Professor Steven Armes
Winner: 2020 Soft Matter and Biophysical Chemistry Award
University of Sheffield
For sustained and pioneering contributions to the design and synthesis of novel biocompatible polymers.
Celebrate Professor Steven Armes
Professor Steve Armes’ research is mainly focused on the design, synthesis and characterisation of various types of microscopic polymer particles. Depending on their particle size and composition, such particles have many applications, including; use as dirt-shedding architectural paints, spacers for laser toners, next-generation lubricating additives for low-viscosity automotive engine oils, anti-reflective coatings for more efficient solar cells, novel hydrogels for cell culture and cell storage, virus-mimicking nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery and even synthetic mimics for understanding the behaviour of micro-meteorites.Read full biography
Professor Steve Armes graduated from the University of Bristol with a PhD in 1987. He then worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for two years before accepting a Lectureship at Sussex University in 1989. He was promoted to Professor in 2000 and moved to the University of Sheffield in 2004, where he is currently the Firth Professor of Polymer & Colloid Chemistry.
Professor Armes is the lead academic for a single-site EPSRC CDT in Polymers, Soft Matter and Colloids and is the Director of the Sheffield Polymer Centre. His research interests include biocompatible polymers, water-soluble polymers, block copolymer self-assembly, thermoresponsive hydrogels, polymerisation-induced self-assembly, RAFT polymerisation, pH-responsive microgels, polymer brushes, branched copolymers, nanoparticle occlusion and conducting polymer particles.
Professor Armes has worked closely with many industrial companies, with his research group being currently supported by BASF, Lubrizol, Syngenta, P&G, Ashland, DSM, Scott Bader and GEO Specialty Chemicals. He has received numerous awards and prizes, including the 2010 RSC Peter Day Soft Matter award, the 2013 RSC Tilden Prize, the 2014 RSC Interdisciplinary Prize, the 2016 DSM Materials Science Award, the 2017 ECIS Prize, the 2018 Royal Society Armourers and Braziers’ Company Prize, the 2018 RSC Senior Macro Group Medal, the SCI 2020 Innovation in Formulation Award and the 2021 Eric Rideal Lectureship.
He has published 640 peer-reviewed papers (h-index 111) and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2014.
How did you first become interested in chemistry?
I found the first year of ‘O’ level Chemistry very challenging – our first homework assignment was to memorise the periodic table! It also took me at least a year before I learnt to balance chemical equations – I could not understand why you couldn’t just change the molecular structures. However, it wasn’t too long before I was borrowing chemicals from my Chemistry teacher to perform my own experiments in my bedroom. After that, I was hooked on bright colours, noxious smells and loud explosions.
What motivates you?
Getting the next grant application funded and the next scientific paper published in a good journal.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Attracting sufficient grant income, particularly over the past two years when it has been a really tough funding landscape.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
Go for it – you will never be bored! (My school’s careers advisor suggested accountancy – I am very glad that I ignored his advice).
What is an exciting scientific development on the horizon?
Right now, it has to be either a vaccine or an effective drug for COVID-19 – that would certainly change the world for the better!
Why do you think international collaboration is important in science?
I have published joint papers with more than 100 scientists around the world – some of whom I have never met. International collaborations make me feel more connected to the global scientific enterprise – and until recently they have usually offered opportunities for foreign travel (always important if you spend your winters in Sheffield!).
Why do you think interdisciplinary research and collaboration is important in science?
During my career I have worked with pharmacists, surface scientists, cell biologists, soft matter physicists and space scientists. It is always interesting to be exposed to new problems and new ways of thinking. In general, collaboration enables scientists to pool their expertise and tackle problems that cannot be addressed by individuals.
What is your favourite element?
Nitrogen – because it is the key element in my favourite polymer – polypyrrole. My PhD was going nowhere until I belatedly started working on this electrically conducting heterocyclic polymer.