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Steve Acquah
Dr Steve Acquah CSci CChem MRSC FRMS

Steve adopts new technologies to improve communication – for example, using Google Glass to help people with hearing impairments.

Ultimately deciding to keep music as a hobby and science as his profession, Steve's underlying interest came from the idea that a better engagement with the world is possible with a science background. He attended St. Bonaventure’s RC School where his chemistry teachers cultivated a passion for discovery within him.

“Sir Michael Wilshaw was the headmaster during my time at school, and I remember him telling us to take pride in the work we do and to try and become role models in the community.”

Whilst studying chemistry at university, Steve found enjoyment in his success at drawing organic chemistry reaction diagrams, but his main challenge was deciding what field to specialise in. Originally wanting a career within medicine, he went on to specialise in medicinal chemistry, but eventually settled on nanotechnology.

"Approach a problem from a different angle"

Steve AcquahIn Steve’s current role, he manages the research group of Sir Harold Kroto, a Nobel Laureate. His research focusses on carbon nanotube composites and extending their application by using them to form thin and flexible hydrogen sensors, piezoelectric devices and photovoltaic devices. Steve has also had opportunities for international travel when working on collaborative projects. Whilst in Japan for three months, he enjoyed being immersed in their cultural lifestyle and work ethic. “It certainly lends perspective to your development as a scientist and a global citizen.”

Steve is also involved with a number of outreach projects. In 2010, he participated in the Science Foo Camp at the Google headquarters, where he spoke about his research and how best to communicate science through lecture capture hardware. Steve is also involved in a project looking into Google Glass as a way of enhancing communication between people with hearing impairment, using cellular devices.

As director of Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology, GEOSET, Steve aims to preserve the knowledge and enthusiasm of outstanding educators through online videos. “The GEOSET initiative is a great way to engage with other researchers and help them to document their work. I manage a student team to provide a free recording and editing service for the entire university community.” With Bill Nye formally opening their recording studio at Florida State University and a Q&A session with Sir Harold Kroto, Steve managed to get two of the biggest advocates for promoting science on board. “Their message was clear. We need to stand up as scientists and make our voices heard if we want to increase the public awareness and relevance of science.”

Pushing your limits

“You will entertain your fears at some point along your career path, but you just need to keep pushing your limits and never settle for anything less than what you know you can achieve.”

Steve Acquah

Moving to the United States, Steve found that as an immigrant, there are always challenges. With so many graduates looking for limited positions, Steve advises not to rely on just your academic abilities, “It requires the determination to do much more than follow the standard pathway of a science graduate looking to become a future professor. It’s your passion for the subject that will get you through the hard days and your depth of knowledge that will keep you on track for a successful career.”

“One of my biggest challenges in chemistry was finding that balance between work and rest. Papers, patents, funding proposals and laboratory preparation coupled with directing an educational media organisation can really encroach on your free time, even with a team of student helpers.” Steve does agree that “sometimes all it takes is a smile from a student to get you through the next few days.”

Steve recognises that striking the balance between a good work ethic and life outside the laboratory is difficult, especially for women and foreign workers. Despite this view, he sees hope for the future, “these problems are now well recognised and there are many avenues of support that can help. When Bill Nye visited Florida State University, he talked about the need to change the world through science, reaching out to the younger generation and minority groups.” Steve emphasises the need for more scientists from minority groups to reach the level of prominent science personalities.

For the future, Steve sees that social media will play a greater role in promoting all aspects of education and diversity within chemistry. Societies and institutions can reach out to forge better links and reach multiple demographics by getting connected. “I believe the key to success for public engagement is to be seen, to evolve and to stay relevant.”

Words by Jenny Lovell
Published November 2014

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