Unforgettable time at Fuerteventura

This time, Fuerteventura, Spain, was the place where the MINSC fellows gathered together for celebrating the mid-term network meeting on February 7th-14th, 2014. We were warmed with a tropical sunlight, fresh wind and great weather, and by nice, friendly fellows from the CO2-React Network. For the first time, two networks were involved, so we were a group 45 people including fellows and supervisors.

We received training in two courses: Scientific Writing Course and Phreeqc. In the writing course, Liane G. Benning and Eric H. Oelkers were the main teachers with a great assistance from Andrew Putnis. They taught through interactive demonstrations how to write properly the different sessions of a scientific paper. Writing is not an easy task, but their didactic method was very helpful and practical, and they showed a funny way to write a paper in short effective time. The Phreeqc course was offered by Manuel Prieto and Juan Diego Rodríguez Blanco, they trained us using the modeling program through interesting and practical exercises and gave the fundamentals and commands for simulating reactions and processes. During the mid-term review, the MINSC fellows presented great presentations, for which we received excellent feedback from all the supervisors. We had also the opportunity to visit a desalination plant at Corralejo, Fuerteventura, a long trip from our hotel with fresh wind and beautiful landscapes.

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On Sunday 9th February’s evening, I received a wonderful surprise from the group for celebrating my birthday. I was really indebted to the group for their kindness and friendship!!! It was really amusing that all were having fun and enjoying the activity with whistles, they made this date a very special, unforgettable day in my life. I am thankful to all my friends!!! In order to cultivate and to flourish more our friendships, we had a super football game on Wednesday’s night on the beach, where we were divided into four teams: Phreeqcindor, Scalingclaw, Carbonpuff and MINSCerin, which represented the four houses of Harry Potter.


This network meeting was undoubtedly fantastic due to the high quality of the training and courses and  the well-organized schedule of the activities in such a way that we had opportunities to network and to interact among us in order to strengthen our social and scientific network.

I look forward to seeing all in the next network meeting in Iceland in August, 2014!!!

SEE behind the scenes – Studying crystal formation

SEE behind the scenes is a bi-annual event during which undergraduates can visit different labs within the School of Earth and Environment. As members of the Cohen group, Daniela, Tomasz and I thought that this would be a good chance for us to introduce the laboratories we work in and to show the undergraduates some simple but exciting experiments on how to make crystals.

In my opinion, visiting scientific laboratories can help undergraduates to see a different aspect of the subject they chose to study. It also helps them to decide if they want to pursue an academic career or not. I remember when I was an undergraduate student, I was always curious to find out what researchers do in their labs and how (and what for) they use their fancy instruments.

We planned to talk to the undergraduates about calcium sulphate minerals (CaSO4 ∙ x H2O), as they are common minerals in nature and important for industry (e.g. building materials and plaster). Ever since the discovery of the giant crystals in the Cave of the Crystals (Naica, Mexico), calcium sulphates have been quite well known. My interest for these minerals is derived from a less spectacular point of view (but more important). I study the formation of calcium sulphates scales in industrial systems and the effect of additives on their growth during my PhD. Therefore, I had lots of materials and experiments ready to show to the undergraduates!

1Impressive example of naturally formed gypsum crystals from the Cave of the Crystals, Naica, Mexico (source: National Geographic)

Together with Daniela and Tomasz, I prepared some background information on the formation, mining and usage of calcium sulphates that we then used to give an introduction to the students. The most interesting part of our demonstration however was three experiments to show the students calcium sulphate precipitation in front of their eyes. I had prepared 200 mM Na2SO4 (the source of the sulphate ions) and 200mM CaCl2∙2 H2O (the source of the calcium ions) solutions. Upon mixing of these solutions, calcium sulphate precipitates, producing a turbid solution. In the pure system this took about 90 seconds.  By adding additives we could speed up the process (oxalic acid → instantaneous turbidity) or slow it down (NTMP, a complex organic acid → several hours). I also showed the students how to filter the solutions to separate the crystals that formed and to then use them for further analysis.

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Showing the calcium sulphate precipitation experiments to a group of undergraduates.

In a next step, Daniela explained to them that researchers have to use scientific instruments to quantify their observations in order to publish their data and findings. As an example, she explained the use of the UV-Vis spectrophotometer. This instrument measures the intensity of a light beam before and after the sample and therefore can quantify the turbidity of a solution. She also explained how the Fourier Transform Infrared (or FTIR) Spectrometer can be used to identify different components in the precipitates as they each produce a typical, fingerprint-like signal. We also showed the students some of my high resolution microscope pictures (taken with an SEM) so they would believe us that we actually made tiny crystals of calcium sulphate during the experiments. The pictures also show that the additives do not just affect the reaction rate but also the shape of the crystals formed.

During the 2.5 hours of the event, we had five groups of two to six students visiting our lab. For me this activity was my first time doing outreach and it was really unforgettable. Firstly, I enjoyed the collaborations that I had with my colleagues Daniela and Tomasz. Secondly we could show the visitors some new and interesting things they had never seen before. It was obvious that they enjoyed this experience as they could actually see something happening in the experiments. I hope to have more activities like this in future as I really enjoyed it!

4High resolution microscopy (SEM) images of gypsum precipitates (left) gypsum precipitated in the presence of NTMP (right).

Science Week in Huddersfield

A few weeks ago, Cindy, Tomasz and I from the Cohen Geochemistry Group, University of Leeds visited the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary School in Huddersfield as part of their science week for years 1 to 6. Our aim was to show the pupils, with a few simple experiments and some hands on experience, that science is more than wearing lab coats and safety specs, but that it is actually great fun. We also wanted them to see, that science is done by “normal” people and not just nerdy looking old men with fuzzy hair (sorry Prof. Einstein).

After our arrival in the morning, we were provided with three classrooms where we set up our kit. Tomasz was presenting chemical gardens, where “plants” of metal salts grow in a solution of water glass (sodium silicate dissolved in highly alkaline solution). Chemical gardens are an excellent example of visual and colourful but quite complex chemistry (most university students would struggle to understand how they grow). Presenting chemical gardens was not about going into the details of the chemical and physical processes occurring (yes, physics plays a role as well) but an opportunity to let the pupils realise that the chemical compounds of which our universe is composed all have different properties: The colour of the powders used for the chemical gardens was highly variable, as was the growth rate of the “plants” (some of them grew in front of the pupils eyes, and others took the whole day).



Growing chemical gardens with Tomasz Stawski


Next door, Cindy was teaching the pupils about basic chemical reactions and gases using household items (find the blog post of her previous experience here). They added bicarbonate of soda to vinegar to 1) make a frothy mess which smells interesting (a bit like beer, or maybe rotten bananas?) and 2) to use the CO2 produced during the reaction to inflate a rubber glove. The pupils enjoyed all the mess produced from the initial reaction. Inflating a glove produced less of a mess, but when the glove was so full of CO2 that it ‘popped’ off from the glass, it caused much excitement (although some pupils were slightly disappointed that it didn’t explode)!



Making a mess out of baking soda and vinegar with Cindy Lockwood


I had prepared a slightly different science experience for the kids: In my classroom, they became palaeontologists for an hour. To begin with, I showed them a few fossils and some reconstructions of what scientists think these animals might have looked like when they were alive. Then I asked them to do a palaeontologists job for a while, reconstructing what they thought an ammonite looked like before it died.



An ammonite as a fossil (left), what the kids imagined it looked like when it was alive (right) and what paleontologists reconstructed (bottom).


I was amazed at the diversity of ideas the pupils had. Was it a fossilised snail? Or a snake that curled up to sleep and then died? Or one of the horns of a mountain goat? Or the shell of a hermit crab? Or was it actually the body of a small dinosaur? Or a fossilised trunk of an elephant? They were quite amazed when I showed them the reconstruction of an ammonite. To end the demonstration, we used dinosaur footprints to make up stories of dinosaurs getting eaten, having babies or learning how to fly.



Getting pupils and their teachers excited about the traces dinosaurs left behind.


It was great to see how enthusiastic and creative the kids were throughout the whole day. They seemed to really enjoy our demonstrations. I think they found it quite interesting to have real scientists around to ask all sorts of science-y questions such as “What would be the best colour for a spaceship?” (green, according to Cindy). We also asked them questions such as “what do you think scientists do all day long?”. The majority of pupils replied that scientists blow up things but a few of the kids mentioned that science is about curiosity, about asking questions. This was great to hear because it reminded all of us why we became scientists: We are curious about the world surrounding us and the processes going on in it.

At the end of the day, Cindy, Tomasz and I were worn out but happy. It was a good feeling, being at the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary School, trying to spark an interest in science in these kids (and their teachers). Having pupils coming up to you after the demonstrations, thanking you for the cool experience or asking when you would be back is probably the ultimate compliment one can get after a fairly exhausting day of outreach!

Mineral Precipitation in Nature

The first outreach activity was carried out at Den Grønne Dal, Vanløse, Copenhagen, Denmark, on 16th November, 2013. I explained concepts such as Mineral, Precipitation, Dissolution, electromagnetic spectrum, Mie scattering phenomenon and pH indicators to the participants during the outreach activity. These concepts were illustrated with a real case, Río Celeste in Costa Rica. It was an interactive activity where we tried to understand our main question: what causes the emerald green color in the water of Río Celeste if this river is formed by mixing the water of two colorles rivers, which are Quebrada Agria and Río Buenavista. We compared the chemical composition of the water of the three rivers and we tried to find out if there is correlation between the chemical composition of the elements and the coloration of the waters. Then, the participants did experiments using red cabbage juice as a natural pH indicator, so they determined the pH of vinegar, chlorine and soap by comparing the color change with the pH scale for natural indicator. Afterwards, we had snacks, drinks and friendly talks.

Interactive activities during the outreach:

Trying to find a correlation between the chemical composition with the coloration of the water:


pH determination using red cabbage juice indicator:

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Determination of pH of some liquids by comparing with pH scale for natural indicator:


Next time if you are going to cook red cabbage, remember keeping its juice, and use it as pH indicator at home!

Public Outreach Adventure

My MINSC fellows described Goldschmidt 2013 in a detail and I was glad to be there with them to enjoy conference, workshop, meeting new people and old friends and of course sightseeing at beatiful city of Florence. But in this post I would like to describe my experience of giving public outreach.

Eariler this year I planned to take a break after our MINSC meeting in Bosei Denmark. I realized I could actually combine visiting my family during vacation with visiting my old high school and thus talk to students about my exciting scientific work. Reasons I decided to  give a talk at high school in Czech Republic was I. travelling there 🙂  II. to propagate MINSC network outside the home countries of host universites III. and mostly to motivate, educate and show to young people that you can work in future on important scientific projects like Mineral Scale Formation eventhough you come from tiny city somewhere in Central Europe. When I started to prepare presentation I found out it cannot be the same type of presentation I am used to have at academia. What a useful trainning to arrange your ideas and knowledge in your brain! At first with easy geology introduction warm-up I explained mineral crystallization and related scaling examples in nature (sea salts precipitations) and as well in industry (scaling upon geothermal utilization and oil and gas production in pipeline systems). I followed by explaining what drives such processes in universe (laws of thermodynamics). Then after all of this I could finally explain and introduce the role of MINSC in detail and talk about my part within MINSC project too. In total I had two lectures followed by discussion for two classes of older students heading for university studies. We had nice discussion and I hope the students enjoyed the talk and learned something as I did.

Talk at high school

Goldschmidt 2013, what a wonderful time!

I find it very hard to pick a personal highlight of the nearly 10 days I have spent in Florence. Was it one of the great talks about really exciting science, within or outside my field? Or one of the numerous posters I looked at and chatted with the author? Or the pre-conference workshop on geothermal fluids? Or all the new people I’ve met? Or the catching up with old friends from all across the globe? Or the lovely city of Florence with all its historical gems? Or the fabulous Italian ice cream (my tip: Gelateria Vivili, next to the Basilica di Santa Croce)? I guess, all of these things made Goldschmidt 2013 an unforgettable experience for me.

View of Florence from the Piazza Michelangelo

View of Florence from the Piazza Michelangelo

However, there are two moments that will stick with me for some time. The first was the talk of Professor Sally Benson from the Global Climate and Energy Project, Stanford University. She gave a talk on how geochemists play crucial roles in improving energy efficiency, developing renewable energy resources (e.g. geothermal energy), finding and developing resources of rare metals used for high-tech applications (e.g. lithium, yttrium, europium) and reducing emissions from the burning of fossil fuels by capturing and storing CO2. Listening to her talk, I realised again, why I am enjoying working within the MINSC network so much. Not only do we get the chance of working on cutting-edge science with some of the best people in the field, but our research on scaling also contributes (even if it is just a tiny little bit) to help resolve some of the greatest challenges of our time.

The second moment I will not forget for a while was my visit of the tomb of Galileo Galilei in the Basilica di Santa Croce. It was an awe-inspiring moment, to stand there in this magnificent cathedral and to be looking at the last home of one of the leading people in the Scientific Revolution at the end of the Middle Ages. By advancing the knowledge of mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology and medicine, Galileo and his contemporaries were setting the foundations of science as we know it.

I am very much looking forward to Goldschmidt 2014 in Sacramento and am sure we will all have an equally great time as we had last week!

Daniela Meier, University of Leeds

Galileo Galilei statue on the Piazzale degli Uffizi

Statue of Galileo Galilei on the Piazzale degli Uffizi

Galileo Galilei's tomb in the Basilica di Santa Croce

Galileo Galilei’s tomb in the Basilica di Santa Croce

An enchanting Firenze


Many different workshops were offered during the weekend before the Goldschmidt Conference, which was held in Florence (Firenze in Italian), Italy, 26-30 August 2013. I enrolled the “Introduction to Reactive Transport Modeling with CrunchFlow” workshop organized by Carl Steefel from Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory (USA), Jenny Druhan from Stanford University (USA) and Eric Oelkers from Environmental Geosciences Toulouse, France. We were approximately 20 participants. During the workshop, we learnt to run the program and we did many reactive transport exercises. Generally, it was a good introduction course, but from my personal experience it is highly recommendable to have Reactive transport background knowledge in order to fully understand the exercises and to have substantial discussions with the instructors.

On the evening of the first day of the Conference, we had a nice and friendly party in the terrace, were the MINSC and other networks members were gathered. We enjoyed delicious pizza with drinks and talking with our friends! The Goldschmidt Conference was huge, with approximately 4000 participants from different parts around the world, hundreds of presentations and thousands of posters were presented. I found very interesting the poster sessions, where I had many valuable discussions with the authors. I had also chances to make some friends during lunch time and conference banquet. Generally, the conference was very organized and I really appreciated that the presentations were very punctual with few exceptions on the last day.

The conference was charmed by a nice weather and by kind and friendly people. Personally, I really enjoyed the warm of the Italian people as well as the wonderful city, which is characterized by its elegant, enchanting architecture, valuable history and its delicious food…