Culinary ChemistryRead More
Chemistry is frequently likened to cooking, only involving more dangerous and inedible materials.
The comparisons are, to be fair, obvious. Both involve the conversion of starting ingredients into a final product that differs in appearance or chemical structure, be it cooking ingredients such as meat or vegetables, or chemical reagents with long complex names. Both require this conversion to be conducted after following a specific set of regimented instructions that maximise a delicacy’s flavour or the yield – total amount – of product formed.
The comparison ends when it comes to creating edible materials. As a general rule, one shouldn’t eat or drink in laboratories. It might not end well.
So yes, I conceive an argument can be made that chemists are scientific chefs.
But I would argue an extension to this logic. We are all chemists.
Now before I receive any hatred for insinuating such a statement, allow me to make an argument that we are all actually chemists even if we are currently unaware of the fact.
I am willing to bet that at some point in our lives every one of us will have cooked food. But aside from the need to create a sustaining meal, have we ever thought about what is happening in our pan or oven? Have we considered the detailed and complex chemical composition changes that are taking place as we cook our Sunday roast chicken dinner? Well, let me change your cooking perceptions as we understand the theory behind the chemical experiments we are all, guiltily or happily, performing on a daily basis.
To some the process of cooking might seem secondary, a means to an end. But I thoroughly enjoy it. My interests lie in the chemistry of everyday processes, including those individual chemical reactions that govern the fine line between a culinary delicacy and burnt cinders.
Let us take the cooking of a chicken breast as an example and apply the scientific method to the cooking process. So begins the (tasty) experiment. To cook chicken, we must apply heat, typically taking about 20-30 minutes at 200 °C in an oven. Now, throughout cooking we can make a series of observations about the exterior changes occurring. The most obvious changes are in colour and texture. The chicken breast turns from a soft rubbery pink colour to an entity with a harder white interior and a soft golden exterior (clearly assuming that it wasn’t burnt in some cooking mishap). While this might sound patronising to those who know how to cook chicken and how to tell when it is cooked, does everyone know why food turns a different colour when cooked?
The answer, of course, is chemistry. Whether you want to admit it or not, you, as the budding chef of your chicken dish, have just instigated, supervised and observed a chemical reaction. Or to be more specific, the cascading series of Maillard Reactions.
The Route to Culinary Prowess
In layman’s terms, Maillard reactions result in the distinctive flavours and textures of food. Have you ever wondered why chicken tastes like chicken and not beef? Well it all comes down to the specific chemicals created during the Maillard reaction. It is not just involved in the cooking of chicken. The beautiful brown glaze of cooked meat, browning bread in a toaster, roasting of coffee beans; the Maillard reaction forms an integral part of all of these processes.
The chemical process is named after the French chemist Louis-Camile Maillard whose initial research in 1912 detailed the series of reactions.1 So let’s get more specific. The Maillard reaction defines a set of chemical reactions between amino acids and reducing sugars in the presence of heat that create new molecules that are responsible for food’s distinctive flavours, colours and aromas.
But this reaction has been around for thousands of years, arguably since the discovery of fire and the subsequent cooking of meat. As our society has advanced, so too has our understanding of the complex chemistry being undertaken to the point where we are now able to control the reaction with such precision as to prevent unwanted side reactions and create the perfect palate pleasing flavour blend.
So, let us delve deeper into the individual components of the Maillard reaction, and understand what makes each component essential. Amino acids are the building blocks of life and exist in all foods. They are the individual building blocks of larger molecules known as proteins, which are large complicated biological molecules responsible for swathes of life’s processes. A large variety of proteins exist, with specific types found only in certain foods. This diversity is the reason for the different flavour molecules, known as flavouroids, in food. The second essential component is the reducing sugar, such as glucose. Heating the raw food initiates a cascade of reactions and sees the formation of a variety of different functional group molecules including aldehyde, ester, and amine products that form the basis of flavouroids. The chemistry is extremely detailed and complicated and has been discussed further in several other sources.2 The longer food is heated, the more diverse these flavour compounds become. One particularly important class of molecules are known as Strecker Aldehydes, which are responsible for flavours in coffee, beers and other foods.3
But how do you explain the colour change? Well towards the end of the Maillard process compounds known as melanoidins are formed. These are long polymeric molecules and act as brown pigments, hence turning food brown as it cooks. This results in an alternative name for the Maillard reaction as a method of non-enzymatic browning. This classification distinguishes it from enzymatic browning where enzymes are responsible for the browning colour, as for example is the case in avocado browning.
Maillard reactions produce hundreds of different compounds, specific to the amino acids and sugars present in the raw food and the conditions in which cooking occurs. We can imagine several examples of this process. The reason chicken tastes like chicken and not beef comes down to the protein structure and how this structure changes throughout the cooking process. This structural rearrangement is temperature dependent, making the process of developing flavour differ depending on the cooking process. Different cooking conditions can lead to the formation of different molecules and thus potentially new flavours and textures.
Undesirable Maillard Reactions
Perfecting cooking depends on one’s ability to strike the right balance in the Maillard reaction. Cooking, as Goldilocks would say, must be just right. Everything discussed so far has involved favourable Maillard reactions. But this is not always the case. Excessive cooking has been known to result in the formation of toxic by-products such as acrylamide or furans.4 Acrylamide in particular is a molecule worthy of its own discussion. Animal studies investigating the effects of acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide, have suggested they are genotoxic – meaning they affect genetic information – and carcinogenic.5 Since these molecules accumulate in overcooked or processed foods, there have been several mainstream news reports that have referred to the cancer-causing effects of burnt toast to name just one. However, before we all make the sudden decision to never eat toast (or to be more extreme, cooked food) again, human studies on the effects of acrylamide are inconclusive.
We are all chemists at heart
Cooking is a complex chemical process. Such a simple task such as heating a chicken breast in the oven results in a variety of chemical reactions that distinctly change the flavour and aroma of certain foods. Food science is a fascinating topic that coalesces the fields of chemistry and biology. But I think you will now agree that in the heart of every kitchen lies a good chef chemist.
Do you agree that we are all chemists, or did I whet your appetite for more chemistry cooking facts? Let me know your thoughts at @JoeAtNotch
- Maillard, L. C., R. Acad. Sci. 1912, 154, 66
- OK I’m a chemist so I must discuss the, initially simple, chemical reactions that cascade into complex products, that occur during the Maillard reactions. A model of the reactions was described by John Hodge in 1953 as a three-stage process. First, the carbonyl group of the sugar undergoes nucleophilic attack by an amine group of the amino acid to produce an unstable glycosylamine intermediate. This intermediate undergoes a rearrangement (known as Amadori rearrangement) to produce several aminoketose compounds. Then finally, these aminoketose compounds undergo further rearrangements and reactions to produce the final flavour, aroma, colour and other compounds. The chemistry is, as you can now probably understand, extremely complex.
- Lund M., Ray C., J. Agric. Food Chem., 2017, 65, 4537 Link
- Tareke E., et al., Agric. Food Chem. 2002, 50, 4998 Link
- European Food Safety Authority: Acrylamide
Four Months with the Notch TeamRead More
Last week we said “au revoir” to Flovia Busato, our Creative Planning intern, who, after working with us for four months, has now returned to France. But before she left, Flovia decided to blog about her experience at Notch.
It has been almost 4 months since I was welcomed into Notch Communications to support Marion Gaubert in her role as Creative Planner, but it is now time for me to pack my bags and say good-bye. But before I depart, I feel compelled to blog about this great internship and explain why this experience was so formative and unique.
After obtaining my degrees I had to start the big challenge any recent graduate faces: finding a job. It is just as hard in France, my home country, as the UK to gain employment when you have just left university. After drafting several résumés, going to numerous interviews and hearing the infamous line “your application incites our interest but you don’t have enough experience for the job,” I thought it was time for me to try a new approach where I could gain work experience while improving my English. I soon had an interview with Marion and Peter Brown, Notch’s CEO. A couple of weeks later I arrived at Manchester Airport, ready to discover a new city and job, another culture and deal with English weather (a big challenge when you come from the South of France).
After two months at Notch, the first thing I learned was how to manage different projects and missions at the same time. Like Peter explained it to me, I had arrived during a big period for Notch, so the main goal was to quickly work to best understand the internal process. I also realised how in the agency everyone had a function; you can find science writers, content managers, creative planners, account managers and creative developers. Due to the diversity of their skills and backgrounds I noticed a synergy between all of them and the ability to find compromises to resolve issues.
The latter couple of months were completely different to the first two. Thanks to a better understanding of Notch’s work I started to see a different side of what working in an agency can mean. More than just the ability to provide a good rebranding or content strategy, working in communication is not just about finding a good message for a good channel. The most important part is to listen to your client and understand their needs and then build a strategy around this. By following Marion’s work, I began to understand that building strategies were almost like assembling a puzzle: there were some obvious pieces and others that took longer to put together. For these harder pieces, I realised that it was your skillset and the knowledge of the market and your customer that could make the difference in the achievement of strategic work.
After few months in the agency, I can say that Notch is a great representation of Manchester: busy, hardworking, friendly and supportive. Like the Manchester bee, Notch Communications represents a hive where everybody gives their maximum in the job. It is thanks to them I have gained fantastic insight of working in a marketing agency and hope that in my next job I have a team with the same motivation. So before I leave, the last thing I would like to say (and in French this time) “Merci, Notch Communications!”
Did You Say GDPR?Read More
In May, the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR will affect how companies handle customer data. Our planning intern, Flovia Busato discusses what the regulation is, and how it will affect businesses.
Since the launch of digital and social media, the perception of brands and products has completely shifted. Prior to this, companies were focused on the product, whereas now there is more emphasis on building strong relationships with clients. In Philip Kotler’s latest book, Marketing 4.0, he confirmed that it is no longer about the AIDA model: Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. The customer path has changed, and now we have to deal with the 5A’s – Awareness, Appeal, Ask, Act and Advocate – fitting perfectly with the customer journey of today.
Since we use data in our strategies, this new approach of marketing has emerged for a simple reason: the better you know your customer, the more likely it is you can give them what they’re looking for. Indeed, when you can offer what the customer wants, their brand loyalty will increase. This is the reason that personal data is so important to companies; it holds the key to the best customer experience.
However, the big question now facing clients is: “what do brands really do with my data? Do brands use it to build a better customer journey for me, or will they sell my data onto other brands?”
These questions currently remained unresolved. But the creation of the European privacy regulations, which will come into force on May 25th, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will answer these concerns.
With the GDPR date fast approaching, companies across Europe are wondering how to change their data processes and policies accordingly, and how to inform their collaborators of the changes.
That’s why after consulting plenty of blogs and official documents, we are providing you with the full Notch run-down, explaining exactly what you need to know about GDPR.
First of all, a quick definition:
Put simply, the GDPR is a legal framework that sets out the principles of data management (for example: collecting and processing sensitive data) and the rights of the individuals within the European Union.
What does “sensitive data” mean?
This term refers to personal data – all information that can be used, directly or indirectly, to identify the person. This includes a person’s name, photos, email addresses, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or computer IP address.
Who is affected?
The GDPR will have a global impact. Every sector that processes the personal data of EU residents must adhere to these regulations. With regards to the latter, some B2B marketers do not believe their sector will be impacted because the GDPR did not specify whether it is about B2B or B2C data. However if the data states the person’s name, address or number then this confirms the processing of personal data and the GDPR will apply.
The data subjects’ rights:
Controllers and Processors
Because of these new regulations, companies must think about creating new roles to control and process all data. These will include:
Data Controller – someone who determines the purposes for which and the manner in which any personal data are to be processed.
A data controller is responsible for the purpose of the data and controls why and how data is processed and ensuring that all personal data for which they are responsible for complies with the Act. Contact must be maintained at all times with the Data Processor to ensure that they follow his instructions and comply with the GDPR.
Data Processor – any person who processes data on behalf of the data controller.
A data processor may store data, do market research or even payroll companies. A record of the processing operations must be maintained at all times, and security measures must be put in place to prevent data breaches. If this data is vast or sensitive, a Data Protection Officer must be employed.
What is a “personal data breach”?
A data breach is an action that impacts the security of the customer’s personal data. This includes loss, alteration, destruction or unauthorised disclosure of data, either accidental or deliberate. When a Data Controller notices a breach, action must be taken within 72 hours to report it to the Information Commissioner’s Office with the following information:
– A description of the personal data with the categories and number of individuals / personal data records concerned.
– A description of the data breaches with the real or predicted consequences and the measures taken.
– The contact details of the Data Protection Officer or the person who can share the information requested.
Additionally, if the data breach includes a high risk to the rights and freedoms of an individual, the company must inform who is concerned as soon as possible.
Why it is important to comply with the GDPR:
Whether or not an organisation wants to be GDPR-compliant, the regulation stipulates that fines of up to 20 million Euros or 4% of a company’s global turnover can be issued. This threat alone emphasises how prepared companies must be and stresses how important it is that internal operations and processes are organised well in advance of the deadline of 25th May 2018. If you are looking for further information on the imminent GDPR regulations, we have listed some useful links below.
ICO – Key definitions of Data Protection
ICO – The Rules around B2B Marketing and the GDPR
SuperOffice – What is GDPR?
ICO – Preparing for GDPR
Microsoft – GDPR – an opportunity
Bird&Bird – A guide to the GDPR
ITPro – What is GDPR?
Virtual CommunicationRead More
For most of history, science fed technology. But now the process has flipped and technologies like virtual and augmented realities (AR & VR) offer great communication opportunities for the scientific world.
Humans are visual animals, a fact more observable in today’s modern world, than ever before. Now, through our social media culture, most content we consume is visual (for example: videos, infographics, pictures, etc.). A visual impactful message that can be quickly digested and more information retained than from reading a long written essay.
Like Marshall Mcluhan said, “the medium is the message.” In other words, the form of the medium can affect people according to the evolution of each new technology produced. This idea perfectly represents the impact of AR and VR.
In just a few years VR and AR have been used to create many new ways to approach the customer, and despite some wonderful early uses, we have only begun to scratch the surface of this technology.
By the way… Is there a difference between AR and VR?
Augmented Reality: This technology allows us to see virtual things (animals, articles, people, etc.) in our own environment, thanks to special glasses or screens. The best way to make you understand is to talk about the most viral application of 2016: Pokémon GO. With this application people can hunt Pokémon everywhere, just by filming their environment. For now, it is the best example of mainstream consumption of AR. Since then several brands have made their “AR baptism”, like IKEA, Lego, Starbucks even Pepsi (to mention only the most known) with even more inventive ways of advertising their products.
Virtual Reality: It uses the same technology as AR but here the user is conveyed to a totally different world, a virtual one, thanks to glasses. In addition to the visual alteration, there are various other accessories, which can add further effects (touch, move, smell / levers, treadmill, bike…).
VR has not gone unused by businesses. It can be an immersive experience for the user and a big promotion for the brand. For example, Marriot Hotel used it to “teleport” newlyweds to their dream destination for their honeymoon. Another wonderful use of this technology, was adopted by Merrel, who used the VR technology for the launch of new hiking shoes. Their experience, called Merrel TrailScape, offered customers the possibility to go on a virtual mountain hike all from the safety of the store.
These two technologies, beside their recreational aspects, offer plenty of possibilities in terms of communication and especially in customer commitment. Businesses merely need to have the imagination and the capacity to use it. Instead of riding on the AR and VR trend, it could be used to attract new targets and mix it with an inbound strategy* to create a new value for business content.
It could even be useful for internal communication. Some of the international car brands, including Volkswagen and BMW, use AR for their production division to explain to their team the assembly process or to show the location of any problems with a product.
If we dig deeper, this technology could be used to collect new kinds of user data information. For example, through an immersive experience, the VR devices could be capable of recording our facial expressions and establish whether we enjoy what we’re seeing or understand the message being presented. A marketer could then use this information to better design their content. Basically, VR and AR could be the Swiss Army Knife for marketers, because it is more than a medium, it is also the channel and the platform. These two technologies could be the spearhead for the brand’s message.
Outside of its communication use, AR and VR technologies can be useful in the healthcare sector, especially for the treatment of phobias like agoraphobia. Also, early medicinal research has investigated the use of virtual reality as glasses that restore vision to blind people. Of course, a cure is still in the experimental stage, but these are still the beginnings of bright future for AR and VR.
If this article piqued your interest and you would like to learn more about AR and VR, you will be happy to know that the 4th international VR & AR conference is being held in Manchester on the 21st and 22nd June 2018. For more information follow the link
* Inbound strategy: with this strategy the customer is attracted directly to your website, through relevant and helpful content (White papers, blogs, infographics, videos, newsletters, off-line events…). The opposite of this strategy is advertising because it is the brand that attracts the customer.
NewGenApps: Augmented Reality Technology: How does AR work?
Cramer: How VR is shaping the future of brand experiences
YouVisit: 10 Common Questions about VR marketing answered
The Verge: The eSight 3 is an AR headset to help the legally blind see
MDTmag: VR headset restores sight to the blind
Volkswagen: Virtual Technologies
The Drive:BMW uses VR to build prototypes
This blog was written by our Planning Intern, Flovia Busato.
Mankind’s deadliest chemicals: Nerve AgentsRead More
Warfare. Weapons of mass destruction. Poison. Death. All four of these phrases adequately summarise nerve agents.
But what are nerve agents, how do they affect the body and what are the differences between the agents implicated in the murder of Syrian civilians, North Korean Kim Jong-Nam, and most recently implicated in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal?
This is the scientific history behind the deadly nerve agent.
What are nerve agents?
Unlike poisons such as arsenic, chlorine gas and cyanide, nerve agents are not naturally occurring molecules or elements, concentrated into lethal doses. Instead, they must be synthesised in a laboratory. They are known as organophosphates, terminology describing the blend of composed elements including phosphorus, carbon and others. Organophosphates have one universal use in the world: they are insecticides. It is perhaps unsurprising then that nerve agents have the same effect on humans as insecticides have on insects. A chilling thought.
Nerve agents themselves are liquids at normal temperatures. They are sometimes referred to under the misnomer of nerve gases, often due to the specific method of aerosol dispersal since this has the potential to deliver a lethal dose faster. Being readily absorbed through the skin, eyes and respiratory tract, there are various methods of administration. Exposure can be achievable via vapour or gas dispersion, through contact with the skin, or even through ingestion.
As the public is now only too aware, nerve agents are lethal. The levels of toxic molecules necessary to deliver a fatal dose differ between the different modes of administration – inhalation is the deadliest. In the case of sarin, the concentration of agent that is likely to be fatal through inhalation administration is only 100 mg min m-3, whereas the concentration necessary to achieve the same effect through contact with the skin is 1700 mg min m-3. In both cases, concentration is measured through exposure and is dependent on the time exposed, the mass of compound and the area of exposure.
Furthermore, the latency period – the period before the manifestation of symptoms – varies between the agents. Some have been reported to be as short as 30 seconds, but others can last to the order of hours.
How do nerve agents affect the body?
As the name suggests, nerve agents affect the body by disrupting the central nervous system messaging channels, effectively shutting down the body’s nervous system. Cellular messaging is a key component of the nervous system, and is achieved in the body through the transmission of electrical impulses along nerves and pass from neuron to neuron via neurotransmitters. A very common neurotransmitter is Acetylcholine (ACh), which transmits these essential electrical impulses down the neuronal network and also mediates muscle contact. Once ACh has performed its role transmitting cell messages, it must be destroyed to prevent overstimulation of the nervous system. The body performs this naturally using the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) before the process begins anew.
Organophosphate nerve agents effectively disrupt this process. The compounds bind to the specific sites of the AChE enzyme rendering it ineffective. Thus, a toxic accumulation of acetylcholine occurs, resulting in the overstimulation of the nervous system.1
As the effects of nerve agent exposure increases, the victim suffers from the loss of muscular functions leading to constriction of pupils, drooling, convulsions, paralysis and respiratory arrest. Without treatment, death is inevitable.
Fortunately, these effects can be reversed using an antidote – but it must be administered rapidly. First, the bond joining the nerve agent and enzyme can be broken using specific “oxime” drugs, regenerating the enzyme for normal use. Speed is of the essence to reverse these effects; the bond “ages” over time, strengthening the link between the agent and the serine and rendering oxime drugs ineffective.
Atropine has the effect of blocking the ACh receptors, thus inhibiting the transmission possible between cells. In a healthy patient, atropine is poisonous, owing to its communication disruption. But, for patients poisoned with nerve agent, it has the potential to save their lives.
The G-Series of nerve agents were the first series of synthetic chemical weapons created. The first nerve agent dates back to 1936, when German scientist Gerhard Schrader attempted to synthesise a new insecticide that was cheaper than nicotine. What he created was more toxic than previously imagined. In fact, it is reported that the spilling of one drop in the laboratory led to Schrader and his assistant stopping work for three weeks. This would later become known as tabun.
It is perhaps no wonder then that upon the outbreak of World War II, the German military began preparing for the large-scale production of tabun as a replacement for chlorine and mustard gas, chemical weapons synonymous with World War I. It was during this process that further research resulted in more potent, deadlier weapons being discovered. Thankfully, no nerve agents were ever used during WWII, as production plants were not fully operational before the collapse of Nazi Germany. But Schrader’s research birthed the G-series of nerve agents, which have continued to be used well into the modern day.
The agents in this series includes, in order of potency: tabun (GA), sarin (GB), soman (GD) and cyclosarin (GF).
Sarin is perhaps the most widely recognised agent from this class. Named after the scientists behind its discovery, Schrader, Ambros, Ritter & Van der Linde, it is the most volatile of the G-series, which makes dispersal as a gas easier.
G-series agents are also reported as being non-persistent. This is an expression of the duration of chemical effect, which impacts the ease and feasibility of decontamination methods. Common decontamination methods of sarin include simply washing exposed area with copious amounts of water to dilute the agent.
After WWII, pesticide research continued, and, ironically, more lethal nerve agents were again developed from attempts to synthesise an effective insecticide. It was here in the UK, at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), where amiton was created. This insecticide eventually had to be removed from sale due to its toxicity. However, this research was continued at Porton Down Chemical Weapons Research Centre, near Salisbury, where amiton was given a new name: VE.
Between 1952 and 1955, other V-series nerve agents were synthesised at Porton Down, most notably VX. Often cited as a colourless or amber-coloured liquid, the V-series agents have lower volatilities than other agents such as sarin. This low volatility means the primary method of dispersal is through skin contact since aerosol dispersion is difficult. What sets the V-series apart from their G-series brethren is their toxicity. VX is many times more toxic than sarin or tabun, with the lethal concentration being around 10-15 mg min m-3 for both skin contact and inhalation. Compare this to the lethal concentration of sarin, at 100 and 1700 mg min m-3 for inhalation and skin contact respectively, VX is clearly a deadly chemical.
The V-series are also persistent agents, due to their low volatility and reactivity. Bleach and alkali are effective means of decontaminating any exposed area, and often a mix of water and bleach is used.
The Novichok agents
The most recent example of nerve agent use, in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, has now been identified as belonging to the Novichok class of nerve agents.
The Novichok, or N-series, nerve agents are a secretive class of chemicals that, prior to leaks made in the 1990’s by Russian defectors, were unknown to the world. The spotlight has now been shone on these agents, but very little is still known. What is known is that they were developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970’s or 80’s, and various sources, including a compendium of chemical warfare agents, has estimated that the Novichok agents are around 10 times more lethal than VX.
When have nerve agents been used?
Thankfully, usage has been largely absent from warfare.
VX itself has itself been used on multiple occasions. In 1968, the accidental discharge of VX during military testing resulted in the death of over 3000 sheep in Dugway, Utah. But, VX has been implicated in two assassinations. The first was committed by members of the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult in 1994 to assassinate a former cult member in Osaka (this cult was also responsible for the Tokyo subway station sarin release in 1995 in which 13 people died). Until recently, this was the only confirmed human fatality attributed to VX. That changed following in 2017 with the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, alleged to have been caused by the smearing of VX across his face.
Turning to the darker side of history, sarin has unfortunately been used to inflict mass indiscriminate carnage. The oldest documented use was in March 1988 by Saddam Hussein; it is believed that he used sarin against Kurdish citizens in Halabja, leaving 5000 people dead. There have been two other documented uses of sarin, alongside other chemical weapons such as mustard and chlorine gases, during the Syrian civil war in 2013 and 2017.
Fortunately, due to the serious nature of these chemicals, their synthesis requires expertise, facilities, equipment and funding. It is therefore unlikely that individual terrorist organisations or rogue chemists would be capable of their synthesis without extensive assistance. Furthermore, the Chemical Weapons Convention, which came into effect in 1997, outlawed the stockpiling and production of nerve agents, including sarin or VX. Enacted by 192 countries, part of the treaty is the commitment to the disposal of agents. In November 2017, a pivotal goal was reached as it was announced over 96% of global chemical weapons have been destroyed.
There are few words that I can offer that adequately summarise nerve agents. They can kill or injure indiscriminately. Throughout my research, I was both amazed and terrified by the lethality and potency of what scientists have created over the years. Nerve agents are weapons of war, synonymous with lethality, suffering, pain and death, and are without a doubt amongst the worst of mankind’s self-made monsters.
- Anders Allgardsson et al., PNAS, 2016, 113, 5514-5519. (Link)
I wish to thank the following publications, all accessed on 14/03/2018 for the information that constitutes the bulk of this article, so I encourage the reader to visit the following articles.
- Scientific American: Nerve Agents What are they and how do they work
- Chemistry World: VX
- Chemistry World: What we know about Russia’s Novichok nerve agents
- University of Birmingham: Nerve gas – the dark side of warfare
- Medscape: CBRNE – Nerve Agents, V-series – VE, VG, VM, VX
- Medscape: CBRNE – Nerve Agents, G-series –Tabun, Sarin, Soman
- Compound Interest: Chemical Warfare & Nerve Agents – Part I: The G Series
- Compound Interest: Chemical Warfare & Nerve Agents – Part I: The V Series
Furthermore, facts were found and corroborated from the following websites.
Due to the constant stream of updated information, all data and facts published here are correct at the time of writing.
Launching the Technology for Health supplement in partnership with Chemistry World.Read More
The team at Notch Communications are pleased to announce that the first issue of our Chemistry World digital supplement, produced in collaboration with the Royal Society of Chemistry, is now live on the Chemistry World website.
The first issue focuses on Technology for Health, and showcases industry leaders discussing the latest advances in technology for healthcare applications. Topics discussed explore current and future trends, topics and innovations that affect the healthcare industry and patients, these include:
Drug serialisation and its associated challenges for the global pharmaceutical industry. Emerging biologic medications as therapies for various illnesses, highlighting recent advances in the field of oncology. An interview with Nobel laureate Robert Grubbs who devised a series of catalysts for metathesis reactions, which are instrumental to the synthesis of many pharmaceutical ingredients and materials. The rise of wearable and biosensor technology. Simplifying and shortening the process of drug development by implementing innovative catalytic and flow chemistry processes. How to solve drug administration issues such as solubility. And finally, the collaborative role pharmaceutical companies and academia play in drug development and therapeutic treatment innovation.
“The idea for this first digital supplement to Chemistry World was hatched over lunch in Washington DC between Adam Brownsell and myself,” Peter Brown, CEO of Notch Communications said. “To see it live today was one of my proudest moments. The teams at Notch and Chemistry World have excelled and delivered a world-class piece of work.” Pranika Sivakumar, Content Manager, said: “It has been an amazing experience to speak to so many inspiring individuals with a real passion for advancing health for future generations. There is incredible work being done every day by these scientists, so it’s is great to be able to partner with Chemistry World and share these exciting innovations with everyone. I am so thrilled with how the supplement has turned out and cannot wait to get started on the next issue!” Tori Blakeman, PR Account Manager & Writer, said: “This is a fantastic platform to showcase the best of our clients’ work in innovative healthcare technologies to a broad and high-quality scientific audience. This level of exposure is rare for science companies, and so we are proud to be able to collaborate with Chemistry World to produce genuinely interesting articles about our clients’ work for scientists and science enthusiasts to enjoy.” Helen Elmes, Junior Account Manager, said: “It’s been incredible seeing the team bring this project to life! All the interviewees had so many fascinating opinions and enthusiasm for their area of science, and you can really tell how much the Notch team has enjoyed taking those thoughts and turning them into articles. I personally loved researching some of the more abstract possibilities in the future of pharma and I’m excited to see what we uncover in the next issue” Leo Bear-McGuinness, Science Writer and author of the Pharma and academia: a recipe for success article, said, “Getting to talk to our clients and hear the enthusiasm they have for their work is the second best aspect of being a Science Writer at Notch. Getting to publish that enthusiasm is first. Now, thanks to our collaboration with Chemistry World, some of the most exciting innovations in healthcare science are no longer just industry projects, they’re conversation starters.” Joe Clarke, Science Writer and author of the Platinum metal complexes in medicine article, said: “It was a real privilege to talk to scientists about the great work they and their colleagues are doing every day. I would say the highlight was interviewing Nobel Prize laureate Robert Grubbs about the metathesis reaction. But science brings with it an aura of excitement; everyone I interviewed was so excited about their job and passionate about making a difference in their field. Writing these articles has been a genuinely enjoyable experience and I can’t wait to start the process again for the next issue!”
Technology for Health is the first of four quarterly digital supplements Notch Communication will produce for Chemistry World in partnership with the RSC. Subsequent issues will focus on different topics related to chemistry. The next issue, due for release in June 2018, focuses on Green Chemistry and Sustainability.
If you would like to be involved in issue 2, please get in touch with Lauren Martin.
What is Science?Read More
No, this is not a rhetorical question nor is it an extension of the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon incessantly asks Penny the age-old question “What is physics?” With the rise of fake news, and scientific inaccuracies, it is prudent to return to our basic understanding of science. Therefore, I ask you, the reader, again: what is science?
For such a seemingly simple question, the answer is not so obvious. The challenge in defining science is the need to summarise its major concepts while also addressing the inherent limitations. Science is a process, the means to achieve a greater understanding on the world’s surroundings. How is it that this can be defined in a sentence?
In 2009, the Science Council saw fit to spend a year coining a definition of science. In a world where pseudoscience, popularised by practices such as homeopathy, mingles with genuine science, a new definitive definition was needed. In response the Science Council proposed the following definition:
“Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.”
Beautiful. This definition truly is a marvellous choice of phrasing. It envelops three of the most important fundamental aspects of science all into one sentence.
“… systematic methodology based on evidence.”
Starting first with the definition’s finale. Once again, the phrasing is vital as systematic methodology addresses several ideological positions of science.
Science is built off hypotheses, which is an idea that offers an explanation to an observed effect. Hypotheses seek to answer an underlying effect, and as such, they lead us to define different theories. Any idea or suggestion can be considered a hypothesis. So long as the result is fundamentally driven by observation and data, leading to acceptance or refutation, it can be considered valid.
What separates scientific hypotheses from others is the ability to apply experimentation that will either support or refute the proposed hypothesis. A scientific hypothesis can never be proven, instead it is considered yet to be refuted. The ability to test a given hypothesis is fundamental to the scientific method. Any hypothesis must be subject to quantitative methodology that assembles data to help deliver an informed result.
An example of a scientific hypothesis would be:
The mass of a popcorn kernel is proportional to the mass of a popcorn flake.
Now this hypothesis is valid since mass is a measurable quantity. This bring us to the based on evidence component of the definition. Science is a journey driven by evidence. Any hypothesis is accepted or refuted based on data obtained from testing. If after taking a series of measurements of mass I found there was no correlation between the masses of kernels and flakes, I would refute my hypothesis. The process then begins anew, constructing an alternative hypothesis for experimentation.
Testing and experimentation are platforms science is built on. But we must also delve deeper into the word methodology. Methodology means that the process of hypothesis, testing, data collection, analysis and communication, is all performed methodically. This manner is essential as it enables the possibility of repetition and criticism. Incidentally, there are numerous examples of scientific research that has been retracted due to flawed or falsified data, uncovered through other researchers attempting to reproduce results.
“… natural and social world …”
We must always consider the environment under investigation. While it is perhaps obvious that we should only consider the real world, the limits need to be expressed in any definition to exclude unjustly extending to the realm of the supernatural and science-fiction. By phrasing the parameters as the natural and social world, genuine scientific research is then confined to this realm of reality.
“Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding …”
I summarise by returning to the beginning. Science is a journey. It is built on the principles of experimentation, testing and reproducibility. Its path is forged through testable evidence with the overarching goal to address the world’s greatest challenges. From understanding our complex internal biological processes to the composition and lifespan of stars and planets, science presents the ability to answer life’s biggest mysteries. It can be applied to any scale, from the infinitesimally small to the magnitude of the cosmos. The scientific process is a wonderful, circular, repeatable process that is ever changing with the advent of new technology and our improved understanding. The iterative nature of scientific research, which in some cases can be lifetimes in the making, makes for an engaging, fascinating journey.
What do you think about the definition of science? Let me know at @JoeAtNotch
Notch wins new four-year contract with the Centre for Process InnovationRead More
Notch Communications is pleased to announce that we have secured a 4-year marketing and communications contract with one of our existing clients, the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), the process element of the UK Government’s elite network of High Value Manufacturing Catapult centres.
CPI collaborates with universities, small-medium enterprises (SMEs) as well as larger corporations to overcome process and innovation challenges associated with progressing small scale scientific research to a commercial process.
The centre consists of four national innovation centres supporting printable electronics, biologics, formulation, and industrial biotechnology and biorefining. By providing a unique range of R&D expertise, facilities and manufacturing process knowledge, CPI has achieved recognition as an important industrial collaborator.
We are very proud to be continuing and expanding our work with CPI. By working with us, we aim to make CPI a household name as well as consolidating CPI’s place as the go-to destination for chemical, biological or process innovation.
Notch Communications is providing CPI with a custom communications plan that combines social media posts, press releases, case studies, articles and blogs, all aimed at promoting the impressive work being performed in their facilities in the North East of England. We talk directly with the enthusiastic scientists working at CPI and tailor our content to the appropriate audience: be it writing highly technical documents for publications targeted at other scientists, or informing the general public about an exciting new invention or process.
Matthew Herbert, Marketing and Communications Manager at CPI, said:
“Process development and scientific R&D has never been so important. It is integral to both the scientific community and maintaining Britain’s place at the forefront of scientific innovation. The work performed at CPI and its partners deserve international recognition for the revolutionary, innovative science it helps deliver.”
“By working with Notch Communications we are able to promote our work in ways we had never been able to achieve before. It has been a pleasure to work closely with the Notch team over the past months and I look forward to continuing to evolve our relationship over the next few years.”
“As I like to say – Notch helps us to get things done! The reliability and flexibility of the team is really making a difference to the marketing of CPI in the UK and beyond.”
We are excited to continue our already fruitful relationship with CPI and we look forward to working closely together on many exciting upcoming projects.
Tick Tock goes the Doomsday ClockRead More
Tick tock, tick tock. It is a sound that we have all heard at some point in our life. Be it from a grandfather clock that breaks the silence in a creepy horror film; or signifying an impending deadline; the sound is uniquely associated with one thing. Time.
Perhaps most morbidly epitomised by the villainous Jordan Chase from the TV series Dexter:
“Tick tick tick, that’s the sound of your life running out.”
A morbid metaphor if there ever was one. But this metaphorical expression of time ticking away can be applied to both an individual, or in a sense, the global populous. The latter of which has been immortalised by a special clock that does not obey the rules of time. I am referring of course to the Doomsday Clock.
What is it?
The Doomsday Clock, is exactly what you would expect: it monitors the proximity of the human race to doomsday (cue panicked screaming). Conceived back in 1947, midnight is the theoretical line whereby the human race will reach total annihilation, either by our own hand and nuclear apocalypse or by catastrophes inadvertently caused by our collective actions.
If this all sounds scary, well that is the general point. The Doomsday Clock was conceived as a metaphorical statement designed to stir the public into action. Time on this clock is reset depending on various worldwide events including emerging trends, political upheaval and threatening rhetoric.
The Turners of Time
Is it reassuringly unnerving that this decision is not taken lightly? But, who is in charge of moving the dial?
Originally there was one time-turner, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists editor Eugene Rabinowitch. But following his death in 1973, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board was established to reset the time accordingly. Consisting of scientists and other experts, they bring a deep knowledge of topics such as nuclear technology and climate science to name just the two major issues facing the human race.
There are several scientific impacts that assist scientists in the possible advancement of the Doomsday Clock. The primary topic is climate change, specifically, monitoring global quantities such as sea-level rises, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and differences in temperature. But, as new global threats emerge, the expertise must evolve too. One such example is the rise in antimicrobial resistance and the rising potential of diseases such as Zika and Ebola. All of these factors are considered alongside the political and military issues considered before the Doomsday Clock is set.
Advancing the Clock
Thursday 25th of January 2018 brought with it titles from news organisations, such as the BBC, that the Doomsday Clock has moved forward, closer to midnight. Advancing from two and a half minutes to midnight to just two minutes to midnight, which signifies the closest the clock has ever been to midnight. This milestone has been reached before, in 1953. During that time the world was in the midst of the Cold War with the US and Soviet Union nuclear superpowers vying for power.
Advancing 30 seconds might seem an insignificant amount of time on an ordinary clock. I mean if you have reached this far down it is likely that minutes have already passed. But, as this clock is counting down time to annihilation, every second counts. 2018 marks the second consecutive year that the clock has advanced.
“The failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity’s future”
The threat of two nuclear superpowers still exists today, the major difference being the colour of their respective flags. But this advance has been cited on other emerging trends related to disinformation and the spreading misuse of information technology.
Turn Back the Clock
Doom and gloom aside, hope is not lost. Time is advanced easily, but it can also be reversed. For instance, one of the largest jumps came in 1991 when, following the end of the Cold War and period of stability in Eastern Europe, the clock reverted by 11 minutes within 3 years to read 17 minutes to midnight, coincidentally the furthest away from doomsday humanity has achieved.
There is still time to turn back the clock. It is in fact considered as a call to action, as said by President and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dr Rachel Bronson:
“It is urgent that, collectively, we put in the work necessary to produce a 2019 Clock statement that rewinds the Doomsday Clock. Get engaged, get involved, and help create that future. The time is now.”
What do you think about the doomsday clock advance? Let me know on Twitter @JoeAtNotch.
A Notch Guide to ManchesterRead More
The new year brings with it new beginnings. For some this involves a new job, and at Notch Communications we are no exception. This month we welcome two new members of staff who have both joined as scientific writers: Joseph Clarke and Leo Bear-McGuinness.
But moving to a different city can be a daunting task, particularly for someone unfamiliar with a large metropolis. Where is the best place to grab a bite to eat or a drink? Where are some of the best places to escape the hustle and bustle of the city?
Fret not new employees to the city of Manchester, Notch Communications have you covered. Our team have assembled a helpful booklet featuring their favourite restaurants, bars, shops and those hidden gems they have discovered from their time in Manchester.
Joseph Clarke is a Science Writer at Notch. Follow him on Twitter @JoeAtNotch
Leo Bear-McGuinness is a Science Writer at Notch. Follow him on Twitter @LeoMcBear