February mainly involved writing up results, some (relatively frantic) organic synthesis and helping final year project students Esther and Matt complete their experiments. The good news is that by the end of the month I’d finally found a decent route to produce alkyl-pyrene molecules, via several classic synthetic steps (e.g. Jones oxidation, Friedel-Crafts acylation, Clemmensen reduction). One result of this is that now got a bottle of hexavalent chromium (I’m not going to dispose of in the sink) in sulfuric acid at the back of my fume hood. Don’t touch!
March quickly became busy. First on the menu was a 2-day SANS experiment on the LOQ beamline at ISIS. The experiment looked at the structure of oil-in-water microemulsions – dispersions of nanometre-sized of droplets of oil in water, stabilised by a surfactant. In this case, the oil phase was a liquid alkyl-pyrene. We were looking for changes in the SANS with increasing oil content, as the droplets would be expected to become bigger (simply because there is more oil, but everything else stays the same), which is what we observed. Cue lots of tiny sample bottles containing solutions with slightly different compositions (and pipettes lined up in the “Mutch” style – see photo). Write-up (and with it, more info) to come over the summer. Thanks go to local contact Sarah Rogers, plus Zoe and Ashleigh from the Schnepp group in Birmingham for all of their help.
To complete a fairly SANS-focussed month, I attended the Studying Kinetics with Neutrons conference at the Institut Laue Langevin (Grenoble, France). I presented work we’d carried out a couple of years ago (actually, the last time I’d been at the ILL), looking at the formation mechanism of mesoporous silica nanoparticles, alongside some of my more recent results. The conference was enjoyable, with attendees having a relatively broad range of backgrounds but a shared common interest (we all love neutrons). I particularly enjoyed meeting and chatting with other younger scientists, including rheology specialist Simon Rogers and neutron reflectivity guru Andrew Nelson. The frogs’ legs on the conference dinner menu went down even better in good company! Big thanks to the organisers for inviting me to attend this event.