Dr Vera Fitzsimmons-Thoss

Lecturer in Sustainable Chemistry

Contact info

Position: Lecturer in Sustainable Chemistry

Email: vera.thoss@bangor.ac.uk

Phone: +44 (0)1248 38 2516

Location: Chemistry Tower

Contact Info

Position: Lecturer in Sustainable Chemistry

Email: vera.thoss@bangor.ac.uk

Phone: +44 (0)1248 38 2516

Location: Chemistry Tower

Overview

Overall I am interested in sustainable chemistry. Asking questions like “What is actually there?” which relates to an assessment of either a product or a resource in addition to establishing background concentrations. Another angle is “What happens during manufacturing or after completed use?” this is addressing the environmental fate of resources such as phosphorus or petroleum. The foundation is analytical chemistry to identify what elements and species are present and in what quantities. This information is used to, for example, assess ecological processes.

Previous career history

  • 2005-2006       Teaching Fellow Environmental Chemistry, Department of Plant and Soil Science, University of Aberdeen, Scotland
  • 2002-2005       Post-Doc Chemical Ecology, The Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland
  • 2001                  Post-Doc Chemical Ecology, Institute of Vegetation Ecology, University of Umeå, Sweden
  • 2000-2001       Self-employed Environmental Consultant
  • 1998-2000       Lectureship Environmental Chemistry, jointly between the School of Chemistry, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and the Department of Chemistry,  University of Wales, Bangor, UK
  • 1995-1998       PhD “Chemical Characterisation of Dissolved Organic Matter” University of Wales, Bangor with Prof. M. S. Baird and Dr. M. A. Lock
  • 1988-1994       Diplom-Chemikerin “Aluminium Toxicity under Plant Physiological Conditions”, University of Hanover, Germany
  • 1991-1992       Imperial College International Diploma “Ringopenings of Cyclopropenes”, Imperial College, London, UK

Research

Plants are the centre point of my research interests from their chemical make-up, via their interactions with other ecosystem components toward the use of plants as a resource for day-to-day goods. The most challenging research is phytochemistry, which describes the isolation and structural characterisation of natural products. This is often combined with an assessment of their biological activity and done in collaboration with other scientists. However, it is often not necessary to quantify every individual compound, rather compounds are groups such as fatty acids or phenolics or monoterpenes, for example. The publication and group list gives details on plants researched and their interaction of specific groups of metabolites with other ecosystem components. Plant oils have been researched in great detail and are sometimes found as jetsam and the finder hopes it may be ambergris (for info see https://theconversation.com/ambergris-how-to-tell-if-youve-struck-gold-with-whale-vomit-or-stumbled-upon-sewage-57834). Highly degraded or weathered plants is another way to describe petroleum, another research interest. As no plant grows without a nutrient supply, recently the phosphorus cycle in plants and soil was thoroughly researched. Dead plant material is termed organic matter and previous research assessed this in dissolved form in freshwater and also in compost related research. My favourite plant though is the British bluebell.

Currently active research projects:

Bracken and Bluebell Climax Vegetation

Since 2007 we actively research an upland site that is dominated by bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and bracken (Pteridium aquilinum). The site represents a late successional ecosystem and unless it is manipulated, no other plant species establish, hence climax vegetation. We have looked at the chemistry of the dominant plant species. Background was to investigate whether the plants contain allelochemicals that suppress other growth. We found that bluebell seeds can be used as an oil source. In addition, a pigment can be extracted, as shown on BBC Countryfile (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04d7cll).

A biologically active saponin was also characterised. However, we did not identify any specific allelopathic compound, rather bluebell bulbs were rich in phytate that transfers into the soil and thus may suppress bracken emergence because it is not easily accessible. For bracken, a similar approach was taken and its pterosins and pterosides were identified. There was an unusually rich structural variation, thought to derive from ptaquiloside degradation products. These were present in traces into the soil, however, again the concentrations determined were deemed insufficiently high to affect other plant. The phosphorus link described above is a more likely cause.

Both plants show a high carbohydrate content, necessary to survive in the Welsh uplands. The effect that these carbohydrates have on soil is the next aspect to be investigated.

Applied Analytical Chemistry

The current funding situation is supportive of research linking businesses and academia. Working with Dr Zigs (https://www.drzigs.com/), we have been researching the chemistry of bubbles. While many scientists looked at bubbles from a light reflection point and considered them spheres, we are trying to assess the molecular orientation that allows big bubbles to form. In addition we are also interested in using sustainable ingredients and assessing the fate of bubbles that have popped where they were left in the environment.

We also work with Halen Mon (http://www.halenmon.com/) to understand the processes occurring during sea salt manufacturing. Applying sustainable chemistry, we have been assessing all parts of the process in order to know what was present in the seawater to start with and what might be suitable to use as commercial products. In parallel I am also involved in a PhD study that assesses the background concentration in the river Conwy, from its source to the estuary, as determined through sediment analysis.

Petroleum chemistry

Humans are still relying heavily on petroleum and its refined products. Accidental spillages do occur and are often in hard-to-reach areas or are deemed too small for a clean-up operation. We are investigating the interactions between hydrocarbons, sand and surfactants to assess background concentration in sand and how to best remove the excess using surfactants. Previously different complex hydrocarbon mixtures have been assessed including asphaltenes and the oil derived from used car tires.

Collaborations

Brown algae chemistry
Carolina Aguirre Cespedes, Universidad Catolica de la Ssma. Concepcion, Chile

Phenolic acids in mulch and compost samples
Collin Scantlebury and Dr Emma Smith, Department of Biological and Chemical Sciences, University of West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Bridgetown, Barbados

Trichillia emetica and cacao protection
Godfred Darko,Department of Chemistry, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana

Petroleum chemistry
Festus Adebiyi, Department of Chemistry, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

Eucalyptus breeding
Vinay Varshnay, Chemistry Division, Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun, India

Bracken Phytochemistry
Hans Christian Bruun Hanson, Department of Natural Sciences, Soil and Environmental Chemistry, Faculty of Life Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Prof. R. Pakeman, James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland

Bluebell Phytochemistry
Rob Nash, Phytoquest, Plas Gogerddan, Aberystwyth, Wales
Dianne Irving, Syngenta

Teaching and Supervision

Research Group

Group Members

Current PhD students

  • Anna Zelmer “Investigation into the physical and chemical properties of soap bubbles with respect to their performance” (since October 2015)
  • Mohammed Saeed S Alyami “Interactions between Hydrocarbons, Sand and Surfactants” (since May 2016)
  • Charlotte Booth “Digging for Diamonds: Making Sea Salt Manufacturing even more Sustainable” (since October 2016)

Completed PhDs

  • Victor Oghogho Ebuele “Phosphorus speciation in Soil and Plants” (January 2013 to December 2016)
  • Rizgar Hassan Mohammed “Pterosins and Pterosides in Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn)” (November 2012 to June 2016)
  • Dotsha Raheem “The Chemistry and Ecology of British Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta” (August 2012-March 2016)
  • Abdullahi Usman “Phytochemical Investigation of Trichilia emetica (Natal Mahagony)” (Feb 2012 to October 2015)

Completed MRes students:

  • Owain Atkins 2011 “Increasing horse power using renewable resources”
  • Prativa Chhetri 2013 “How sweet is the pasture? Quantification of carbohydrates in feeding stuff for horses”

Completed MSc students:

  • Philip Courty (1998). Phenols: An assessment of a method for the determination of monomeric phenolic compounds, and their separation using chromatography. MSc Thesis, University of Wales, Bangor. *
  • Ian Washbourne (1999). Seasonal Variation of Plant Derived Phenolics at Six Sites in North Wales. MSc Thesis, University of Wales, Bangor *
  • Nicola O’Gorman (2000). An Investigation into the variation of plant derived phenolics in sampling sites across North Wales. MSc Thesis, University of Wales, Bangor
  • Ludovic Richards (2000). Synthesis of Novel Optically Based Chemosensors: Towards Sodium Determination in Freshwater and Blood. MSc Res, Trinity College Dublin
  • Mark Brunero (1999). Investigation into the pre-concentration and Analysis Techniques for Monomeric Phenolics In Water. MSc Thesis, University of Wales, Bangor
  • Morgan Reece Jones (2001). The effect of DOM on extracellular enzyme activity in aquatic environments
  • Suad Ghlayee (2007). Development of a Multi-Element Method to Determine the Molar Ratios of Essential Nutrients in Different Matrices. MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Abdussalam Alghazewi (2007).Investigation in the Environmental Fate of Refinery Products in Desert Environments. MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Tareg Ahmed (2007). Waste not, Want no: New Products from Old Tyres.MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Hosea Mukunda Litiku (2008). Development and Application of Plant Screening Methodologies for Biochemically Related Compounds.MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • James Ainsworth (2008).Do They Stay or Do They Go? The Fate of Individual Carbohydrates During Composting. MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • David Whiting (2008).Bracken Phytochemistry: How Toxic is the World's Most Common Fern? MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Assad Elmahjoubi (2009). Analysis of Sea-Buckthorn (Hyppophae rhamnoides) Derived Products and the Effect of Processing onto Specific Metabolite Groups. MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Theetso Motsamai (2010). Application of sequential extraction procedure for determination of copper in an old mine site: Parys Mountain. MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Ifan Richard (2010). Chemical characteristics of vegetable oil samples of different ages. MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Owain Atkins (2010) Analysis of supplementary feed for horses. MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Matt Clewley (2011). Enzymatic extraction of pulp oil from sea-buckthorn berries. MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Ralph Dutton (2011). How to make topsoil artificially using products derived from waste utilisation. MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Andrew Halliwell (2011). The production and usage of essential oils. MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Liam Nelligan (2011). An investigation into the carbohydrates from plant extracts. MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Edward Parker (2011). Bioactive components in herbal preparations for the treatment of horses. MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Fabian Schweickert (2011). “Finding further uses for the residue from anaerobic digestion”. MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Amber Maltby (2011). “Chemical composition of different size fractions obtained after milling” MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • David Martin (2012). “Analysis of manufacturer topsoil” MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Victor Oghogho Ebuele (2012). “Determination of Phosphorus in environmental matrices” MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Michael Beke (2012). “Investigation in the effect of organic matter on retention of hydrocarbon pollution in soils” MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Ali Alshmrani(2013).“Analysis of hydrocarbon mixtures”
  • Jawameer Hama (2012). “Analysis of metabolites in Walnuts”MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Victoria Asquith (2013).“The Production of Uniform Soap Bubble Mixtures”MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Daniel Jenkins(2013).“Analysis of Water-soluble Substances in Effluent from Mechanically Compressed Sitka Spruce”MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Daniel Whitfield (2013).“Naturally occurring chelates”MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Ako Abdalla Mahmood (2013).“Minor components in vegetable oil”MSc Thesis, Bangor UniversityMSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Adam Gray (2013).“Redshank Plant as a source of Bioactive Compounds” MSc Thesis, Bangor UniversityMSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Mohammad Alyami (2013).“Speciation of Phosphorus in plants”MSc Thesis, Bangor University
  • Elizabeth Marshall (2013). “The abundance of trace elements in the environment” MSc Thesis, Bangor University *
  • Lawrence Coghlan (2014) “Quality Control in the manufacture of bubble solutions” *
  • Adam Revill (2014) “Investigation into the metal etching using commercially-available decontamination solutions”
  • Irenosen Abhulimen (2014) “Chemical composition of saliva” *
  • Yi-Chen Yang (2014) “Chemical composition of surfactant and polymers”
  • Abdulghafar Abdullah (2015) “Lipids in bracken (Pteridium aquilinum)

* Indicates MSc thesis with distinction

Previous Final Year Students

  • Matt Evans 2009 Eucalyptus Phytochemistry
  • Rebecca Harmsworth 2009 Essential Oil Production in Coniferous Forests
  • Emma Ingham 2009 Fatty Acid Content of Coffee
  • Tom Carter 2009 Tracing Hydrocarbon Pollution Sources
  • Toby Vye 2010 Shikimic acid from Sitkas spruce forestry brush
  • Will Snape 2010 Wood ash analysis
  • Anna Zelmer 2012 Supercritical CO2 to separate cashew nut shell liquer (with Ray Marriott)
  • Christopher Rayner 2012 Development of a phosphorus sensor (with Chris Gwenin)
  • Sam Roulstone 2012 Analysis of woodash to trap heavy metals
  • Victoria Asquith 2012 Investigation into dissolution of woodash
  • Prativa Chhetri 2012 Assessment of the yield of essential oils in Sitka spruce
  • Susan Moss 2012 Seasonal variation of monoterpenes in Scots pine
  • Sandeep Kaur 2013 on chemical composition of saliva
  • Millicent Clare 2013 on phenolics in walnut
  • Matthew Randall 2014 on honey analysis
  • Ross Goodyear 2014 on rare earth elements in geological samples
  • Chris Wheatley 2014 on phenolics in walnut
  • Elizabeth Darby 2015 analysis of OTC products for dry eyes
  • Cyan Williams 2015 Synthesis of Calcium phytate nano-particles
  • Michael Brooks 2015 towards an electrochemical sensor for phosphate in freshwater
  • Joseph Charlton 2016 on fructans and minerals
  • Niall Marsay 2016 on Parys Mountain pollution
  • Charlotte Booth 2016 on surfactant analysis

Research outputs (27)

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Prof. activities and awards (6)

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Projects (5)

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