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Periodic Table comes to life for Chemistry Week

19th November 2019

Northumbria University is lighting up its City Campus Library to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Periodic Table.

A short, animated film is being laser projected onto the side of the library during Chemistry Week (18-24 Nov) which this year has the theme of Showcasing the Periodic Table to celebrate its discovery 150 years ago.

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) commissioned the film to mark 2019 which is the International Year of the Periodic Table as Northumbria joins 11 leading UK universities to highlight a serious issue – the threat to a growing number of elements through a lack of recycling old tech devices.

Research carried out by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), in a recent Ipsos MORI survey, found that 51% of UK households have at least one unused electronic device – such as mobile phones, computers, smart TVs, MP3 players or e-readers – and 45% have up to five. Of these, 82% have no plans to recycle or sell on their devices after they fall out of use.

However, these abandoned electronics lying forgotten at the back of drawers, harbour precious elements that are at risk of running out.

Now, chemistry and chemical scientists from universities across the country have a crucial role to play in identifying new solutions, both in finding alternatives to these rare elements where possible, and in finding new, more effective ways to extract elements from used devices and recycle them.

Dr Graeme Turnbull, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry in the Department of Applied Sciences at Northumbria University, organised the projection with the RSC at City Campus Library.

He said: “Our researchers are looking at how to make the elements work harder. One group, led by Professor Justin Perry, is part of a consortium of UK universities creating materials which are self-healing so that cuts and abrasions repair themselves autonomously and extend the life of the object.

“In contrast, Dr Matt Unthank’s group is looking at ways to reuse waste plastics, which are currently discarded, to create new high-quality plastics that can be direct replacements for petrochemically-sourced materials.”

As Black Friday deals and the festive season approaches, the sales of new tech devices are expected to spike, prompting the Royal Society of Chemistry to encourage people to reuse their old devices, recycle them or donate them to recycling charities.

Robert Parker, CEO of the Royal Society of Chemistry said: “This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Mendeleev Periodic Table of Elements. Now, over a century and a half later, many of the elements discovered are in critical danger of running out.

“We’re really pleased to have the support of some the UK and Ireland’s leading institutions in bringing the importance of the message to life – literally highlighting the responsibility we have in ensuring our old devices are properly recycled.

“In the future, they could be needed for other technologies that we haven’t even discovered yet – for health, green energy, treating pollution and more.”

The RSC hopes the drive will highlight the urgent need for a Right to Recycle bill to be introduced for tech waste, making it quick and easy to dispose of unused devices.

For more information on the Saving Precious Elements campaign please visit the RSC website here.

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