It is Sunday 17th of January at 23.20 pm in Girona and my wife is once again packing. Tomorrow she will be flying back to Brussels where she lives and works.

Until some decades ago wastewater treatment aimed at “cleaning” the water coming from the sewers to the wastewater treatment plants. Since then focus has shifted. Now we don’t only want to remove organic matter and nutrients from the wastewater but rather make use of them. Wastewater is now, at least by some researchers, seen as a resource that can be made use of. One example is the digestion of sludge, which produces biogas that can be used as vehicle fuel. Another example is the specific kind of microorganisms that produce polymers which can be converted to plastics.

Does it pay off to be determined in science?

This tale can be told by many fellows and students: you join a project, the first months go by with learning and reading a little rainforest-worth of publications. Everything is new, difficult and uncomfortable. Then the trials and experiments start and… If you were to belong to the lucky lot, your workflow will be smooth. But, most probably you will join most of us, in the Pit of Trial and Error, where you will hear a lot of sighing and an occasional soft sobbing. This is where persistence has to make it first appearance.

Huge climate summits like the one came up in Paris are rare exceptions. In fact the rule is that, except for some people who are full-time activist, the concern about the climate change and more in general about the environmental problems, is not what covers the mainstream media. Today, the 12th of December 2015, at the end of this Conference, an agreement has been found. While I am writing, the news in regard to what they have just decided are showing up; then my opinion about this deal cannot be so well-structured. Is it possible that the next time I will look for something related to this Paris UN climate summit, I will change my mind.

I was a terrible language student in school. Thankfully my teacher was the best, and her passion got across to me. The title of this entry is actually the title of the first book about writing I read, a couple of months after I started my PhD adventure.

On my first entry, I explained a little bit how I got this position so I think it would be nice to describe my research goals now. The main one is to develop a Decision Support System (DSS) to help water treatment decision-makers deal with emerging challenges for infrastructure upgrade. Nowadays, many micro–contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals, are not completely removed in conventional wastewater treatment plants. They are released into the water bodies without any kind of treatment and affect freshwater habitats. This could be attenuated by installing new state-of-the-art technologies which are capable to remove higher percentages of these micro–contaminants. From this point of view, one can imagine how important the link between university and industry is to successfully achieve this goal.

TreatRec is a European Industrial Doctorate funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme of Horizon 2020. The practical meaning of this is that the PhD students involved in the project not only will move between the academia and industry; we will also be working in at least two different countries. And to this particular experience I would like to dedicate today’s blog post.

How do you find a toxic needle in a chemical haystack?

The answer to this rhetorical question seems to be: you do not. And yet, the modern technology makes it easy to find one molecule among a billion of others, with the help of mass spectrometry. This precision is very much needed when critical pollutants in wastewater have to be investigated. That makes mass spectrometry one of the favourite techniques in the toolbox of an analytical chemist, nowadays.

Last time we talked about the "scientific correlation” between feelings and my current research field: the removal of micropollutants from wastewater. By the way, this relationship could be also explained from a different point of view:" what happened when I got this job”!