December 8, 2021

2021 European Researchers’ Night @BME Chemistry Department

Blowing CO2 away

by Renata Sechi (ESR5@BME)

This post talks about my experience at the European Researchers’ Night (ERN). The ERN is an annual event, this year it was on the 24th September, in which the European researchers present in different was their work, or science in general. In my case, it was a game!

The game consists in a 3D energy-landscape of a CO2 -reduction reaction, built on a table. Each player pushes a little ball from one side to the other of the table by blowing into a strow.

The starting point of the game is a small valley (local minimum, molecule of CO2) in which we place a table-tennis ball; the end point the player has to reach is another small valley (per example, methanol). There are many ways to arrive at the end point, but some of them require blowing the tennis ball uphill a very high mountain, others lead the player to a very big a low valley (global minimum of the built energy surface) and the game becomes very hard. Instead, following a certain path make the game much easier and faster. This specific path represents one using a catalyst, what helps the CO2 molecule to react.

Everyone agreed that the pathway with a catalyst was the easiest one to go through to finish the game.

The idea was to let people experience why it is difficult to transform CO2 and why we need catalysts. I must admit, sometimes all these concepts of physics and chemistry are a bit too abstract, or they sound very boring, depending on the sympathy of your science teacher in school.

However, I think that Catchy and my research project are very interesting! So, I wanted to find a way to let everyone know what the Catchy ETN studies, without starting to write any equations on a whiteboard.

I was extremely happy because children, students and adults came to play at the CH-building of BME, in Budapest.  And, while playing, we had the possibility to talk to them and ask what they learnt, they thought were the best strategies to finish the game and why, what did they learned etc. And, of course, if they had fun!

The best player was a child, who completed the game in a few turns. After we found out he was a flautist. Not too bad for us, normal players.

This amazing experience was possible only thank to a FETI-BME team. The energy landscape was built in the labs at FETI. I would like to thank all my colleagues, in particular Márk and Laci. The BME university helped in advertising the game online, and three fantastic PhD students from the George-Olah doctoral School, Evelyn, Barbara (Catchy ESR 6) and Balazs were presenting with me at the table.  Nothing would have been possible without the guidance of my supervisor, Professor Tibor Höltzl and of Professor Lászlo Nyulaszi.

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