Creating windows of opportunity

A company’s employees are its greatest asset. They are what push the company forward, driving its growth and development. So it only makes sense that organisations should also drive the growth of its workers. Enabling employees to be successful makes the company more successful.

This is more than just ensuring that the quality of work remains strong: it’s about letting people know that their futures are something employers are invested in.

Throughout March, our employees have been sharing their experiences and promoting opportunities within LGC that they have found helpful.

The apprentice

LGC apprentices met with Sir John Holman, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, at the beginning of March, gave him a tour of their labs, and spoke with the BBC about what their apprenticeship means to them.

LGC apprentices Jennifer Meacock and Renato Junior met with Prof Sir John Holman. © Royal Society of Chemistry/Richard Stonehouse

“I love it. I know some people go into work and dread it but I never have that feeling, I’m always enjoying it when I’m here,” said Jenny Meacock. “They don’t treat you like you know less than anyone else; you’re instantly treated as an equal.”

National Apprenticeship Week (5-9 March) brought attention to the fact that while more options are becoming available, less than one percent of all apprenticeships are in science, meaning there’s a gap that science organisations need to address.  And this is something that Chief Scientific Officer & Government Chemist Derek Craston understands.

Government Chemist Derek Craston (centre) with Richard Holliday (left) and Danny Ho (right). © Royal Society of Chemistry/Richard Stonehouse

“It’s an important way into science – skills are really important for organisations like ours,” explained Derek. “We do complex things that need good technical knowledge and good practical knowledge. The conventional route of just going through school and going onto university, works for some people, but it doesn’t work for all.”

In a previous blog post, apprentice Krzysztof Pilec shared how the apprenticeship scheme has worked for him, saying, “Overall I don’t think it is possible to be any happier with the choice of signing up for this apprenticeship. It has been an enjoyable, fun and incredibly educational time for me at this company as an apprentice.”

Leadership

LGC employees at our Alexandria, Minnesota and Madison, Wisconsin sites teamed up for training and workshops on 14-16 March in Alexandria.  One of many sessions to be executed across LGC, the training aims to create a culture of trust and respect, where leaders learn to consciously to adapt to various communication styles and involve team members in decision making.

LGC employees attend a leadership training session in the US.

Employees found the training to be not only a great opportunity to work together, but also a positive step in their own professional development.

“The training provided immediate tools for prioritization, understanding and dealing with different personality types, and creating a respectful work culture,” said Julie Kramer, Director of Marketing at LGC’s newly-acquired Lucigen. “The only question now is, ‘What should I implement first’?”

The workshop was aimed at first-time managers and anyone who felt that they could be a leader, but Rob Brazas, Senior Product Manager at Lucigen, believes that this type of leadership training shouldn’t be limited to just managers.

“It focused on communication skills that are valuable whether you’re in management or not. All employees would benefit from this training,” explained Rob.

Whether you implement apprenticeships, encourage your team to develop their leadership skills, or help employees realize their potential in other ways, the goal should be to create an empowered culture where leaders have tools to communicate and have a sense of ownership in the company’s success.

The women of LGC

March was Women’s History Month, which also saw the celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March. Diversity and equal opportunity have become, rightfully, hot topics throughout various industries, but specifically in science and technology as well. Science organisations should really be at the forefront of the fight, because scientists of all people know that just because something is the way it is doesn’t mean that’s how it should be.

LGC’s own history is full of brave and brilliant women, trailblazing the way forward for others like them. On 18 July 1916, in the wake of World War I, the Government Laboratory hired its first female scientist, Miss E.M. Chatt¹. PW Hammond and Harold Egan, authors of Weighed in the Balance, state that this was “part of a general move to place women in the lower ranks of the civil service to replace men being drafted” in the war effort.

They also recounted how Miss Chatt was silently watched by her new all-male coworkers as she was first brought in to the laboratory. Described as a ‘bachelor of science’ by the poet Richard Church, she paved the way for all of the other female scientists who joined the Laboratory during this wave of incoming women. By the end of the war in 1920, more than half of the junior analytical staff were women.

 

Nearly one hundred years later, in 2011,  became the first female Deputy Government Chemist in 136 years. She told IFST, “There is now, global acknowledgment in the importance of having equality in the workplace, at all levels… I think there will be many more opportunities for female food scientists in the future.”

 

LGC’s senior scientist Marcela Soruco describes how this very same trailblazing spirit is what attracts her about science to begin with. “To me, science is the art of revealing the unknown. As scientists, we can either uncover something that was previously unknown or create something that did not exist before. Both of these discoveries have the potential to change the course of human history, which is incredibly powerful and rewarding.”

If you want to read more about the women of LGC, head on over to the Biosearch Technologies blog, where Marcela, senior scientist Dusty Vyas, and application scientist Erin Steer share which scientists inspire them, how they found their passion for science, and what science means to them.

¹Weighed in the Balance, by PW Hammond and Harold Egan, 1992, pg 179-180.

Helping athletes stay safe and clean with Informed Sport

The use of drugs in sport goes back a long time- all the way back to the invention of sport itself, when ancient Olympians would take herbal medicines, potions and drugs to enhance their performance. Chariot racers in Ancient Rome are believed to have fed their horses hydromel, while gladiators took stimulants to improve their abilities. But the Ancient Romans, advanced as they were, did not have mass spectrometres.

More recently, drug use in sport, or doping, has become one of the biggest problems facing sport. It’s now understood to not only oppose the spirit and integrity of sport, but also poses a danger to the athletes themselves.  And as science has moved forward, becoming more accurate and precise, we are well-placed to tackle this issue head on.

Sport is a multibillion pound industry, spanning nearly every continent and reaching billions of people, so it’s easy to forget sometimes about the individuals participating in it. A sport is only as great as the people who dedicate themselves to it and drive the sport. The industry’s top priority should be to protect these athletes and their health and integrity, which is why transparency and certification programmes like Informed Sport are so important.

 

The responsibility to stay clean rests with the athletes, who can be banned for several years, or even lifetime, from their sport if they test positive for a banned substance, whether they knowingly took it or not. Worse still, banned substances can pose serious risks to a person’s health, causing heart attacks, liver damage, and other problems.

But if people don’t know what’s in the supplements they use, how can they possibly have confidence in them or know which dangers to avoid? Surveys carried out on non-Informed Sport-certified supplements that were being sold in supermarkets suggest that as high as ten percent contained banned substances, which mean the products would not pass our certification.

The WADA banned substances list is not closed; items are added as and when new drugs are caught. So there is no way to absolutely guarantee that a product is free from these illegal ingredients, but there are definitely steps that will vastly minimise the risk posed to athletes. Ensuring that products are tested and certified is the first of these steps.

Simon Richardson of GCN visits LGC.

Global Cycling Network recently visited our labs to see first-hand how sports nutrition products are tested for banned substances.  Watch to learn for yourself how exactly our Informed Sport programme takes steps to protect athletes, giving them the option to see exactly when that protein bar they’re eyeing has been tested by experts.

We can all do our part. If we expect athletes to be informed about what exactly is going into their bodies, then supplements companies should strive to demonstrate that their products are safe.

The importance of iodine – are you drinking enough milk?

Ensuring the safety of the food we eat is of paramount importance. Iodine is an essential element naturally found in some foods. Insufficient amounts of iodine in the diet results in low levels of thyroid hormones, which are responsible for regulation of metabolism.

In pregnant women and infants iodine is of particular importance as it plays a critical role in brain development. The primary sources of iodine for most people are milk and dairy products but due to increases in dairy intolerance and changes in diet, milk-products are being increasingly substituted for non-milk alternatives.

To identify the impact that such dietary changes might have on iodine levels across the population, an understanding of the levels of iodine naturally present in milk is necessary. This includes the effects of seasonal variations or fat content and any processing effects of pasteurisation which might reduce the iodine content. These variations have been investigated by the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), Ulster University, with milk samples collected over a 12-month period. However, these differences needed to be measured accurately in order to properly determine the influence different conditions have on iodine content.

As part of the UK’s National Measurement Laboratory (NML) role, scientists at LGC have developed a high accuracy quantitative method (inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry) for the analysis of iodine in milk and milk-products to support the regulation on iodine levels in infant formulas. Using this expertise, we were able to support the work being done at Ulster University, providing the analytical capability required to determine the levels of iodine in milk under a variety of conditions.

Of the collaboration, Maria O’Kane, lead author on the paper, said: “LGC facilitated my visit to the laboratory in Teddington and enabled me to undertake analysis of the milk samples collected using high accuracy ICP-MS. The expert staff at LGC supported my learning and enabled me to develop a greater knowledge and understanding of ICP-MS analysis.”

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Nutrition, where Maria concluded that consuming additional cow milk can significantly increase the amount of iodine observed in the urine of women of childbearing age.

This work will help our understanding of current iodine intake and support future research in this area and clearly demonstrates the impact the UK’s National Measurement Laboratory (NML) can have on real-world problems, protecting human health and ensuring the safety of our food.

Are apprenticeships the future of science?

Prof Sir John Holman, president of the RSC, speaks with apprentice Krzysztof Pilec and former apprentice Amy Rogers about their roles. (© Royal Society of Chemistry/Richard Stonehouse)

This week marks the 11th annual National Apprenticeship Week, a time for organisations across the country to celebrate the success of apprenticeships and encourage more people to participate in their schemes.

Apprenticeships provide an alternative to young people who either don’t wish to or are unable to attend university, and in some cases, they can complement university studies.  These schemes give students the chance to learn on their feet in real work environments, while earning money and achieving professional qualifications. And evidence shows that they work. Ninety-two percent of apprentices feel that their apprenticeship has had a positive impact on their career prospects. But there’s still a way to go in the science community to providing these opportunities to future scientists.

In the last academic year, there were nearly 500,000 apprenticeships. Yet fewer than 300 of those are in science, which accounts for less than one percent of all apprenticeships. This limits paths to those who’d like to pursue careers in science, and if we want the best and brightest of a diverse workforce pushing science into the future, this gap needs to be addressed.

As we’ve learned through our own accredited apprenticeship programme, students welcome the opportunity to get on-the-job training and experience in a professional environment. Many of our apprentices even go on to get hired as qualified scientists with LGC.

If you’re considering pursuing a science apprenticeship, don’t just take our word for it: hear it straight from one of our own apprentices, Krzysztof Pilec, who helped us understand what his apprenticeship means to him.

What is your role at LGC?

“I’m an apprentice at LGC, completing a Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Chemical Science for Industry and currently, I work in the Large Molecule Bioanalysis department as an Assistant Scientist. I also attend an education program run by CSR, who specialise in training apprentices and work with LGC on their apprentice program. Out of this program I will also receive a Level 4 Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities qualification.

What are some of your day-to-day tasks?

“My day-to-day job consists of quality control checking proformas, carrying out assays, maintaining the lab and even handling data through Watson, software we use to analyse data. I’ve learned a lot of things at LGC, including how to take care and maintain the equipment we use and how the samples are processed through the facility, from delivery to the project management in the form of data. I’m still learning how to completely understand, set up and carry out an assay. I have some experience in carrying out assays, but I haven’t yet gotten the hang of how to set one up. I’m learning that now. Also, I’m learning how to write professional reports, including where to look to get the information and data to write one.”c

How do you feel about your apprenticeship?

“Overall I don’t think it is possible to be any happier with the choice of signing up for this apprenticeship. It has been an enjoyable, fun and incredibly educational time for me at this company as an apprentice. I think what I like the best at LGC is that after successfully completing the course, you get a very high chance of employment as a professional scientist, so nothing you learn here is ever going to waste.”

To find out more about our apprenticeship programme, visit our website, or register to attend our Science Apprenticeship Open Day next month.

Analysis for Innovators: How we can solve your measurement problem

LGC, in our role as the UK National Measurement Laboratory and Designated Institute for chemical and bio-measurement, partnered with Innovate UK to launch a new funding programme ‘Analysis for Innovators’ (A4I) last year.

The aim of A4I was simple: to solve real problems affecting productivity or performance of UK companies of all sizes using the world-leading measurement facilities available at LGC and other national laboratories (NPL, NEL, STFC).

After the success of the first round, Analysis for Innovators is opening a new round of applications in March to UK companies who wish to take advantage of our expertise, research and development to help solve a measurement problem. And this year’s round has £4 million reserved to fund 12-month projects, with up to £250,000 for each project.

Companies are asked to submit a two-minute video outlining an existing measurement problem, without providing any solutions. This gives us insight in to what the obstacle looks like, the approaches the companies have already tried, and how solving it might change their business going forward.

After watching the videos from last year’s competition, LGC scientists sat down with the competition winners and discussed the problems in more detail. This approach encouraged creative thinking from our scientists and provided companies with access to our experts even if they did not progress to the next competition stage. In fact, feedback from the first round indicated that this stage was itself incredibly useful, and as a result the initial successful outcome of the current A4I programme will be a longer consultancy session with our measurement experts before progressing on to potential projects.

Previous collaborations included developing an assay to continuously monitor cortisol for a wearable device to improve diagnosis and treatment of disease, improving the sensitivity of a novel assay developed to ensure the safety of cell therapy products, and optimising an innovative non-chemical disinfection process to provide a cost-effective system for cleaning water and other fluids.

This programme benefits companies who otherwise would not be able to consult with our scientists, but it also benefits LGC by giving us the opportunity to see the outcomes of the vital measurement work we do every day. Our scientists are at the forefront of measurement technology, so it’s exciting to see how our science can affect and change lives for the better. These applications of our expertise remind us why what we do is important and inspire us to continue.

If you’re planning on applying for the next round of funding, or if you’d just like to learn more about the programme, register to join us at one of the remaining roadshows in February and March. We’ll be there to help share the work of our collaborations and illustrate how our analysis can help solve your problem.

Science for a safer world

In the twenty-first century, science has been brought to the forefront, informing all aspects of our lives. In order for it to make our world safer, it’s especially important for science to remain steadfast, reliable and responsible. Science should not have an agenda; science is the agenda. It should not be informed by policy or opinion, but should inform policy and opinion. And at LGC, we work to ensure that our science does just that.

From our origins testing tobacco, alcohol and food products for adulteration in the 19th century, LGC has built a commitment to using science for a safer world.

This commitment underpins all of what we do. From testing drinking water and the quality of food to researching medicines and diagnostics, we work to ensure both our customers and the public benefit from our knowledge. Our scientists develop accurate methods for detecting infectious and congenital diseases and we test more than 6,000 products and supplements for banned substances, certifying that they are safe for athletes at all levels to use.  In our role as UK designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement, we solve measurement challenges in diagnostics, food safety, cancer research and environmental testing. At the heart of everything we do is the question, How can we make the world safer?

LGC is also looking to the future, to advance research, technologies, solutions and medicines that will build a better, more secure future.

Now, through this blog, we hope to bring our science to you, shedding light on the vital work we do every day.

What does ‘Science for a safer world’ mean to you?