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Lorelly Wilson doing an experiment in a primary school
Lorelly Wilson CSci CChem FRSC


Through her company, Chemistry with Cabbage, Lorelly uses everyday scenarios to make chemistry interesting for children and adults.

Lorelly’s enthusiasm for chemistry was supported by her parents and teachers as a child. With few of her peers choosing to study the sciences at her all-girls secondary school, Lorelly enjoyed small A-level classes where her love for chemistry grew.

University life was different. At that time, lecturers were often more focused on their research than undergraduate teaching and being one of very few girls in the class, Lorelly remembers feeling daunted.

“Things have improved no end since then. I’m pleased to see much more emphasis on good teaching there is in universities now.”

Chemistry with Cabbage

Spending her early career working at Imperial Chemical Industries, it wasn’t until Lorelly had children that she understood the importance of education in chemistry. With that, Chemistry with Cabbage was born! The business encourages students to study chemistry and by working with both students and adults, she makes chemistry interesting, relevant and most importantly, accessible to everyone. On reflection, much of Lorelly’s inspiration came from a chemistry set she received for her birthday as a child.

“What was really missing, were simple instructions of what to do. Chemistry then seemed to major on growing crystals, which is not a good first experiment for young students. It takes too long and one false move then you’ve lost the lot. That’s why I concentrate on experiments from simple household chemicals now.”

Reactions

Lorelly spends most of her time with primary school students. Together with her team, she takes equipment into schools and encourages children to have fun doing simple experiments themselves.

“Students and often their teachers too are amazed at the chemical concepts you can understand simply by looking at very simple reactions like curdling milk. I find this appeals particularly to students who were not considered very able. There is something about the practical side of chemistry that enables under-achieving students to start thinking seriously for the first time.”

It’s not just children. Lorelly also gives talks to adults on chemistry in everyday things, and encourages other scientists to do the same by organising SciBArs, where scientists discuss their research in pubs.

Hobbies are important in Lorelly’s life too. Not only does Lorelly play the viola but she is learning to ice skate and is editor of a talking newspaper for the blind. “We read the weekly local paper onto a memory stick and deliver these to blind people in the area. We have around 60 listeners who really value the service.”

Chemistry opens doors

With her fair share of set-backs, Lorelly’s ambition helped her through tough beginnings. When enquiring about government grants available to her start-up business, Lorelly was told that they wouldn’t be suitable for her. Having only heard her female voice, she was judged unsuitable! Luckily attitudes have changed and Lorelly now sees her daughter and girls she has taught thriving in their chosen science.

“I have been helped enormously in setting up the business by industrial partners who understand and support the work that I do. The support of BASF, Norkem, Multisol and Univar has been crucial. There is real enthusiasm in industry now to get the right people into chemistry.”

Chemistry develops solid skills that are valuable to employers with the combination of academic and practical skills.

“As I say to students now, ‘you close almost no doors when you study chemistry.’ It shows the world that you think clearly; can handle data and work carefully with potentially dangerous chemicals and equipment.”

Words by Jenny Lovell
Images courtesy of Lorelly Wilson
Published January 2015

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