This year’s General Assembly of the Erasmus Mundus Association took place in Vienna, Austria, from 23-25 February. Our programme was represented by Nikola Obradović, EACH Programme Represantative (PR) within EMA. As always, the General Assembly brought together students from all around the world – both the current students of Erasmus Mundus Joint Master and Doctorate programmes and the alumni. Currently, around 9000 students are part of EMA!

One of the main activities of this year’s GA was the establishment of EMA as a non-government organization, with its seat in Brussels. After putting many months of hard work into establishing the legal basis of EMA as an NGO, the Steering Committee of EMA, together with its active members has had the opportunity to vote on the matters regarding the organization’s Statute and Internal Regulations.

In addition, there were many invited speakers from different organizations, both European and worldwide, who gave talks on subjects of youth, education, sustainable development goals and many more.

Apart from the legalities and “lectures”, the GA was a great opportunity for networking and cultural exchange. Even though it seemed to have passed in a fleeting second, the time was well enough for new friendships to be formed and innovative ideas to be born. One could say the whole event was one continuous brainstorming experience, filled with lots of talks on mutual projects between different programmes, countries… Of course, nothing can complement social events better than cultural food tables and gala dinners followed by traditional dances.

Are you a student or an alumnus/alumna of an Erasmus Mundus programme? Don’t hesitate – become a part of the big EMA family!

(Text: Nikola Obradović; Photo: EMA)

 

During 24-26.02.2019 the Suprachem 2019 conference took place at University of Würzburg (Germany). The UT Analytical chemistry chair was represented by two posters: Optimization of the reaction pathway for the synthesis of substituted 1,3-bis(carbazolyl)urea anion receptors by Alo Rüütel and Mihkel Ilisson and From receptor-anion binding ladder to ion-selective electrode by Kerli Martin, Sandip A. Kadam, Ulriika Mattinen, Johan Bobacka and Ivo Leito.

The presentation from Alo and Mihkel focused on optimization of the synthesis route of anion receptors (ionophores) based on the 1,3-bis(carbazolyl)urea building block, augmented with additional amide functionalities (see the poster). The developed synthesis route is very valuable for the synthesis of a wide variety of analogous receptors (ionophores) that have previously been demonstrated to bind carboxylates with high affinity (see K. Martin et al, Eur. J. Org. chem. 2017, 5231-5237).

Kerli Martin et al present the first practical application of such receptors: a solid-contact acetate-selective electrodes. For acetate anion the electrodes show linearity over the activity range of 10-4.50 – 10-1.10 with a sub-Nernstian slope of -51.3 mV per decade and a detection limit of 10-5.00. The anion-selectivity pattern of these electrodes deviates markedly from the pattern found in DMSO solution and from the Hofmeister pattern. The selectivity coefficients of SCN, I, NO3 and Br decrease by 3-5 orders of magnitude when adding the studied ionophore to the membrane. The selectivity coefficients of hydrophilic anions such as Cl, F, HPO42–, and SO42– are significantly lower than in case of the ionophore-free control membrane. All in all, it is clear that a lot of work is still needed for improving the selectivity of the electrode.
This work has been accepted for publication: K. Martin et al Electroanalysis 2019 (the link will work soon).

The combined contributions from our group stood out from the majority (the conference altogether had 27 oral and 111 poster presentations) by a clear line of development from fundamental research (receptor design) to highly practical application (ion-selective electrode).

(Photos: above left: Mihkel Ilisson explaining his work to Dr Diane Smith from Wiley; right: Poster by Kerli Martin et al)

 

A stack of papers to be read, two coffee mugs; one which reminds me of my time at Åbo, a lonely apple, a to-do list, and a pair of headphones sit on my cluttered desk. My eyes occasionally wander towards the misty view out of the 7th floor window, on a chilly December afternoon, and yet not a single mountain in sight as far as the eyes can gaze reminding me that I’m now in Wageningen – a small Dutch town – as you may have guessed from the lack of mountains. (Im)patiently sitting in the office until my supervisor reads my research proposal, it is tough not to walk down the memory lane.

Although only a few moons have passed since I arrived in The Netherlands, that spectacular journey took me halfway across the globe, from a small tropical island in South Asia, across the Atlantic to North America, and finally few hops and jumps within Europe. It would take pages after pages to pen and reminisce on the delightful things that had taken place, and the amazing souls that I’ve had the privilege of being in company with, in these mere seven odd years.

Towards the tail end of the summer of 2017, I was on a direct flight, with a mild hangover, from sunny and warm Mediterranean to far up North, where the temperature reaches so far below zero that polar bears are occasionally seen sharing saunas with people and where the sun is so elusive for half the year that the government has to put up a hologram of the sun once in a while. I may be exaggerating just a little bit. Finland, the land of a thousand lakes, I’m finally at my destination. A breath of fresh air greets me as I walk out of the airport. As numerous thoughts flood through my mind, including why on earth am I not wearing any warm clothes (because I left all of them in Estonia, duh!), I hear a familiar and friendly voice. Who could this be? Not even five minutes in a country that I’ve never been before. The voice pulls me back to reality from my la la land.

“Oh, hello!” I hear. As I turn around I see Johan, one of my future supervisors smiling at me. He’s just getting back from China. We exchange some pleasantries, and he boards an earlier bus headed to Åbo as I wait for mine to arrive. Åbo is to be my home for at least the coming year. Still a little skeptical about my choice of the 2nd year study track (electrochemistry, what was I thinking?), I too get on my bus. As we reach Åbo, the scenery outside paints a familiar picture. Just as The Emajõgi flows through Tartu, the river Aura graces Åbo. The familiarity puts my mind at a relative ease.

It did not take long for my colleagues and I to get well acquainted with Åbo. Whatever doubts we may have had vanished as soon as we started our work. Everyone in the lab and the analytical chemistry department were extremely helpful and would not hesitate to offer a helping hand whenever needed. The study program at Åbo is broken down to chewable pieces so that a complex field of study can be digested.

 

Sense of autonomy and flexibility are the best qualities we enjoyed during our time at Åbo. There was no one to look over our shoulders. Yet the help was available literally next door, if needed, despite how busy our supervisors were. We had several classes scattered throughout the year to lay a strong theoretical foundation, nevertheless, the majority of our time was focused on hands-on innovative research. Individual projects were assigned to each one of us, which provided us with a thorough practical grasp on electrochemistry. Thus, we were able to transition into our master thesis topics with ease.

It wasn’t just academics that made the stay in Åbo interesting. Much needed laughter and inside jokes with my officemates Jaypee and Slim, made the lab work more pleasant, which would otherwise be mundane sometimes. Random coffee breaks at 3 in the afternoon with wonderful company were a welcome addition. There were numerous celebrations, reasons for which escapes my mind at the moment, but there was definitely cake and chocolate involved. We were also very fortunate to be there when both Finland and Åbo turned a century. Needless to say, it was spectacular.

In Åbo, and in Finland in general, there was warmth and friendship to be found in every corner even during the darkest and the coldest time of the year. Plentiful days and nights have been spent with friends, whether it’s a hiking trip, a bbq, a sauna night, a pub crawl, or a board game night, the context didn’t matter. The company made all the difference. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of dancing northern lights, just outside of your apartment.

 

 

There were definitely times when I stared hopelessly at a blank document or a confusing paper or bewildering lab results, where the questions from my colleagues were met with simple grunts or incomprehensible gibberish. Now that I started my PhD, I have come to understand that this is much more common behavior in academia. Nevertheless, in the coming years, I would undeniably look back fondly at the time I spent in both Åbo and Tartu. I consider myself to be fortunate and privileged to be a part of the EACH family, not simply because of the amazing program that has evidently become a cornerstone of my career, but most importantly because of the lifelong friendships that were founded within these two years. I would not or could not have guessed that the past two years would be so monumental in my life.

But now, disrupting my train of thoughts, a reminder pops up on my screen saying I need to be at a meeting in 15 minutes. The mist outside my window is also clearing off. I need to be elsewhere soon but the memories of EACH will always be delightful and heartwarming.

 

LCMS Method Validation online course offered by UTOn Feb 15, 2019 the on-line course (MOOC) LC-MS Method Validation finished successfully!
Altogether 426 (424 in 2018, 303 in 2017) people were registered from 70 countries (71 in 2018, 61 in 2017) countries. 227 (236 in 2018, 224 in 2017) participants actually started the course (i.e. tried at least one graded test at least once) and out of them 125 (159 in 2018, 168 in 2017) successfully completed the course. The overall completion rate was 29% (37% in 2018, 55% in 2017). The completion rate of participants who actually started the studies was 55% (67% in 2018, 75% in 2017). As can be seen, almost all these statistics have been getting worse year after year. We are working n analysing the situation. On the positive side it can be said that the completion rates more than 0% of those who started can be considered very good by any measure. Thus we probably can be reasonably happy with the completion rate that we have this time.

As has been the usual case with our online courses, the questions from the participants were often very interesting, often addressed things that are really important to analysts in their everyday work. Such discussions made teaching this course a great experience also for us, the teachers!

We want to thank all participants for helping to make this course a success!

We plan to repeat this course again in Autumn 2019.

 

 

The 2019 edition of the web course (MOOC) Estimation of Measurement Uncertainty in Chemical Analysis will be running during Mar 26 – May 7, 2019. Registration is open!

The full course material (as well as the registration link) is accessible from the web page https://sisu.ut.ee/measurement/uncertainty. The course materials include videos, schemes, calculation files and numerous self-tests (among them also full-fledged measurement uncertainty calculation exercises). In order to pass the course, the registered participants have to take six graded tests and get higher than 50% score in every graded test. These tests are available to registered participants via the Moodle e-learning platform. Participants who successfully pass the course will get a certificate from University of Tartu. A digital certificate of completion is free of charge. A certificate of completion on paper can be requested for a fee of 60 euros.

You are welcome to distribute this message to potentially interested people!

In the morning of the fourth Winter school day (24.01.19) Dr. Franck Baco-Antoniali from EACH associated partner Axel’One gave an overview of the specifics of industrial analysis and process control and its differences from the traditional chemical analysis. In some cases the differences are dramatic.

The next session was dedicated to presentations from student teams on their glucose measurement projects. Students measured glucose with three different systems – two commercial blood glucometers and an amperometric system built on site. The results of glucose measurements in blood agreed very well between the two commercial meters.
Typical results were 5.4 vs 5.3 mM; 6.1 vs 5.8 mM; 5.4 vs 5.6 mM; 5.6 vs 5.0 mM, etc. All these values are very realistic for a healthy organism. The results of the self-made meter gave dramatically – by 2-4 times – underestimated results. The reason is quite clear: the commercial meters are calibrated specifically for blood, taking into account all matrix effects. At the same time, the self-made meter was calibrated with simple solution of glucose. So, it was a very good demonstration of the importance of matrix match when calibrating.

We thank all participants for the enjoyable winter school experience!

The next EACH Winter school will take place in Estonia.

(Photos: top left: Franck Baco-Antoniali showing his collaboration partners in industry; right and bottom: student teams presenting their results)

 

In the morning of the third Winter school day came the information long awaited by the students – their assigned study tracks of the second year. It took quite some discussions both among the consortium committee members and with students to ensure that all students will be assigned to the study tracks that are the most suitable for them. We hope that we succeeded!

The study track announcement was followed by taking the group photo – near and on a large pile of snow near the venue. Snow is always an exciting material for some of the EACH students, because every year there are some who have never physically experienced snow before coming to the EACH programme.

The evening was dedicated to recreational activities: skating and bowling.

Photo top left: group photo; photo right (by Johan): Good shot! From the bowling on Wed evening; Photo bottom left (by Allen): Skating!

 

The second day of the EACH Winter school was full of excitement: student teams performed measurements of glucose with amperometric sensors. This is a highly important measurement for diagnosing and monitoring diabetes, as enhanced blood glucose level is the key symptom of diabetes and glucose meters are possibly the most widespread amperometric sensors available.

The main measurement technology is biosensing, using either glucose oxidase or glucose dehydrogenase that is applied to the electrode system, along with auxiliary compounds. In simplified manner the operation can be viewed as: glucose oxidation by some auxiliary compound is catalysed by the enzyme, the amount of the reduced form of the auxiliary compound is then measured amperometrically and recalculated into glucose amount.

Student teams made measurements and compared results from three different instruments: two commercial (containing different enzymes) and one that has been built by the sensors group of the Åbo Akademi. The results of the measurements and comparison between instruments will be summarized at a presentation session on the last day of the Winter school.

A very pleasant feature of the practical session was that among teachers were EACH graduates Jay Pee Oña and Kenneth Arandia. Many thanks to you for joining us!

Photos: top left: Jay Pee Oña (right) showing glucose measurements; right: Ville Yrjänä explaining glucose measurements; bottom left: students discussing with Ville Yrjänä (right) and Kenneth Arandia (left)

 

On Jan 21, 2019, the fourth Winter School of the EACH programme started in Åbo/Turku (Finland). Altogether 37 students from more than 20 countries participate.

The Winter School offers a diverse set of activities to the participants. There are lectures on advanced analytical chemistry topics (metabolomics, non-targete screening in environmental chemistry, industrial analysis and process control, etc) by top experts, group works and entertainment. The intense working is counterbalanced by social activities – swimmming pool, skating, etc.

Traditionally an important activity in the Winter school is selecting first year students to study tracks. In order to give one more piece of information what the study tracks are about, there was a session of presentations on the first day by second year students on their master thesis topics (see photos). Another exciting session planned in the Winter school is related to using electrochemical sensors in real life: hands-on session on using amperometric glucose sensors.Full information about the Winter School activities is available at the EACH Winter School web page.

Photos: Uppsala (top left), Lyon (right) and Åbo (bottom left) students presenting about their life and studies.

The students from the second intake of the EACH programme successfully defended their theses over the summer of 2018 (Please see here: defence at UUdefence at AAU, and  defence at UCBL). We have carried out a small survey and found that out of the 17 fresh graduates, 15 already have by now found a new position!

Some of the graduates work in the professional/industrial field. The positions obtained range from a Senior Process Engineer in a Multinational company to chemists in a pharmaceutical companies, and a chemist at National Food Agency of Sweden to research assistant at a university. A number of graduates are continuing their academic career by pursuing a doctoral degree. The universities that our graduates have managed to obtain Ph.D. positions range from Canada to Finland.

Here is what some of the fresh graduates of the EACH programme say about their experience with the programme:

Alisija Prakapaite (UU study-track), currently working as an analytical scientist at AstraZeneca, a bio-pharmaceutical company in Sweden: I was that lucky person, who got accepted to EACH program in 2016. And by saying lucky – I mean it. EACH was not only a kick off point in my career, but it was a life changing experience.
The first year at Tartu gave me very good basics of analytical chemistry, uncertainty (Measurement uncertainty online course is an absolute must!) and chemometrics. During my second year at Uppsala University we had only one course at the time. But we were going deeply into theory and then putting our knowledge into the practice in our daily lab work with different instruments. It was a lot of work, but on the other hand – a lot of experience. So don’t get scared! This work pays off afterwards with all the acquired knowledge.
After this program, I can certainly say that I am confident in myself, as an analytical chemist, and in my skills. Now I am working in Gothenburg, Sweden, at AstraZeneca as an Analytical Scientist. Due to my experience from these studies, I could easily join the ongoing work.

Jay Pee Oña (AAU study-track), Ph.D. student at AAU, Finland: The EACH program has definitely provided a valuable boost to my academic career. The Tartu-Åbo study-track has introduced me to the world of electrochemistry, a field that has regained interest in recent years due to the development of fuel cells and point-of-care diagnostics, among many others. Right after graduation, I started my doctoral studies at Åbo Akademi University. The main topic of my research is biomass conversion for fuel and chemical production, where a significant part will involve electrocatalysis and online analysis of reaction products. Therefore, much of the skills and knowledge that I have obtained from the EACH program can be applied in my current work.
Aside from the technical expertise, EACH provides numerous opportunities to improve one’s soft skills, such as adaptability and teamwork, which are very important in a multicultural working environment.

Kalliroi Sdougkou (UU study-track), Ph.D. of Stockholm University, Sweden: The EACH programme was an overall amazing experience for me. I spent two wonderful years at two great universities, I travelled and made friends from all over the world. The programme is very well organized and it gives you all you need to enter the job-market. When I finished my master’s degree in Uppsala, I was glad to find myself capable of applying to quite a lot of positions for analytical chemists in Sweden. In the end I decided to pursue third cycle studies, something that I would probably not be prepared and confident to do without the EACH programme.

 

Marko Bertic, Ph.D student at Helmholtz Zentrum München, Germany:
Immediately after arriving in France, I realized that all the classes I took in Tartu would be used in one way or another. In France all the lectures are OBLIGATORY and there were no midterm exams in general. Because of this, all the final exams were squeezed in one week (that’s right, approximately 1-2 exams per day). Second semester gave me a great opportunity to do a 6 months internship in French company in industry. For me this was the best part of choosing France as a second-year country. Furthermore, we were paid for this period (another positive of this study-track). Working in the company was again a challenge since not all the people there spoke English, so our French skills came to the fore one more time. This period of about 1 year made us integrate into the French society and I can say for sure we are all at least 20 % French now.
This programme opened many doors for me. I applied for couple of Ph.D. positions and in each interview first thing they asked me was to explain in detail what my master’s programme is about. It was very interesting and made me a very attractive choice.

 

Please, also see the blog post from Snežana about her time in the EACH programme.

 

We wish all the best to our graduates!