Dr Steve Lancaster
Winner: 2020 Inspirational Member Award
Domino Printing Sciences and RSC Pan Africa Chemistry Network
For dedication to the development of an analytical chemistry training programme in Africa.
Celebrate Dr Steve Lancaster
Analytical chemistry is an essential field in society today. It touches all our lives, from ensuring the quality of our foods and medicines, to the air we breathe and the water we drink. Every kind of manufactured item, from textiles and pharmaceuticals to motor cars and gasoline, requires analysis. Consequently, there is a need for highly trained analytical chemists.
Most laboratories in academia, industrial and medical facilities in the developed world have access to advanced analytical equipment and highly trained professionals to operate them. However, in developing economies, including many African countries, there is a lack of such advanced equipment due to their high purchase price, running costs and fees associated with providing sufficiently trained scientists to operate them. This means that students in developing countries seldom have the opportunity for hands-on training in these techniques. Samples requiring analysis often have to be sent to laboratories in Europe or America, often at great expense.
Dr Lancaster and his team’s work in Africa has addressed these issues by providing advanced equipment and training to over 700 African scientists and students. They have established hubs of excellence in Chemistry Departments in Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria and a cohort of highly trained scientists who are themselves now training others. This work is now resulting in more people being trained and publications of scientific papers directly attributable to the training.
The training is given free of charge at the point of use and many people who otherwise would not have access to this resource have benefited. Environmental analysis has provided important data on the quality of air and drinking water and for the preservation of endangered species, specifically African Vultures.Read full biography
Dr Steve Lancaster has a PhD in Analytical Chemistry and leads the Product Line Support Group at Domino Printing Sciences. His interests include chromatography, mass spectrometry and Process Analysis. He has published over 25 peer reviewed papers, book chapters and has co-authored a textbook on GC-MS. He is actively involved with the Royal Society of Chemistry and has served as an elected member of the Analytical Division Council. He is currently on the Steering Committee and the Industrial Management Board at Centre for Process Analytics & Control Technology (CPACT).
Dr Lancaster founded the charity, Foundation for Analytical science and Technology in Africa (FASTA). FASTA funded the first GC-MS in Professor Anthony Gachanja’s group in Nairobi in 2006. Since then, Dr Lancaster, Professor Gachanja and Professor Mathias Schafer (Cologne University) have delivered a series of renowned GC-MS training courses across Africa, supported by the RSoC’s Pan Africa Chemistry Network (PACN). More instruments have since been funded, and the courses have reached over 700 scientists across Africa. The original three trainers have now become many and include several Africans who were amongst the first trainees. These cover Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana, ensuring sustainability and capacity building into the future right across Africa.
Dr Lancaster is an enthusiastic cyclist and, along with many others, raises funds for this work by embarking on sponsored walks, half marathons and cycling trips. The most recent event was cycling from London to Paris.
What have you personally got out of volunteering?
Over the years I have developed my presentation and training skills and learned to manage the demands of a busy day job with finding time to run my charity and my training courses overseas. It has been amazing and very enjoyable to work with many fantastic people from all the stakeholder organisations and especially from across Africa. It is always very pleasing to realise that you have made a difference in some small way.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
Go for it and always get involved in going the extra mile. Always ask questions and you will find that people will be delighted to share their knowledge with you. Never be afraid to volunteer and do use the Royal Society of Chemistry to help with this.
Why do you think it is important to inspire people with chemistry?
Chemistry touches all our lives. You cannot really have an understanding of the world around you unless you have at least a basic knowledge of chemistry. All of the issues facing the world today are related to chemistry in some way. Climate change, providing food and drinking water, energy security, manufacturing and wealth creation, environmental preservation and biodiversity are all fundamentally dependent on chemistry.
What is special about the networks of the Royal Society of Chemistry?
The Royal Society of Chemistry is a great way of using the knowledge and expertise of thousands of members to facilitating your ideas and initiatives. My work in Africa would have had a very limited impact had it not been for the support of the organisation.
What is your favourite element?
Carbon. As well as being the bad boy of climate change it is a building block for life and for most chemicals. It is a source of energy and is likely to be an energy vector well into the future. Humans have been digging it out of the ground for hundreds of years. It will continue to be vitally important but, in the future, we will get it out of the atmosphere and not out of the ground.