97-year-old Donald Sarfas recently celebrated 75 years of being a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and was presented with a certificate by members of the Mid Scotland Local Section.
Born in Southend-on-Sea in 1920, Donald and his family moved to Derby in 1922. He got his first job at the age of 16 as a lab assistant for Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) Derby, analysing iron compounds obtained as a by-product of the steel industry, and was later made assistant technical officer.
At the same time he started taking evening classes in science and maths at Derby Technical College, and five years later gained his HNC (Higher National Certificate) in chemistry. A year later, in 1942, he became an associate member of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Donald moved to ICI Blackley near Manchester in 1945, where he taught evening classes at a local technical college, and married his sweetheart Vera. In 1968 he moved to ICI Dysestuffs, Grangemouth, where he worked on setting up a new plant producing azo dyes. His memory is still good enough to remember the ICI codes for the various dyestuffs!
Donald worked his way through the membership categories, and in the 1990s gained chartered status – CChem – and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Donald retired at the age of 58, but remained a chemist at heart and says it never occurred to him to resign his membership.
"I wanted over the years to maintain an interest in chemistry," he said, "and I’ve appreciated being a member of a professional body for a relatively small cost, meeting fellow chemists, and keeping up to date with progress via the regular monthly magazines. I’m a keen supporter of the Local Section Trust, particularly in Mid-Scotland, due to the friendliness of the members, the quality of the yearly programmes, and transport support for getting to lectures, functions and outings."
He says his favourite parts of being a member include "hatches, matches and dispatches", "being part of a family of chemists", and "the knowledge that I’m part of an organisation that represents, promotes, sustains and regulates the wonderful world of chemistry across the earth".
We asked what advice he would give to a young person contemplating a career in chemistry:
"If you want an absorbing career with a real hands-on mix of practical and problem solving, plus intellectually stimulating and demanding day to day work, then it's only chemistry can give you that... Chemistry can take you anywhere in the world to work – it’s international."
And for those retiring from a chemical career…
"Keep your chemistry alive for as long as you can – it’s one of the things that helped me. Have a look at what your Local Section Trust is doing. Have a look at its programme and whether the committee needs another member. There’s always lots to do to promote chemistry in your area and the local section is pivotal in doing this."