I had two amazing chemistry teachers at school, and I looked forward to those lessons every week. I think if you inspire children and students early enough it’s a given that they are interested and will carry on with the subject. I did and have been lucky enough to have a job where I have never gone to work thinking urgh, which I realise is a special thing.
Her dedication to inspiring children and students to become involved in the world of chemistry happened at an early age. From attending Chemistry at Work events when still at school, she has gone on to organise events for school children and students throughout the Sheffield area.
“There’s so much joy in science – chemistry is in everything – chemistry is science. From the late 90s onwards we organised biennial events within the Students Union at the University of Sheffield that aimed to get 600 local secondary school age students to come and experience the breadth of chemistry in the workplace."
That job is as a principal scientist at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Science and Research Centre in Buxton, Derbyshire. She works within the Biological Monitoring Team as an analytical chemist, measuring people's exposure to metals.
“I’ve measured metals in biological samples all my career. We measure workers’ exposure to metals by taking blood and urine samples to see whether their mask or gloves are working correctly and protecting them. The technology has moved on and we can now, for example, measure five different species of arsenic in urine and say whether it has come from a tuna sandwich or a semi-conductor worker’s exposure to gallium arsenide. The work plays a major role in reducing exposure and subsequently improving the health of workers in the UK. I’ve also got to publish a number of papers, present at international conferences and supervise PhD students. There have been lots of opportunities and the job has just been a pleasure.”
I’ve always found the RSC very supportive. Whether you want to run an event in a marketplace or an entire conference, I know who to email. I’m not going to give anyone that address as this person helps me so much and she may become too busy! But the whole of the membership team at the RSC always answers your queries and they have helped me in so many ways.
Jackie Morton’s involvement with the RSC goes back to her undergraduate days, when she became a member. Then, during her PhD, she ran the Student Chemical Society at Sheffield Hallam University and has been on the local committee ever since. “What the RSC really provided then was finance. It allowed us (the ChemSoc) to put on lectures, events and to subsidise events to get graduates on board. We wanted to bring a different mix of undergrads together with postgrads, and I’m talking about the late 90s so there was no internet, it was good old-fashioned poster boarding and people just came. We were able to get some really interesting lecturers – we had the money to get people like external speakers like Rev Ron Lancaster burning fireworks and Helen Sharman. Even chemistry students need to be inspired, and we could do that with the help of the RSC.”
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Jackie Morton also acts as treasurer for the RSC Atomic Spectroscopy Group a national group of scientists and academics who share information and knowledge to collaborate in the pursuit of science. As part of this group she supports younger scientists working in the atomic spectroscopy field and helps to organise a biennial conference to bring together national and international researchers. “Bringing together colleagues from that forum enables you to strengthen the network of people working in this field. I know most of the people in the UK who do what I do and being able to collaborate and ask questions of others if you have a problem is very helpful. Professionally for me it is a really important area and the RSC offers a platform via the AS Group to do just that."
Top of the Bench is a further area where Jackie Morton has been active. Run by the RSC local sections, this annual national schools competition for students aged 14-16 has been running for 20 years. “We (our hard working local section volunteers) are trying hard to work out how to do a virtual quiz this year instead of the normal Top of the Bench competition and I really hope we are successful. I think if the local chemistry groups didn’t run this competition it just wouldn’t happen."
I have a dream of organising after school science clubs in every primary school in Sheffield. I think to achieve this I would have to work on the project full-time but it’s an important aspect of what is missing today in schools. Children don’t do science at primary school and I think that the science syllabus could be a lot better.
“So I want to get primary school children playing with test tubes in hands-on experiments. My son has classmates who still remember me showing them growing mould on bread and pH testing water from local streams, and that was just me as a parent talking to them. Children remember things and if they are enthused and informed early enough – especially from females in a lab coat from an early age – they will remember. No female scientist came into my classroom, so I want to change that.”