Your views on prizes and diversity, biodegradable wrapping and talent searches

Prizes and diversity

The announcement of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s annual awards and prizes was an opportune moment to consider how the RSC and chemistry as a whole is engaged with ongoing efforts to encourage the increased participation of women in science. For early career researchers (generally less than 40 years old) 24% of nominees and 33% of award-winners were women. However, not a single woman (14% of nominees) received a mid-career award.

As a previous president of the Industry and Technology Division Council, I have attended a number of meetings of the RSC Awards Working Group and have argued in that forum that reform of RSC awards and prizes is not happening quickly enough. The RSC itself has acknowledged in its 2018 report, Diversity Landscape of the Chemical Sciences, that ‘gender equality remains a significant problem for chemistry’ and that loss of women to chemistry is a particular problem. Despite these pronouncements, a major influence that the RSC could have – its recognition of excellence in chemistry – remains in passive rather than active mode.

The RSC needs to grasp and own this particular problem. It needs to be leading the charge, not limping along behind and waiting for things to change. I have spent too long in RSC meetings where the underlying priority – spoken and unspoken – is ‘we must maintain the traditions of a learned society’. If we are not careful, we risk becoming irrelevant to an increasing number of our actual and potential members and will continue to support a demographic that is self-perpetuating and ‘male, pale and stale’.

Bryan Hanley CChem FRSC
Norwich, UK

Helen Pain CChem FRSC, deputy chief executive, Royal Society of Chemistry, responds:

The comments on our prizes and awards are timely. We have appointed an independent group to review all the RSC recognition programmes, with a particular focus on prizes and awards. The outcome will ensure that we recognise the achievements of our diverse community. It will include specific actions on diversity and inclusion.

We are committed to improving inclusion and diversity across the chemical sciences community to make ‘chemistry for everyone’ a reality. The Diversity Landscape of the Chemical Sciences report revealed the lack of progress in developing and retaining women in leadership positions in the chemical sciences and our current work addresses this, among other important diversity issues. In November, the results of new research will be released, exploring barriers that cause gender imbalance in the sector. We will tackle this inequality by identifying concrete actions, guided by our Inclusion and Diversity Committee.

We have reviewed our activities as a professional body against the diversity and inclusion progression framework developed by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Science Council and have identified changes across the organisation, for example in the delivery of conferences and events, which will be announced shortly. We are committed to increasing transparency and accountability across all our activities. In pursuit of this, from 2019 onwards, we will deliver an annual report that includes comprehensive diversity data for all our activities, including governance and membership.

We recognise that by itself the RSC cannot achieve the goals that we all desire. It is essential that others – including individuals, employers, appointment and promotion committees – should help to create momentum and promote further change. Nominations for our prizes and awards open on 1 October 2018 and we urge the community to be proactive in making inclusion and diversity a high priority.

Wrapper’s delight?

Last month, Chemistry World responded to a letter on the plastic wrapper by saying you are looking at alternatives including oxo-degradable or starch (Chemistry World, September 2018, p4). I think you might want to consider how the materials you are considering will be treated and will end up in the environment. I am sure you want something that will go into domestic recycling and not be rejected at the recycling facility.

Oxo-degradables solve the problem of visible litter but just produce nanobeads of plastic. Starch may decompose in an in-vessel composter, but this process is becoming less popular as local authorities realise that anaerobic digestion can produce better returns in terms of money, gas, chemicals and fertiliser. So-called compostable materials require the high temperatures of in-vessel composters and do not break down in home composters.

The trouble with innovation in products like the wrapper is that automatic systems cannot tell the difference between a reprocessable material and any other plastic: it all gets rejected. So whether you have a starch-based plastic, polylactic acid plastic or any other novel idea other than paper, it will all go for energy production.

As ever, once you start looking into a subject, like recycling, it all gets a lot more complicated than you imagine. It may well be that the best answer is a paper envelope. At least that would be big enough not to be rejected at the recycling plant.

I have no interest in the paper envelope industry; my interest in recycling and its problems arises from a couple of years in identifying routes for reprocessing vending cups.

Mike Saltmarsh CSci CChem FRSC
Alton, UK

A star is born

I was somewhat surprised to read Andrew Parsons’ appeal for someone to step forward into the media spotlight (Chemistry World, September 2018, p5). Only the week before I turned down an offer from a researcher from Britain’s Got Talent to be fast-tracked onto the programme. Have I made the right choice?

Roy Lowry MRSC CChem
Plymouth, UK

Editor: It’s a ‘no’ from me.


On p25 of the September issue, we published incorrect structures for Crofelemer and kaurenoic acid. Our apologies for these errors and thanks to reader Keith Baggaley, FRSC, for calling them to our attention.

Saliclyic acid is not aspirin (p30); aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid.

In addition, the scenario and solution to September’s On the spot (p73) was provided by safety advisor Charles Harrison, not by Tom Johnson.