Periodic Table projections light up Chemistry Week at Trinity

Posted on: 21 November 2019

Trinity is lighting up in support of Chemistry Week (18-24 Nov) to illuminate an important issue with relevance to what is the International Year of the Periodic Table.

The eye-catching display will see the Periodic Table come alive across the campus as Trinity joins 11 leading universities across the UK to highlight the serious threat posed 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.

Abandoned electronics lying forgotten at the back of drawers harbour precious elements that are at risk of running out.

Now, chemistry and chemical scientists 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.

Professor Sylvia Draper, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Maths and Science at Trinity, said:

The RSC’s elements in danger IYPT projection is a really exciting initiative and Trinity is delighted to be involved. It highlights an issue that effects how we educate the next generation of science and engineering graduates. These are the people who will enable societies world-wide to live and work on this planet in sustainable ways.

For many, the Periodic Table was something they left behind in the school classroom. The reality, however, is very different. It lists the 118 elements known and from which all matter is made. Each element has its own unique properties, and its own selection of practical uses. If you use up the natural supply of an element you lose its applications and it is lost to society.

At a time when human populations are increasing and we are faced with a deepening climate crisis we simply can’t afford to lose elements that may hold the solution to a number of environmental and societal issues.

As Black Friday deals and the festive season approach, 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 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.

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