, but some are natural hormones excreted by cattle, poultry, or even humans. Some of them (like estriol or 4-nonyl-phenol) have been linked with very serious problems like decreasing fertility or causing feminisation in fish.

Thus, having a validated method to estimate the concentration of EDCs in water comes in handy, especially for the detection of these contaminants in the effluent of wastewater treatment plants. Treatment plants act as the last barrier before EDCs are permanently released in the environment.

A group of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a new analytical method to determine the concentration of up to 12 different EDC contaminants. They have optimised an easy pretreatment that avoids enzymatic digestion of the samples, hence allowing for the first time the detection of the different EDCs conjugated salt forms (sulphate and glucuronide). As these EDC conjugates predominate in urine and faeces, having a method to analyse them effectively is useful to know the origin of these pollutants.

This particular analytical method uses state of the art ultra high performance chromatography (UPLC) and MS/MS detectors to improve limits of quantification to small amounts of EDCs down to 0.04 nanograms per litre. The experiments have determined that some species, like 17b-estradiol and all the glucuronide conjugates, are completely removed from wastewater after treatment.

Others, on the other hand, are only partially eliminated (removals may vary between 34 and 95% of the amount of EDC in the influent). The risk of not eliminating these contaminants from the effluent, ultimately released in the environment, has to be studied in depth.


Click on the link below to read the full article for free*:
Simultaneous detection of endocrine disrupting chemicals including conjugates in municipal wastewater and sludge with enhanced sample pretreatment and UPLC-MS/MS
Bing Zhu, Weiwei Ben, Xiangjuan Yuan, Yu Zhang, Min Yang and Zhimin Qiang
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2015, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/C5EM00139K


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About the webwriter

Fernando Gomollon-Bel is a PhD Student at the ISQCH (CSIC-University of Zaragoza). His research focuses on asymmetric organic synthesis using sugars as chiral-pool starting materials towards the production of fungical transglycosidase inhibitors.

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* Access is free until 24/08/2015 through a registered RSC account.

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1st Chemistry in Energy Conference

John Irvine was awarded with the 2015 RSC Sustainable Energy Award

The Energy Sector interest group of the Royal Society of Chemistry successfully organised the 1st Chemistry in Energy conference. This event was hosted at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 20th-22nd July 2015.

During the conference, Professor John Irvine (St Andrew’s University) was presented as the winner of the 2015 Sustainable Energy Award. This prestigious RSC Award is given for the contributions of chemical sciences to sustainable energy, including development or understanding of materials and processes and the improvement of existing technologies through the application of the chemical sciences.

We would like to congratulate John on his award and thank him for his outstanding and sustained contributions to low carbon energy generation, in particular the development of electrode materials for solid oxide fuel cells.

He was presented with his medal by Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer (Energy Sector representative) and gave his inaugural award lecture titled “Low carbon energy generation and the development of electrode materials for solid oxide fuel cells” as part of a special session during the conference.

The picture shows Cesar Palmero, (RSC Development Editor), John Irvine (2015 Sustainable
Energy Award Winner) and Mercedes Maroto-Valer (RSC Energy Sector Representative)



Take a look at some of the latest publications by Professor John Irvine:

Guan Zhang, Chengsheng Ni, Lingjuan Liu, Guixia Zhao, Federica Fina and John T. S. Irvine
J. Mater. Chem. A, 2015,3, 15413-15419

Nano-composite structural Ni–Sn alloy anodes for high performance and durability of direct methane-fueled SOFCs
Jae-ha Myung, Sun-Dong Kim, Tae Ho Shin, Daehee Lee, John T. S. Irvine, Jooho Moon and Sang-Hoon Hyun
J. Mater. Chem. A, 2015,3, 13801-13806

Hierarchically nanoporous La1.7Ca0.3CuO4−δ and La1.7Ca0.3NixCu1−xO4−δ (0.25 ≤ x ≤ 0.75) as potential cathode materials for IT-SOFCs
Xiubing Huang, Tae Ho Shin, Jun Zhou and John T. S. Irvine
J. Mater. Chem. A, 2015,3, 13468-13475

Oxygen storage capacity and thermal stability of the CuMnO2–CeO2 composite system
Xiubing Huang, Chengsheng Ni, Guixia Zhao and John T. S. Irvine
J. Mater. Chem. A, 2015,3, 12958-12964

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Additionally, ES: Processes & Impacts is delighted to announce a high profile web collection on chemistry in energy, in conjunction with the organisers of this 1st Chemistry in Energy conference. Authors of accepted conference presentations (oral and poster) are invited to submit a full paper for possible inclusion in this web collection.

All manuscripts must fit within the scope of the journal to be considered for the collection and will be refereed in accordance to the standard procedures of Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts. In this respect, invited articles will be treated in the same way as regular submissions to the journal.

The deadline for receipt of manuscripts for this themed is 30 September 2015. Please feel free to get in touch with the editorial office at ESPI-RSC@rsc.org if you have any questions about this collection.

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RSC awards and prizes recognise excellence across the chemical sciences. Why not nominate someone?
Nominations for 2016 open on the 1st October 2015.

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