Two Nations Divided By a Common Language?

This item first appeared in 2007

At the very end of summer 2007, Bristol University held the first in what is hoped to be an annual meeting bringing together industrial and academic chemists working in catalyst design and application. Kindly sponsored by SCI, the Bristol Catalysis Meeting 2007 brought practicing chemists from Lucite, AstraZeneca, Davy Process Technology, JM, Dow and Sasol to the university School of Chemistry for a one-day symposium with a busy programme of lectures.

Paul Pringle, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Bristol , said the concept behind the meeting was to showcase the high quality catalysis research carried out in industrial laboratories. Co-organiser Duncan Wass commented that industrial scientists are not given enough opportunities to present their work to the wider chemistry community – something this meeting aimed to remedy.

University of Bristol symposiumThe talks featured a range of topics within catalysis, with a common theme focussing on the interface between academia and industry. Delegates were told, via case studies from within the featured companies, of the development process involved in taking lab-based chemistry and scaling this work up production-scale facilities, and the fine balancing act between economic and scientific factors that must be carried out in such a transformation. New approaches to catalyst design and selection were outlined, bringing together fresh approaches to practical and theoretical chemistry, resulting in the rapid determination of the most desirable catalyst for a given process, and also creating a process that was more general, allowing suitable catalyst and ligand combinations to be determined for new processes extremely quickly.

The lectures emphatically showed that research was alive and well within industry, and that it is not only academics who seek to understand the fundamentals of a given chemical process. The value of industrial and academic collaborations was highlighted by several speakers with the conclusion that, when the combination of industrial and academic expertise was brought to bear on a problem, the research advanced much faster than if either party had worked on it independently.

The concluding talk, by Bob Tooze, UK Managing Director of Sasol, elegantly drew together the strands of all the preceding lectures, and gave a personal reflection upon the state of liaisons between companies and universities, the perceived differences between the two spheres, and all the good that arises when these perceptions are dispelled. In a talk that smoothly switched from the serious to the humorous, there was one stand out quote that summed up the message of the whole day wonderfully; ‘There is no such thing as pure or applied chemistry – just good or bad research’.

Doubtless, everyone who attended the day and seen the good to come from close collaboration would have left in total agreement.

Derek Gillespie
Honorary Recorder
Bristol and South-West Regional Group

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