Chemistry - The next generation


As Chemistry World goes to press, students across England and Wales are celebrating receiving their A-level results. And chemistry can celebrate too: the number of students taking A-level chemistry rose by 5.25% between 2012 and 2013. But what does the future hold for the chemists of tomorrow, those clutching new qualifications and those still coming through the ranks in school? And who will they be? Lesley Yellowlees, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s first female president, has put diversity at the top of her agenda, but how diverse is chemistry, and how do we increase it?

We hope that this special issue goes some way to answering these questions.

For example, 47.9% of those who took chemistry A-level are female, but the feature Stemming the tide shows that parity doesn’t last: the proportion of women drops at every stage of qualification. The interviewees in the article applaud the successes of the past 10–20 years, but all agree that more needs to be done. Julia Higgins, polymer scientist and chair of the Royal Society’s diversity project, also gives her perspective.

Can chemistry attract a complete cross-section of society? Geri Richmond, a chemist at Oregon University in the US, argues that developing a robust workforce requires talented individuals from all segments of society, with a diversity of views, skills and insights. The article Diversity in the chemical sciences takes an in-depth look at how well chemistry is able to attract people from different cultures, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. The results may surprise you. We profile one champion of diversity: Carlos Gutiérrez, who chairs the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Minority Affairs. He asks ‘What better way to increase creativity in science than involving talent from as many different places as possible?’

One of the most important factors behind most people’s choice to study chemistry is likely to be an inspirational teacher at school. But with education all too often being treated as a political football in the UK, can we attract and train skilled and dedicated chemists to teach? Inspiring the next generation tries to find out – as well as looking at the place of assessment and practical work in schools. No matter how skilled your teacher is, how easy is it to study chemistry if you have a disability? Easier than you might think, according to Robin Perutz at the University of York, who contributes to Access all areas.

Efforts to stock the pipeline are futile if these skilled people cannot contribute to the workforce. Readers may remember with concern the stories of R&D closures we’ve covered in the past few years, ending the era of jobs for life in pharma. But Measuring the job market sees positive signs from recruiters, as well as offering valuable advice.

Underpinning all this is the science of chemistry itself. Nothing inspires or attracts people to a subject more than truly worthwhile goals and the challenge of answering difficult questions. We look at five ‘grand challenges’ for tomorrow’s chemists and chemistry – ones that we hope will inspire youthful minds, increase our understanding and benefit the world.

We welcome your thoughts on all these topics, as ever, so write or email with your own grand challenges or opinions on education, jobs and diversity.  


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