Dr Gemma Scotney
Winner: 2020 Inspirational Member Award
Pfizer Ltd and RSC Kent Local Section
For dedication to expanding the public engagement activities of the Kent Local Section.
Celebrate Dr Gemma Scotney
Outreach is the key behind the work that Dr Scotney carries out, and for which she received the award. She is passionate about inspiring the next generation of scientists through an informative and practical experience, showing them that chemistry can be a fun and rewarding subject. She believes that doing this in the community is just as important as doing this through schools, as it can inspire a broad age range, with whole families able to enjoy and discuss the experience.Read full biography
Dr Gemma Scotney started her chemistry career with a First Class (Hons) Masters Degree from the University of Leicester, where she spent her third year working for Astra Zeneca in Sweden. She then moved to Imperial College London to study for a PhD under the supervision of Dr Chris Braddock, looking into Catalytic Asymmetric Olefinic Bromination reactions. In 2004, she moved to Pfizer in Sandwich, Kent, working as a Process Chemist, an API Project lead, and most recently as a Sourcing Manager in the external supply group.
Over the last seven years, Dr Scotney has been an active STEM ambassador, supporting chemistry outreach through her role at Pfizer, independently in her local community and through membership of the Kent Local Section of the Royal Society of Chemistry. She was so passionate about outreach that she left Pfizer for a brief period of time to train to be a Secondary School chemistry teacher, however it wasn’t the right challenge for her.
Dr Scotney is married to James (whom she met at Imperial College) and they have two daughters, Erika (8) and Greta (6). Both girls enjoy doing science at home with their mum and have been keen helpers at some of the events that Dr Scotney has organised.
What have you personally got out of volunteering?
I love outreach and inspiring the next generation of scientists (I love it so much that I once left to become a teacher!). I went into chemistry as I had a really inspirational teacher when I was at school and I want to give others that same opportunity. I really enjoy sharing my passion for the subject with other people and, while arranging the events and supporting the community lab can be hard work on top of my day job, I would do it all over again as it was worth it to see the enjoyment and enthusiasm in all the people involved. Outreach is also a break from the work that I do, a chance to escape every so often, and put things into perspective. Teaching wasn't right for me personally, but outreach gives me the best of both worlds; the challenge of my everyday role, and an opportunity to inspire and grow others interest in a subject that has given me so much.
Why do you think it is important to inspire people with chemistry?
I had a really inspirational science teacher when I was in secondary school. Mr Lock made chemistry fun and interesting. He enabled us to do lots of practical chemistry and he also believed in what I could do. I don’t believe I would have had such a rich and rewarding career if it wasn’t for him. Not everyone is lucky enough to have their own “Mr Lock” and that is one of the reasons I volunteer – to give those young people the same opportunity for inspiration.
What is your favourite element?
It is definitely one of the halogens. I was going to say bromine, after three years working on this during my PhD. I think this gets trumped by iodine for me. I love the purple vapour when this is heated and the beautiful coloured crystals when they are freshly sublimed (and love the fact this is one of the few pure elements that can be sublimed).
I also like that iodine is really important in the medical profession, used as a disinfectant for generations. I remember having the stain of iodine on my leg after breaking it, and on my arm from a blood test in China. Hypervalent iodine was also a really important and interesting part of my PhD, as it allowed me to deliver bromine to alkenes. In my current role I try to avoid it, as usually it comes as a leaving group which adds a lot of weight to a molecule, especially when you are paying for it per kilogram rather than per mole.