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We are always looking for more people to write for the NESSE blog. If you want to share inspiring sustainable science and engineering stories from around the world, contact blog@sustainablescientists.org.

Scientist Profiles: Prof. Dr. Felix Ekardt


Editor’s Note: Prof. Dr. Felix Ekardt is a interdisciplinary sustainable scientist in scientific fields legal studies, philosophy and sociology. He manages the Research Unit Sustainability and Climate Policy in Leipzig and Berlin, Germany, and gives statutory advices on EU, national and state level. Prof. Ekardt presents around 60-70 scientific and popular lectures nationally and internationally and is currently working on projects based around a wide range of topics including social energy, sustainable corporate law, human rights and environmental law, municipal climate protection and development of national climate protection legislation. We are delighted that he took the time to speak to us!


1) How do you understand the term ‘sustainability’?

Sustainability means a way of life that can be maintained on an intertemporal and global scale. This is a completely new challenge in human history since we have a traditional tendency of focussing on what is going on here and now. The typical example of a sustainability issue is the energy and climate transition.

2) For a sustainable transformation, we need law changes and a different legislative framework for the markets. We are not allowed to make use of all the oil, gas and coal that exists, if we want to prevent a climate change. The German energy transition (Energiewende), which is actually a power transition (Stromwende), is necessary for a sustainable development. Can the German approach be a role model for other countries?

In December 2015, states across the world have agreed on a new climate agreement. The Paris climate agreement lacks ambition in most of its details and as such is disappointing. At the same time, it contains a very ambitious target which is unfortunately frequently overlooked. It determines that global warming needs to be limited to well below(!) 2 degrees Celsius, and even undertake efforts to limit it 1.5 degrees Celsius. For an industrialized country such as Germany with high per capita emissions, but on the bottom-line for every country, this requires zero greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels in power, heating, fuels and material use by around the year 2038. This is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius according to the data of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Taking the limit to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the global phase out of greenhouse gas emissions would need to be reached by the end of the 2020s. This applies if assuming that technologies to achieve negative emissions are not technically feasible or extremely dangerous. The climate debate in Europe and the world largely neglect that.

Taking the described temperature limit as point of reference, key governance deficiencies in the factual energy transition become apparent. The energy transition, as currently implemented (almost anywhere), is basically a power transition. Heating, transport and material use of fossil fuels e.g. fertilizer (and areas of climate emissions beyond fossil fuels which mostly occur in the agricultural sector) are neglected. Policy measures taken so far in Europe and elsewhere are not in the least enough to induce a speedy and complete phase out of fossil fuels – even in the power sector and especially not in other mentioned sectors. Not only other sources of emissions, but also other environmental problems tend to lose attention. Considering per capita emissions, industrialized states are very far away from zero emissions. In the EU, the statistically achieved emissions reductions – from very high levels – since 1990 are surpassed by emissions simply shifted abroad. This becomes apparent if summing up imports and exports. Because the emission-intensive production sites of modern global economy are increasingly relocated to emerging economies.

It is however ambiguous, whether environmental protection will be successful if purely based on technical solutions. Taking into account the speed of innovation so far, it seems not very probable that a transformation to increased renewable energies and energy efficiency will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero in 10 or 20 years. Sufficiency is also needed.

3) You describe a double vicious circle, on the one hand between citizens and politicians, on the other hand between customers and companies, that has to be interrupted. Our economic system is based on self-interest, egoism and competition, the greed for more material wealth is not limited. In my opinion, this is a serious problem for sustainable development. Shouldn’t we try to increase awareness and mindfulness, to succeed with a social transformation based on cooperation, altruism and sufficiency? As a human being with freedom of will, we have the gift of controlling our emotions and behaviour. I think we also have the responsibility to make use of that. Do you agree?

Based on pluralistic methodological approaches, one can show that non-sustainable and non-sufficient behaviour has various sources in different actors and that it should therefore be avoided to focus relevant aspects of behavioural science only. Pure knowledge of facts has proven to be only a small part in triggering behaviour. More important is an understanding of how actors are interdependent. The behaviour of citizens for example is influenced by politicians and vice versa, the same goes for the dependency between enterprises and consumers. It is part of a certain economic system to constantly acquire customers that buy more and new products without caring about the means of production and that are inclined to find products which are produced socially and ecologically exemplary too expensive. But it also requires enterprises which offer – or in fact do not offer – customers products to trigger needs and thus constantly increasing their profits, ergo keeping up the spiral of growth and high resource intensity. It would be misleading however to simply talk in Marxian tradition of exploitation and estrangement, particularly since many liberties have been installed in modern societies at the same time. As suggestive as many offers might be, production and consumption are not forced by just one side and many individual suppliers and demanders make their contributions. The role of factors – determined by all above mentioned methods – such as self-interest, the dilemma of public goods, path dependencies and conceptions of normality as aspects of motivation in this interaction, especially looking from an economic point of view has been described by many. Two aspects crucial to comprehensively explaining the reluctance to act on sufficiency are however frequently neglected.

One of which are common conceptions of normality as shown by many. Despite all intellectual recognition, we continue living in a high-emission world. If setting aside this article, the next meat buffet, the next car drive to work or the next holiday flight is not far. These things are just ordinary nowadays, as long as one can afford them financially. Dismissing flights as a whole might lead to social pressure and an image as “weirdo”. Lifestyle is also relevant to social standing if. in a current situation. the social surrounding requires a certain apartment, cars and travels in order to belong. This is increasingly true for countries outside the Western hemisphere, which follow the role models in industrialized countries. Especially decision-makers in politics and enterprises are often used to entertaining a lifestyle that includes frequent flights, opulent buffets, global friendships, regular meat consumption, and now they are required to think of abolishing it (with foreseeable results). Conceptions of normality vary significantly at the moment, however the fact that they develop them (unconsciously) in order to simplify ordinary activities seems to be a biological invariable.

Human emotions are likewise relevant for all of us, including entrepreneurs, politicians, civil servants etc. Geographically and temporally distant, invisible, in highly complex causalities which make it hard to imagine damages due to climate change yet caused by an ordinary activity are usually not emotionally accessible to people (citizens, politicians, entrepreneurs).

All aspects are to be encountered both in the individual and in structures – there of course in humane – forms. “Self-interest”, “conceptions of normality” or “emotions” are not only visible in individuals but are also shaping higher structures; so in the end, retention of power or accumulation of capital are collectivized variations of self-interest and path dependencies.

Non-sustainable behaviour is therefore easy to explain. At the same time, these findings hint at the fact that a fundamental turn towards sustainability and specifically sufficiency might be very hard to achieve, as there is reason to assume that emotions are part of a core biological configuration which cannot be eliminated. It will however be essential that different actors will move at once – and that aspects which can be changed are in fact changed, e.g. self-interest calculations or path dependencies, which can be influenced through new political frameworks such as levies or caps on fossil fuels. Pricing will also support a change in conceptions of normality. However, it will hardly be possible to achieve change exclusively through political measures, because of the interdependencies of actors; it is of particular importance to have someone demanding new policies. The central piece however is not just discourse, but practicing new and more sustainable normalities.

4) What has to be done to perform energy transition successfully?

Approaches to environmental protection so far usually aim at regulating individual products, plants or actions. To do so, mostly commands or prohibitions are formulated, e.g. standards for emission limits for cars, houses or products.  The problem here is firstly that the measures taken are not even close to being fit to comply with key political targets like the 1.5-to-1.8-degree temperature limit of the Paris Agreement, stop biodiversity loss, stop of degradation of ecosystems and soil, stabilizing of nitrogen cycles etc. This implies the mentioned speedy and complete phase out of fossil fuel use and decreasing land use. Secondly, the focus on single products, plants or actions contains the inevitable disadvantage that it will lead to unplanned shifting effects. Environmental problems are shifted into other countries and possibly to other sectors. Well-insulated houses in the EU might reduce the heating bill, enabling in turn even more climate-harmful holiday flights. If the use of crude-oil containing mineral fertilizers is reduced in the EU, it might either induce even more intensive agriculture elsewhere (to produce products which are then imported into the EU). Or an increased use of green genetically modified organisms (GMO) which are not compatible with small-scale farming as a solution to various environmental problems. Thirdly, with regards to ecological strains or resource problems, the individual car or one round of fertilizer is not the core of the problem. It is rather the cumulation of many of those processes. Nothing is solved if an individual car becomes more efficient, but then more higher-performing cars are on the road, also due to an increasing wealth (rebound effect).

Therefore, in looking for more effective policy instruments, a key starting point should be the core factor of several environmental problems, with are fossil fuels. They are, especially through fertilizer, key driver of modern agriculture, and address as such not only climate change but also biodiversity as well as disturbed nitrogen cycles. The target according to the Paris Agreement is therefore the total phase out of fossil fuels of the markets in all sectors (also in transportation, heating, agriculture) gradually in 10 or 20 years. If done with a global or at least a European cap (absolute quantity control), this would lead to far-reaching consequences. This system would not in the least resemble the existing EU ETS, because it would achieve a strict cap (including the elimination of old certificates) as well as a complete inclusion of fossil fuels. Justification of this approach is primarily its ecological effectiveness and not its possible cost-efficiency (while there is a good chance it might also be achieved).

Felix-Sommer

Renewable energies, energy efficiency and sufficiency would replace fossil fuels for power, heating and transportation. The amounts of fossil fuels on the market would simply decrease until they will finally not be available on the market anymore in 10 to 20 years. The increasing scarcity will lead to dramatically increasing prices. The materially and geographically broach approach is crucial for the effectiveness of the instrument – especially to avoid rebound and shifting effects. Conventional agriculture would gradually see a transition to ecological agriculture. Also, the production of animal products would become less attractive overall; production of animal products would increasingly shift towards low-emission pastoral farming. Consequently, also less production quantities and decreasing disposal rates.

It is crucial to tax imported goods with the additional costs of energy and land-use pricing as eco tax; exported goods should be exempt at least partially from the additional costs. Those so called border adjustments will prevent that production, for instance steel industry or production of animal feed, is moved outside the system.

5) We need new role models for a paradigm shift. Matthieu Ricard said in an interview with Barbara Bleisch that the messenger has to be the message, when he/she wants to be convincing. So do you live sustainably?

Role models really matter a lot. I do not have a driving license, I am a vegetarian since 1993, I do not go on holidays by plane, even on a professional basis usually I do not go by plane. I used to live in a very small flat until the age of 40, I do not have a cell phone etc. pp. But we all, including me, have to improve our sustainability performance.

Background in Sustainable Science or Engineering: Not a Prerequisite

Editor’s Note: Here’s NESSE’s Co-Executive Director, Natalie O’Neil to share with us her NESSE story. With upcoming elections she wants to be clear that passion and a desire to make a change in the system is all you need to be a NESSE member and effective board member.

I became a science major to “change the world”—as Bill Nye once said. I am now an Inorganic Chemistry Ph.D. candidate at the University at Albany. However, it wasn’t until 2015, far into my graduate studies, that I realized (naive of me, I know) that something was missing from my science education and research experience. I had come to the realization that the methods of my research were inherently not environmentally friendly (as is consistently the case) and that I had no knowledge on how to change that (which most students don’t as toxicology and environmental chemistry are not currently required for a chemistry degree by most universities). I realized that I had no idea of the environmental impacts my research could be making and to me not knowing seemed unacceptable. I have always been an environmentally-conscious person; however, it did not strike me that I wasn’t including this aspect into my research or future career plans. Struggling with the amounts of harmful chemicals my research consumed – and the inevitable waste it produced – I set out to find a connection between chemistry and sustainability.

I began researching sustainable science and discovered green chemistry through Beyond Benign, who recommended I check out the Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers (NESSE). Wanting to engage more I applied for NESSE’s mentorship program. I learned that anyone can become a green chemist. That green chemistry isn’t a new field, it is chemistry done with the forethought of sustainability (considering social, economic and environmental impacts). My mentor, Cliff Coss, recommended I read Green Chemistry Theory and Practice by Paul T. Anastas and John Warner. I have never read a book in one sitting or had a book speak to me so much, and wondered why all chemists were not working within this book’s mindframe.

“It is no more excusable for a fireman not to know that a fire burns, or a chef not to know a knife cuts, than for a chemists not to know the character of the tools of their trade.” – John Warner & Paul Anastas

After reading about the 12 principles of green chemistry developed by Anastas and Warner I made an effort to make changes in my research practices—as well as the practices of my other peers. The Office of Environmental Sustainability at the University at Albany, had an Innovation Grant program that allowed me to attend a Green Chemistry Symposium at the University of Toronto (UofT), organized by the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), a NESSE sustainable science group. At UofT I learned a lot about green chemistry and how it is used in industry. I walked away inspired by the work of the graduate students of the GCI and was determined to follow suit in some way!

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Photo from the GCI 2016 Symposium Innovations in Chemistry Towards Sustainable Urban Living.

The NESSE elections opened that June (2015) and I ran for the Director of Marketing and Communications role. At the time I didn’t have experience in social media, tweeting to me was sound a bird made and WordPress (huh?) I had never used. But I was committed to sharing the great information and resources that NESSE had to offer me with as many early career scientists and engineers. I met the board of directors in Rhode Island for a three day strategic planning retreat and the optimism of the directors fueled my drive even more. With the help of the director that was stepping down, I learned my role and where there is a will there is a way!

Picture1Photos from NESSE’s first strategic planning retreat in 2015.Left- Plans for the year written on the widow with a view, many of these plans materialized or are now in action! Right-The current (Jennie, Norman and I) and now past (Laura and Anna) directors who attended the planning retreat!

Two years later and a ton of experience under my belt, I stand as the co-executive director of an organization that has given me so many experiences and exposed me to opportunities I would have never had without getting involved in NESSE. Just a few examples are the ACS Green Chemistry Summer School in 2016, traveling to Paris to be a part of the Future Earth working group of the Early Career Researchers Network of Networks (ECR NoN) and London for the Science for Sustainable Development: Early Career Leaders Day in Fall 2017. At all of these events I met amazing early career scientists and learned that our generation is really setting a new path for the future.

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Photos from all events mentioned above! Top left- ACS summer school class. Top right- Future Earth working group of the ECR NoN. Middle left-photos of the fun had at the ACS summer school! Middle right-Getting to meet the directors in London! Bottom row- photos from the Early Career Leaders Day at the Burlington house in London.

The knowledge I have gained from working with the board is invaluable, ranging from science communication (blog posts, social media crowdfunding campaign) to organizational structure (international organization procedures, 501 c3 status) and much more. NESSE is truly an organization run for its members by its members and is always open to finding, running and promoting any sort of initiative its members want to help undertake. This grassroots friendly approach is what I love about NESSE.

I share my NESSE story in the hopes that you, the reader, will see that no experience is needed when it comes to adding sustainability to whatever field you are in. What it takes is the passion to make a difference, in your career, in your field and finding the resources you need, which are out there (you are not alone, trust me) it just might take some digging! NESSE’s aim is to be the facilitator of this process, it was for me and it can be for you! If we as early career individuals ban together across all fields (social, physical and life science) than we can tackle the global environmental and energy challenges facing us. We need a multifaceted approach for the myriad of challenges which means we need all backgrounds to come to the table to find viable solutions for a sustainable future for all.

I urge you to engage with the network, consider a volunteer opportunity or even run for one of our open director positions for the upcoming 2017 election you never know where it might take you or what doors it will open that you never knew were possible! If you have questions about getting involved with NESSE or about one of the director positions please contact me at natalie.oneil@sustainablescientists.org.

 

Scientist Profiles: Prof. Rafael Luque

Editor’s Note: Prof. Rafael Luque leads the Nanoscale Chemistry and Biomass/Waste Valorisation Group at the University of Cordoba, Spain. He is also member of the editorial board of prestigious journals, Editor-in-Chief of the Porous section of the journal Materials, Editor of Journal of Molecular Catalysis A: Chemical, and Series Editor of Topics in Current Chemistry (Springer). Prof. Luque will be a keynote speaker at the International Symposium on Green Chemistry 2017 next month in La Rochelle, with a talk titled Benign-by-design methodologies for a more sustainable future: from nanomaterials to heterogeneous (photo)catalysis and biomass/waste valorization. In addition, he will join NESSE on May 18th for a special session at ISGC 2017: “Thriving Careers and Sustainability: A Panel Discussion”. For more information, please visit www.isgc-symposium.com/program-overview/.  

When did you know you wanted to dedicate yourself to chemistry?

I was always impressed by the fact that chemistry is ubiquitously present in our daily life. It is in everything we do and see, and from my perspective as an organic chemist, I would say it is even part of ourselves. I was very curious when I was a kid about common everyday observations that I related to chemistry. When I started my PhD studies I also became very interested in green chemistry, in the sense of trying to work on advances towards a more sustainable society and ways of living.

What is your current research focused on?

Throughout the years, we have been able to branch out the scope of our research. Nowadays we are focused on three different platform technologies.

  1. Nanoscale chemistry – We design our own nanomaterials, supported metal nanoparticles, and quantum dots for different applications.
  2. Application of nanomaterials – This work is done mostly in the area of heterogeneous catalysis and photocatalysis, and more recently we are developing photoluminescent materials. We are also working at the interface of chemistry and biology by developing bioinspired functional materials for biologically-related applications.
  3. Flow chemistry – We work on continuous flow processes that are scalable for chemical industry. In addition, we also work on biomass and waste valorisation. Here we utilize bio refinery concepts in order to further evaluate the possibility to convert residual feedstocks into chemicals, materials, and fuels.

What would you say your first approach to green chemistry was?

Originally I was not quite aware of it. When the concept started in the 90s I was a high school student. My first major connection with it was during my Postdoc with Prof. James Clark at the University of York. Working at the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence gave me the opportunity to understand what this concept can provide to society, industry, and research in general. I was fascinated by the possibilities that we have improve the future for upcoming generations by reducing our environmental footprint.

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As a professional in academia, how do feel education has changed around the concept of green chemistry? What do you believe are the possibilities in this field?

I think education is very important for the formation of future generations. For green chemistry in particular, education is a tool to help new generations understand the possibilities we have to improve our way of behaving, working, and living. I would say that green chemistry is not limited to the scope of chemical education, the core values of it reach out to a more general audience. I think this is a critical aspect that needs to be taken into account to provide social awareness of what the beneficial effects of green chemistry are on the environment with concrete examples, such as how we can replace current products derived from petroleum by more sustainable products.

With regards to formal education, the curricula have changed, although this might be at a rather slower pace.  All over different countries you see courses that either incorporate the 12 principles of green chemistry, or tackle more specific topics, such as sustainability in processes for fine chemical production, catalyst synthesis, polymer production, etc. The possibilities are endless, and we could spend a long time speaking about them. Using waste as a resource for many potential products that we can extract and harvest, design of new materials, catalysts, continuous flow processes… All of these are areas of opportunity both for green chemistry and chemical education.

You have managed to develop start-up companies in addition to your work at the University of Cordoba. How did your introduction into entrepreneurship occur?

At some stage the research and the topics you focus on can somehow steer you in different direction. In our case the key factor that motivated the creation of our start-ups was the fact that, in addition to working on fundamental research, we also conduct applied research. We managed to succeed in reaching the market in terms of prototypes and products that we proposed, in order to provide alternatives for the chemical industry of the future. This eventually led to the development spin-off companies from our work, so far three of them. One of them started out as a collaboration with the University of York in the UK, and two other companies in Spain. We are currently working on creating a new one in China. The possibilities in this case are always related to the broadness and the applicability of our research. In this case, we had significant expertise on the field, and this led to incurring in an entrepreneurial path.

We often hear about professional accomplishments, but often we overlook the struggles that they represented. What would you say are some of the challenges you have faced throughout your career?

I have had several challenges in my career. I come from a traditionally deprived region in the south of Spain. Starting my research group from scratch back in 2009 was complicated in terms of funding, access to resources, students, etc. It required a lot of dedication, especially in the middle of a big recession, which may have been a different situation had I been in a different place.

From a personal perspective, I come from a modest family. During my studies, I had to put a great effort to try be the best in my class in order to qualify for fellowships to pay for my studies and then for my PhD. My advice to young scientists is to always bring motivation and passion in whatever you do. Particularly, resilience is a quality that I feel missing in some students these days. It is not easy to receive a lot of funding at the beginning of your career, regardless of how great you/your ideas are. In the past I would submit twenty proposals to get one, but I never lost hope, never lost my passion and my will to keep pushing that will bring you to eventual success.  It is a learning curve that requires time, but a self-driven character and resilience are very helpful along the way. Fighting and being able to come back stronger after a rejected paper/proposal/application is the way forward!!

Is interdisciplinary research career-suicide? Share your experience

ID research social media photoMulti-, inter- and transdisciplinary research are increasingly seen as vital in a world of complex, interconnected global challenges. Funders are beginning to support early-career researchers to conduct this work through doctoral training centres and projects with a focus on research at the intersections between disciplines.

Yet, these types of research have been called “career suicide” for young academics and a British Academy report suggested that early-career researchers should first “cultivate their academic home” as a base to conduct interdisciplinary research.

We want to understand early-career researchers own experiences and perspectives of MIT-disciplinary (multi-, inter-, or trans-disciplinary*) research as part of a larger study into the culture of science. Please help us by completing this 15 minute survey.

The survey asks you about:

  1. Your past and current experiences of MIT-disciplinary research;
  2. The motivations, challenges and rewards that you associate with MIT-disciplinary research;
  3. The level of support or hindrance that you receive in any MIT-disciplinary research that you undertake
  4. Your suggestions as to how support for future MIT-disciplinary research should be approached, particularly in relation to early-career researchers.

Please share widely! Post on twitter or facebook: Early-career researchers – whats your experience of #interdisciplinary research? http://bit.ly/2qZrY1C #ECRchat #PhDchat @greenscientists

 

*For the purposes of this survey, we define multidisciplinary as people from different disciplines working together; interdisciplinary as integrating knowledge and methods from different disciplines at the outset of a project; and transdisciplinary as involving researchers from different disciplines and other stakeholders variously in the design, execution and implementation of research.

Scientist Profiles: Dr. Edith Lecomte-Norrant

Editor’s Note: Dr. Edith Lecomte-Norrant is the current Head of Innovation/Technology/Sciences at UCB Biopharma in Belgium, where she works introducing new methods for industrialization of pharmaceutical processes. She holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from ENSIC-CNRS, HDR in Chemical Engineering, worked six years as a National Researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. Her work includes the submission of 9 patents, 14 articles, more than 200 technical confidential reports, and presenting more than 35 oral communications at different international conferences. She has worked in several private companies and has international experience in R&D and fine chemistry/pharmaceutical manufacturing plants. Dr. Lecomte-Norrant will be a keynote speaker at the 2017 International Symposium on Green Chemistry (ISGC) in La Rochelle, France. In addition, she will join NESSE on May 18th for a special session at ISGC 2017: “Thriving Careers and Sustainability: A Discussion Panel”. For more information, please visit www.isgc-symposium.com/program-overview/.  Untitled

What motivated you to pursue a career in science?

Firstly, when I was young, I loved mathematics. It was for me a challenge to solve those problems, to the extent it became a game for me. Secondly, I was and I am still very curious about everything. I like to learn, to discover new scientific areas, to understand how everything works…  but I always have the feeling that I do not know anything. This is the reason why, after my engineer studies, I decided to do a PhD to get a higher level of knowledge and to develop my capacities to learn, to develop my creativity. I like challenges!

During my PhD, under the responsibility of Prof. Le Goff (ENSIC – Nancy), who was a person with a lot of ideas and with a passion for science, I really discovered what research was, and I liked it because it is always challenges to solve and to find concrete solutions. During this period, I discovered my creativity to solve technical problems by mixing ideas from different areas. It is the reason why I decided to do research and I applied to work at CNRS (the French Centre National of Scientific Research).

At CNRS I discovered something else: ideas are important, but we need a budget to develop them. Therefore, I decided to move to a new research unit, which had been created to improve the relationship between private and public research. This Mixed Research Unit consisted of 50% public researchers and 50% private researchers coming from Rhone Poulenc (Ex SANOFI). For me it was a fantastic period because I worked with experts in other areas without any budget issues. The target was to develop new methodology, new tools to develop gas/liquid/solid reactions at an industrial scale. I realized that, by working in a multidisciplinary team with different public and private experts, we could do fantastic research in a quick timeframe.

I also discovered that the research in a private company was focused on applications. For me, working on the bridge between fundamental research and the application was a new challenge. Thus I decided to go and work in private company to apply new fundamental concepts and to be more pragmatic.  Also, in a private company we have more opportunity to work in different areas, and to learn more in different subjects. In comparison, on public research you generally become an expert in one topic and stay in that area.

Can you tell us about your current role as Innovation/Technology/Sciences Director at UCB Biopharma?

My current role as Innovation/Technology/Sciences Director aims to introduce new methodology and technology to develop and industrialize new chemical and biological drugs. My idea is to develop a tool box to help researcher’s day to day.

I work with six Research & Development Departments, respectively API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient), DP (Drug Product), Analytical Department for both Small and Large Molecules, and with Universities (or start-ups) to help us develop our ideas concerning new technologies and to integrate them in our research department, then in a pilot plant and a manufacturing plant.

When we have a new idea, we take a Master’s student for 6 months to evaluate it and to get the answer for this following question: “Is it the right idea or the wrong one?” Depending on the answer, we either stop it or move on with a PhD student to develop it with the University that has the right expertise. The PhD student can work both at University and at UCB. It depends on the subject and where the best place to do research is (due to equipment, analytical tools, etc.).

Innovation means to create a new technology for UCB that does not exist anywhere else but also to introduce a new technology at UCB which is used by other companies but that UCB has not gotten yet. This latter innovation is at minimum risk. Most of the actions are confidential.

You have impressive record working on industrial management positions. What are some of the challenges you have faced in this aspect of your career?   

The greatest challenge I got was between Aug. 1993 and Aug. 1994. When I started at Rhone Poulenc in January of 1993, I was in charge of the continuous process improvement of four manufacturing plants: two in France, one in the UK and one in the US. Unfortunately, in August 1993, an explosion occurred at the US plant: some people died and some were drastically injured. I was named project manager to find the underlying reasons of the explosion and to design a new safe process in three months. I remember I was told: “you have unlimited resources, open budget, but make sure there are no incidents”.  I created a team of 40 people in one week, which comprised experts in chemistry, chemical engineering, analytical, safety, corrosion, etc.

It was a big and stressful challenge because we did not know the reasons of the explosion. Furthermore, to increase the complexity, Rhone Poulenc bought this manufacturing plant one year before and we had no access to the data concerning the development of the process for this intermediate compound. We had to develop everything in a safe way in three months: main reaction, by-product reactions, analytical methods to follow the reactions, kinetic of reactions, stability of compounds, etc., in order to understand the reasons of the explosion.

I remember we did the first reactions in a “special bunker”, a special safety lab in order to define safe operating conditions. In three months, due to the impressive work of the team, we had understood the reasons of the explosion and we had designed a new safe reactor with a controlled system to detect the presence of the dangerous by-product. It was my first experience in PAT (Process Analytical Technology). When I went to the US in December 1993 to present the data and the design of the new unit, they asked me to take charge of starting the future unit and to negotiate with OSHA the authorization to restart the previous one.

It was a new big challenge that I accepted. It was an important human experience to work with operators who had lived the accident. In fact, even if you know that safety is first, you are not totally aware about all the impacts and consequences an explosion has on people. The biggest challenge I had was to convince operators that we had understood all the reasons of the explosion and we had put in place all the necessary controls to work in a safe way. It was a problem of trust and it took time to regain it from them.

We restarted it August 1994 without any problems. Since then I kept a nice relationship with the operators during my stay in the US. I think that it was the biggest challenge I had in my career. It was an important human experience for me. Keep in mind that science is important but safety is more important.

From your perspective, how has the incorporation of green chemistry in industrial R&D evolved in recent years?   

In my own opinion, I observed that in most of cases Green Chemistry in the industrial world has been introduced mainly:

  • By new laws in environment which induces important cost for treatment of wastes.
  • By information about the consequences of the pollution on health.

For both these reasons, private companies had to adapt their processes with innovative solutions to reduce the cost of treatment of waste which becomes more and more important. Now Green chemistry is included in their policy: it is a label for potential customers. It is the reason why the R&D department takes into account this point to find innovative solutions for the development of green processes.

However, the problems and solutions are quite different for large chemical process and fine chemistry/pharmaceutical process. Large chemical productions are often manufactured by using a continuous process: by recycling solvents, catalysts, etc.  Generally, they measure the carbon footprint of each step. Thus, it is a point that is evaluated and they are looking for an innovative process in a safer way by reducing their waste, which induces a reduction of operating expenses.

Concerning fine chemistry and pharmaceutical companies, they have the habit to use batch processes. Up until now, they were very conservative due to regulatory affairs. Today this industry moves slowly by adopting innovative technologies such as micro/milli-reactors (process intensification), coupled with physical activation (photo chemistry, microwaves, electrochemistry, etc.), which generally induces a huge reduction of wastes. Furthermore, working in a continuous way gives us more flexibility concerning the size of the “batch”, and we avoid the destruction of good products that are not used. A typical example is a clinical trial: we need to manufacture a small amount of compound and the continuous process gives us this flexibility, unlike the batch process where the amount of compound depends on the size of reactor. So now researchers are aware about green chemistry practices and they try to develop innovative green processes, but the first priority is the quality for patients.

Fostering innovation is a key role on your current professional field.  You have worked to develop a student’s program at UCB and you are currently in charge of the Scientific External Partnership with Universities. What has this experience been like?  

Being in charge of Innovation/Technology/Sciences, my job is to develop a tool box to help researchers creating new processes for new drugs with higher quality for patients at a lower cost. When you develop an innovative idea, you take a risk from a budget and resources point of view. In order to reduce these risks, I introduced a student’s program at UCB. What does it mean?

It is a master-student who does the evaluation of the idea during 6 months. So the evaluation of the idea is done at low cost. Furthermore, if the idea is interesting, we go on with the development with a PhD, or a Post-Doc with a Professor at University who is an expert in this area. We reduce the risk of failure as we have an expert to help us developing the idea. So the student’s program is composed with master-student, PhD and post-Doc with a lot of relationships with different Universities. In 2016, we had more than 30 master students, 25 PhD and 3 Post-Docs in TSO (Technical Supply Operations).

Sometimes, I take several PhDs for the same project with several professors from different Universities who have different areas of expertise to solve a problem or to develop a new tool. Each PhD has his own objective but he must work in a team. It is a good experience for everybody. I often observed a silo between chemical and biological experts. It is unfortunate because we can learn from each other and together we can find very innovative solutions.

The student program has another advantage: we have time to evaluate the student during his trainee. It is a good opportunity to hire our new researchers from this pool.  In order to create a good relationship between Universities and UCB and to motivate students to apply for a master or a PhD at UCB, I teach in 5 different Universities, in each for about 2.5 days:

  • 1 day concerning industrial cases that I had to solve as Chemical Engineer during my professional life
  • 1 day concerning Innovation in industrial process (my own vision): what will happen in a close future: I mix innovation in chemical with biological process
  • 0.5 day: PAT: Process Analytical Technology.

What advice would you give to early-career professionals seeking to work in industry?   

For post-docs or researchers, the most important qualities you must have are to be flexible, mobile and adaptable. Why?  Today, we live in a world that changes continuously.

First example: You can enter a company that has a strategy and policy. Tomorrow the company is bought by another one and the strategy and policy change. Even if you stay in the same office for the same job, you must adapt to the new strategy and policy of the new company.

Second example: You can be hired for your expertise in a certain area. Tomorrow, for any reason, the company decides to stop this activity, so you must find a solution: either to develop a new expertise in another area in the company or to leave the company to practice your expertise in another one. It is a problem of flexibility.

Third example: you can have a big opportunity to develop your career in the same company but in other country. What do you do? Are you mobile? Are you adaptable to the new environment in a foreign country? If you are mobile and adaptable you can go for this journey.

Finally, nowadays as a researcher you must follow all new discoveries, new trends that are done in your area and take in account all other advancement from other areas. You will work in a multidisciplinary team and you must adapt yourself to these new technologies.

Here is an example concerning the evolution of communication: in the past we communicated by letters, then by fax, after by email, etc. What kind of new system will it be tomorrow? We are now talking about Industry 4.0, Internet of Things, robots in the laboratory to do our experiments. All these new tools change the ways of working and we must be flexible, adaptable, and mobile to use them. The future starts now, and if you want to know the future, dream it and create it for a better chemistry and for a better life. The only thing that remains constant about technology, sciences, and even the world is the fact that it is constantly changing. 

Thank you Dr. Lecomte-Norrant for your valuable participation. We look forward to continuing our discussion in La Rochelle!

ISGC is the leading event for scientists and industries to share their findings on sustainable chemistry. ISGC 2017 will take place in La Rochelle, France from May 16th-19th. NESSE will be present with activities for early-career professionals seeking to be part of a sustainable future.

Scientist Profiles: Prof. Wasserscheid

Editor’s Notes: Ahead of the International Symposium on Green Chemistry, NESSE Member Simon Rauch interviews Professor Wassercheid.  Prof. Wassercheid is a German chemist and professor for chemical reaction engineering at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Prof. Wassercheid will be presenting a plenary lecture at the ISGC on the topic of Novel, selective catalytic routes to organic acids from biomass. If you are attending the ISGC, or would like to participate regardless – NESSE are giving you the opportunity! For full details please see our dedicated ISGC page.Prof. Wasserscheid

 

The long list of your awards begins with the first prize at the contest “Jugend forscht” (Young researchers). How did it come that you took part at this contest in the field of chemistry at a humanistic highschool? What is the fascination of chemistry?

It was not my decision to visit a humanistic highschool but my parents’ at this time. The interest in physics and chemistry came during school and so I decided, independently from the type of school, to participate in the “Jugend Forscht” competition. My feeling at this time was that the particular contest of “Jugend forscht” offers a very nice platform for first steps in science. You are free to develop your own topic, you get support by the school, and you have very experienced referees on the different stages of the contest which give you valuable feedback and a first glimpse on how science works. This was very fascinating for me from the very beginning; I understood that what you learn at school is the foundation of a scientific process. I was attracted by the fact that even a very young researcher can easily cross the border to virgin areas in science.

How do you understand the term sustainability?

Research towards sustainable chemical manufacturing implies that all relevant material and energy cycles of a newly developed process should be closed. This is a significant challenge as most of the traditional manufacturing processes in the chemical industry take fossil fuels as material and energy source and many relevant cycles are not fully closed so far. Thus a central question in the development of sustainable chemical processes is: “Will my new technology work without producing something that is not part of the cycle”. Of course, such newly developed technologies are only of value if they are applicable. Applicability includes effectiveness, economic attractiveness, and social compatibility.

How does your research contribute to a sustainable development? What will be the topic of your talk at the ISGC 2017 in La Rochelle?

Here in Erlangen at the Friedrich-Alexander University my group is active in catalysis and material science towards more effective chemical reaction engineering. We apply this to topics like chemical energy storage, selective hydrogenation/dehydrogenation and C-C-coupling reactions but also to biomass conversion processes. In La Rochelle I will talk about new routes to convert biomass to formic acid and acrylic acid and probably also about hydrogen storage technologies based on Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier (LOHC) systems.  

You talked about more effectiveness. But I often hear efficiency in the context of sustainability. An increasing efficiency comes along with a higher chance of external effects in the range of systemic risk. This increases the vulnerability of the entire system.  Shouldn’t we be more aware of the balance between efficiency and resilience?

Well, it is getting a bit philosophical here I think that a researcher dedicated to the goal of sustainability should define the terms “effective” and “efficient” in a sustainable manner. This would exclude the negative effects that you have mentioned. You may criticize chemical engineering approaches of the past that have strived for greater efficiency and left some aspects of sustainability out and this is exactly what we should avoid in the future. So our “effective” and “efficient” is exactly an effectiveness and efficiency in a closed cycle that aims for maximizing sustainability. And therefore I don’t see a contradiction between my definition of effectiveness and efficiency and the term of sustainability.  


Do you think that a technological development is sufficient to reduce the risk our society is confronted with? I don’t believe in the sustainability of an economic system, which is based on the paradigm of infinite growth on a planet with limited resources. Is humbleness a necessary virtue of scientists?

First of all, infinite growth in quantities is indeed a problematic goal. In contrast, if we talk about a growth in quality, this is the way to go. Growth and sustainability are not in contradiction, if you talk about a growth in quality of your processes and products. If people are ready to pay more for the higher quality, we generate growth on the economic scale without just numbering up and wasting more resources.


Humbleness is important for every scientists, because the world is full of secrets and not everything can be overlooked by a human being in 2017. We are not one hundred percent sure, whether the things we propose to increase sustainability now, will be seen as a positive contribution to this goal in 2050. The scientific development is full of misjudgement with respect to what future generations need. Still, with all the knowledge we have, all the knowledge that we can look up very quickly today on the internet, I think the chance that we go completely wrong if we honestly try to be sustainable, is very low.

You recommended a career in academia for those who don’t see the sense of their life in increasing the profit of a company, because scientists work for reputation and honor. But are scientists still able to work freely as this was meant to be, for example by Alexander Humboldt or Karl Jaspers. Or are they more and more subjected by the New Public Management?

This is a question regarding the funding situation of an academic institution like ours. We have a large research group that is working on interesting scientific questions, but in order to have such a large group, we need to bring in third-party funding. This external funding comes from different organisations, for example the German Science Foundation, the European Community or different industrial partners. Every sponsor has its own agenda. This agenda may be fundamental science, like in the case of the German Science Foundation, but it may also be a close networking of industry and academia towards a potential product, problem solution or market scenarios.

I think one has to be so fair to say, that academic research is very expensive and so it has to give something back to the society. One very important part is the student education, but another part is to create some sort of value for the society on a short, medium or long term. I can accept politicians or tax payers which expect that an engineering institution should have an impact on the technological development of a country. This is different from an academic institution in humanities, where the questions are typically much more fundamental. It would be wrong if academic engineering institutions would avoid the contact with real world problems. The only reason why you need to be an engineer is to transfer fundamental knowledge into better products or processes. This has naturally an exposure to application and industrial realisation.

Having said this, I have the opinion that also an engineering professor should have the freedom to follow her or his visionary and future-oriented ideas on a longer timescale even if these have no immediate application today. I would certainly like to have more longterm funding to follow such type of research directions. If you would give me money for five positions guaranteed for the next fifteen years, I would certainly start to develop topics that are different from the current hypes and could potentially be of high future value.

German Universities have problems with the copyright law and digital access to scientific literature.  Shouldn’t we start to think about open access to scientific insights and increase the transparency in exchange to public funding?

This is a question that has many different implications and is not easy to answer in a couple of sentences. One problem is certainly that some publishers see publishing of scientific results as big business, with maximizing return on investment to make shareholders happy. Consequently, it becomes more and more unaffordable for scientific institutions to cover the cost for the needed full access to the current state-of-the-art. On the other hand, scientists write for free, referee for free and edit for free. They typically do so to work on their own scientific reputation. This looks indeed like a rather unfair system. So, in the future, we have to find better ways to assure top quality refereeing and fair paper selection that still give full access of the scientific community to all relevant results.
It is also problematic that many scientific communities have created strong incentives to maximize the quantitative paper output of their scientists. Even with all the electronic databases, it is inefficient if a certain part of the publications is just produced by the need to publish and not by the need to communicate essential results. Of course, this aspect has a strong interplay with the questions how you rank scientists, how you distribute resources and, in some countries, even how scientists are paid.

Has the research in the field of sustainability had an effect on the way you live your life?

It gives you a good feeling. I try to do my scientific work in a way that I can discuss with people about it without feeling ashamed. I want to give them the feeling that we contribute to a better future of our society. This gives me a personal satisfaction and therefore it contributes in a positive manner to my life. This would be certainly different, if I would have to do research for a company or organisation on things that I do not feel appropriate for a sustainable development. This is one good thing of being a professor, because you can freely select your topics and your scientific goals.

 

This post was edited by Thomas Clark.

NESSE News: Living Smaller, Living Greener – GreenSTEMS Social Symposium Recap

Editor’s Notes: We are so proud at NESSE of the great events championed by our NESSE groups! Here’s a blog post taken from GreenSTEMS after their recent social symposium. 

One Planet Week was full of interesting events to attend, all supporting a better world and a better life. GreenSTEMS could not be left out of this inspiring week! Our Living Smaller, Living Greener symposium was a success and we had great feedback. If you enjoyed this afternoon and want a bit more information, or if you couldn’t attend, keep reading for a summary of the talks.

Matthew Redding educates the audience about Passivhaus and sustainable architecture.

Matthew Redding educates the audience about Passivhaus and sustainable architecture.

The afternoon started with Jonathan Avery from Tiny House Scotland giving us an introduction to the concept of the tiny houses movement and its spread across the world. Tiny houses are not just gorgeous, they are also movable, greener and more affordable than normal houses.  Jonathan gave us a tour of his own tiny house, Nest House, and mesmerized all of us; after all, the best things in life come in small packages. If you want to learn more about this new housing concept and admire truly stunning photos of minimalist homes, check out Jonathan’s website at https://tinyhousescotland.co.uk/.

Our second speaker, Matthew Redding, opened our eyes to a unsettling truth: it’s not just our housing that needs to change, it’s our lifestyle.  Matthew walked us through the ways we can achieve sustainability with architecture and introduced us to the concept of Passivhaus, a set of architectural guidelines for building or retrofitting low-impact buildings. Then, we learned about LILAC, a low impact living affordable community. The LILAC project is an inspiring community in west Leeds, just a short train trip away, so don’t miss the chance to learn more about it and visit it. Check http://www.lilac.coop/ for more information, or explore this map of UK Passivhaus buildings to see if there’s one near you: www.peterwarm.co.uk/resources/passivhaus-uk-map/.

The afternoon moved on from architecture to community-based change with a talk given by Sue Bird and James Newton from YorSpace. YorSpace is a group of York friends and neighbours who are working to provide low-cost, sustainable, cooperatively-owned housing, with a cohousing concept similar to LILAC. We were all inspired by the sense of community and equality of this wonderful project, and excited to hear about their future success. If you want to be a part of YorSpace or learn more, just go to http://yorspace.org/.

Our next speaker, John “Compost” Cossham, shared with us the secrets of low carbon impact living. He has an impressive (and enviable) low carbon footprint; such a great achievement might have you thinking that you cannot do the same…Calm down! Making small changes in your daily life can make a lot of difference. Some of those simple ideas are: turn off electronics before go to sleep, and use a lid when cooking. Cycle or walk to work instead of using the car. Recycle as much as you can and compost your organic waste. Care about where your electricity is coming from, getting energy from reliable companies is a good step forward. As John said, “it is all about reducing the bad and increasing the good”. Check his blog for more information http://lowcarbonlifestyle.blogspot.co.uk/.

The next talk, by Ian Clare from North Yorkshire Rotters, was dedicated to another issue: food waste. It was shocking to hear that on average, we each throw away six meals per week! Students in particular waste a lot of food… However, this can be avoided by simple changes. Go to the market more often if you can, or plan two weeks of meals before shopping if you can’t. Another important thing is to keep track of the expiry dates. Make a list of what you have in the fridge and the use by date, it is not much work and will save you a lot of money too. In a pinch, you can freeze food up to 24 hours before it expires to make it last indefinitely! Finding ways to use leftovers is another important step, you can find great ideas at https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/.

Finally, we were introduced to two lovely initiatives at the university. York Edible Uni, as their secretary Apple Chew told us, aims to grow fresh, free vegetables for students and staff on university campus. They have built volunteer garden allotments on campus, and everyone is free to pick anything they find growing there. You can also come get your hands dirty at their weekly gardening sessions on Wednesdays. Have a look at  https://www.york.ac.uk/students/campus-city/sustainable-york/get-growing/edible-uni/  and find where the gardens are located and how to get involved. The university’s Green Impact team aims to reduce every department’s impact on the environment. It works through a set of tasks to be achieved annually and gives golden, silver, or bronze awards to the departments. Ask your department if you are already involved and find out more at https://www.york.ac.uk/about/sustainability/get-involved/greenimpact/

Thanks again to all of our speakers, and the sustainably-minded folks who came out to East Campus to learn, and contributed diverse viewpoints to the discussion. Hope to see you next time!

greenSTEMS committee members Anna and Tabitha (right) with Sue Bird, Matt Redding, and Jonathan Avery (left).

greenSTEMS committee members Anna and Tabitha (right) with Sue Bird, Matt Redding, and Jonathan Avery (left).

Content taken from https://gstems.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/living-smaller-living-greener-greenstems-social-symposium-recap/

 

Green Reads – Talking Climate: From Research to Practice in Public Engagement

Editor’s Note: Here we have a book review contributed by Katy Cooper. Katy is a consultant and writer on preventing non-communicable diseases, focusing particularly on the lifestyle factors of poor diet, physical inactivity and smoking, and on the impact of the environment on health. You can read a more extensive version of this review on Katy’s blog at http://www.katycooper.co.uk

Even in Britain where we talk incessantly about the weather, broader climate change is rarely a topic of conversation. It may make the news occasionally, but it is far from a mainstream concern – despite being, as The Lancet put it in 2009, “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. In the timely, thought-provoking and cogently argued Talking Climate, Adam Corner and Jamie Clarke set out how climate change can be brought not only into conversation but into our way of life, breaking the “social silence” that surrounds it and – one hopes – setting us on our individual paths to a sustainable future.

The book lays down five principles to begin to bridge the gap from established science to everyday reality – establishing a process to engage the public at this crucial time for the planet.

First, learn from previous campaigns – which have, largely, failed to make anything other than a fleeting impact. Next, “being right is not the same as being persuasive”, and climate change must connect with people’s existing, established values. This is not a right- or left-wing issue: Mrs Thatcher, herself a scientist, was entirely convinced by the evidence for climate change, and framed action as being about responsibility, leadership and safeguarding our world.

We also need to tell new narratives (stories) that speak to actual experience – our visual and verbal language (whether an image of a polar bears or talking about ‘2 degrees’) has fallen short.

Just nudging us into recycling or providing us with short-term economic incentives isn’t going to make the difference. Instead, something intrinsic needs to click: we need “climate citizenship” (and taking responsibility for the future) to be part of our individual identity. Finally, the new narratives must be supported by new and different voices (trusted messengers) – whether sports teams, Mumsnet, trade unions or religious leaders.

Talking Climate is particularly prescient in the context of the ongoing seismic political shifts in countries such as the UK and USA – shifts that themselves speak to deeply held, intrinsic values but which, all too often, distort the evidence. The challenge here is to counter this post-truth trend, creating an even more convincing alternative that speaks to values and uses narratives that ring true, even in a context in which expertise is downplayed or simply ignored.

But the one thing that we cannot and must not do is remain silent.

***

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Adam Corner and Jamie Clarke, Talking Climate: From Research to Practice in Public Engagement (2017), is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Early Career: Podcasting for Dummies

Editor’s Note: NESSE is about to embark on creating a member-led podcast series. As such, we asked friends of NESSE, Early Career sustainable scientists and genuine podcasters Rebecca Thomas and Kieran Brophy, to reveal all about their experiences of recording and editing podcasts. The formidable double-act’s podcast, called “15 minutes into the future”, is an as-it-says-on-the-tin look at challenges to the environment and climate community in the years ahead.

Picture this. You’re listening to a podcast about something pretty cool, and a thought dawns on you “Hey, I have access to lots of really interesting people. Why don’t we make a podcast?!” Fast-forward 18 months and here we are, fully fledged podcasters with a microphone and everything. So, here are some things we picked up about podcasting along the way that we hope can help you start your own podcast. We found it useful to ask ourselves the following questions… 

Rebecca and Kieran

Rebecca and Kieran

Where do I start?

The initial planning of a podcast can be the most fun, but it’s really important to have a focussed idea at the end. Questions you should ask yourself are; Is the podcast going to be informative or entertaining, formal or relaxed? Will the podcast consists of interviews or monologues? How long do I want this podcast to be? Who is the audience? This last one can be tricky but is probably one of the most important in terms of the language used and the style of the podcast. Personally, we like to have someone in mind who we expect to be listening to our podcast and imagine they are in the room we are recording and editing. For example, we imagine we are having a chat with someone in a pub who knows a bit about science but not all the jargon.

How long have I got to commit?

You’re also going to want to think about how often you can record and release your podcasts. We probably spend about a day in total preparing, recording, editing, re-recording and re-editing our 15 minute podcast.

What equipment do I need?

The first thing you will need is a microphone. While the one on your phone might sound okish, a good microphone makes a huge difference to the quality and listenability of your audio. You can also get podcasting kits, but we have found the voice-notes app on a phone is fine.

What am I trying to tell people?

The best podcasts are ones that take you on a journey with an interesting or funny story. This is something to bear in mind when you are interviewing people, or writing your episode. You can start with the classics – Who? What? Why? When? Where? – to help you put together the story for your episode.

If you plan to interview people, like we do in “15 minutes into the future”, Kieran got some advice from Gareth Mitchell (or a book that he once read), that has certainly helped us out in the past:“The best advice I ever got on interviewing someone is not to get too caught up in the detail of each individual question but to decide what you want from your interviewee. An interview is at its core an exchange, the interviewer gets knowledge, kudos and hopefully a good listenership, whilst the interviewee has a platform to tell their story. As with all exchanges there is some degree of bargaining: deciding what you want, whether it be information, humour etc, decide which in particular is important to you and which are bonuses. It is up to the interviewee to accept or decline.”

What have I got myself into?

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of podcasting is your first interview. It can be very awkward, especially if your chosen subject has no experience of media either. The main things to remember are:

  • Always seem enthusiastic (even if you’re losing all will to live). Nod your head and smile!
  • Figure out how to open and close (this could get awkward if not thought of before). We often ask the person to say their name into the microphone. This also helps to relax the interviewee and get them used to the microphone, and you can use it as a chance to check all the sound is being recorded properly. Bonus.
  • Know what you want from them before you meet them. While it’s useful to have some questions written out to jog your memory, it’s best to only use this as a prompt rather than a script.
  • Editing is your best friend. If you mess-up a question, just ask it again and edit out the other one. This can also help relax the interviewee as they can do the same if they have messed up a response.

How do I add the finishing touches?

Once you’ve got all of your bits recorded, you’re going to need to do some editing. We use free software (Rebecca prefers Audacity, while Kieran prefers Reaper), but there are also lots of cheap podcast editing software out there if you want to buy some. The first thing you want to do is listen to all your audio, and note down any parts you particularly like or dislike – this will help you cut down the podcast to your final version. The best way to start editing is to first get rid of all the um’s and any parts you messed up, then you know what you’re working with. Don’t go too overboard though, so don’t get rid of all the breaths, otherwise the interviewee appears not to breathe, which can be very disconcerting! If you need to re-record some parts, try to return to the room where you made your recording so that the audio sounds the same (it is surprisingly obvious if you’re in a completely different room).

What do I do now?

Once you’ve edited your ‘final cut’, get someone else to have a listen through to make sure it makes sense. When you’re happy with it, you can upload it wherever you decide. Soundcloud host you for free, but there are lots of other hosting sites. You can also apply to have you podcast on the apple podcast app!

We hope you’ve found this podcasting guide helpful, and good luck!

 

You can listen to 15 minutes into the future on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/user-109603573 And follow us on twitter @15min2thefuture to get our updates.

 

Early Career: Celebrating Women and Girls in Science

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Beyond Benign for allowing us to share these exceptional interviews with some of the many inspirational women in science.

In recognition of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Beyond Benign’s Executive Director, Dr. Amy Cannon, spent time talking with extraordinary women scientists who share their passion for science, green chemistry and sustainability. Their varying backgrounds demonstrate to us the immense talent and vision women are contributing to science. We hope you enjoy these fireside chats.

4567c0da-b425-46ac-9323-f11f2734eab5Kate Horspool, Ph.D.
Program Director, Chemistry
Sustainable Business & Innovation
Nike

Education: 
BS, Chemistry, George Mason
Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, Northeastern University

What do you believe is one of our society’s greatest challenges in sustainability today?
I think there are opportunities to make sustainable advances, but we need to be better at incentivizing businesses to take risks to try something new and to share between industries. And consumers need to be educated that if a company is taking a risk to do something new and different to impact sustainability, then to give them credit by choosing the greener option.

Tell us about your work in green chemistry and/or sustainability.
I am the Program Director for Chemistry in the Sustainable Business Innovation Group at Nike. It is an amazing group of people who are committed to making a difference in the Nike product. Whether it’s in recycled materials or in the chemistry we use or in manufacturing processes, the team is committed to decreasing our footprint and making the best product we can. Specifically, what I do is look at at all chemistries, including how we use chemistry in our supply chain for footwear and apparel and equipment. I help to provide direction to the business on what chemistries we could innovate to get out of and which chemistries are better chemistry options for our manufacturing processes season product lines.

How does your work contribute to sustainability?
I think when people think of chemistry they think of the drum of chemistry and the immediate hazard to the environment and the factory worker. One of the things that we consider when we look at chemistry is recyclability—or the life cycle of the product from a high level view of the chemistry. We look at how the chemistry affects the product and ask if we being intentional. So, the chemistry is not just the drum of chemistry but how it affects the product from the day the product is made to the day it’s put into the landfill.

What is the most exciting or satisfying part of your job?
Seeing our products on store shelves or being out in our supply chain or factory phase and knowing I contributed to making them better is really exciting. It is amazing to encounter an athlete on Nike’s campus endorsing a product that I influenced through chemistry. He probably has no idea that we changed chemistry 1 for chemistry 2, but does recognize the product feels and looks great and is meeting expectations. That is super cool. From the satisfying standpoint—I am coach 9 and 10 year old girls with the nonprofit Girls on the Run. I love watching their faces when they learn that I’m a Ph.D. in chemistry, because apparently I don’t look like what they think a Ph.D. in chemistry looks like. And, then it kind of blows their mind when I tell them I’m a chemist at Nike.

Have you had a mentor, or educator that was particularly inspirational whom helped to influence your career choices?
When I started to working for NAVAIR our department Stephen Spadora was amazing.He was really good at the balance of pushing the envelope and changing the manufacturing environment while understanding all the different groups affected by a change. He demonstrated how to listen and address legitimate concerns. It was not about forcing change rather to obtain buy-in and to get buy-in requires listening and addressing concerns.

Knowing what you know now, are there skills that you would recommend to a student pursuing training in that you wish you had upon entering an industrial career?
I think it is important for students to have some real-world experiences and problems to solve where there isn’t a right answer—or maybe there isn’t an answer at all. And to learn to come up with recommendations based on the information available and to relay those solutions to people who may even be senior leaders. Additionally, I cannot think of one example during my education where we had to find someone in the business department and the industrial engineering department and the chemistry department in order to work together on a problem statement and demonstrate a complete picture of a solution. That happens in industry all the time—rarely will one be successful working in a bubble. I don’t know if we do a good job of stressing this in school.

Have you noticed challenges within your own work/life balance that might be unique to women in professional careers? How have you addressed these challenges?
I believe in creating work-life balance. I think women may be more prone to becoming unbalanced. I think it is really easy for working moms to get the job done, to make sure the children have everything they need, and then forget the things that they need. My girlfriends and I train for triathlons together. We laugh and think it’s insane that 15 hours of training is what we consider “me” time, but it is. I think it’s important to dedicate time to do whatever it is that interests you. I think it makes for a better employee and mom.

What advice would you give to a young woman today navigating a career in green chemistry and sustainability?
To anyone I would say be passionate about what you do. Listen and learn from the people around you. And at the same time do not be afraid to speak up and contribute to the conversation. Be sure to find a mentor or someone you respect and make sure you are making time to connect with them. Finally, check in with yourself. It’s okay to re-evaluate and change paths. I had several different career path before I found the one where I said, this is it!

 

765bbc1d-e3d1-448a-a74a-2264967c383cSonja Jost
Founder and CEO
DexLeChem GmbH
Berlin, Germany

Education:
MS (Dipl.ling) Industrial Engineering/Technical Chemistry, Technische Universität Berlin

Twitter:  @sonjajost

What do you believe is one of our society’s greatest challenges in sustainability today?
We need to convince society that people who are working in the field of sustainability are not at war with them or with industry. Sustainability is important for all of us and we will benefit all from it–on every level; the economy (by obtaining new competitive advantages e.g. through resource efficiency), society (by getting improved products/ materials which are less toxic), and the environment (by being less harmed with waste, etc.).

Tell us about your work in green chemistry and/or sustainability.
I founded a startup in the field of Green Chemistry. It is a spin-off from university research where we discovered that water can be used as a solvent in more reactions than scientists formerly believed. I realized someone needed to convince industry of the benefits to this approach.  Now I am the CEO, but still working on technical projects, whenever I can contribute to them

How does your work contribute to sustainability?
To produce in a resource-friendly way we focus on:
• Reduction and re-using of precious resources (e.g. noble metals)
• Synthesis in aqueous solutions (substitution of organic solvents)
• Improved separation of mixtures (reduce energy and materials)

What is the most exciting or satisfying part of your job?
It is incredible to see how much one can influence. When we started, there was no chemistry startup scene in Germany at all. None of the big companies really wanted to talk to us. Now, everyone knows us–and they are realizing it more and more that there is a big potential market in Green Chemistry. Ten years ago I would have never dreamed of that!

Have you had a mentor, or educator that was particularly inspirational whom helped to influence your career choices?
Probably it was my first chemistry teacher at school. Mentorship is not that common in Germany, but he was inspirational nevertheless. I think I only chose chemistry as a main course later at school because he told me by chance that he thought I should do it. In this way he encouraged me a lot, just because he believed in my skills.

What has been one of the most rewarding achievements that you have realized professionally?
The founding point of our startup was definitely a very happy moment for me and also getting our first customer. Recognition with different startups prizes, or spontaneously being asked to speak at UNIDO are also very special moments for me.

Knowing what you know now, are there skills that you would recommend to a student pursuing training in that you wish you had upon entering an industrial career?
Definitely a training in negotiations–or even better: more than one training. Negotiations can be very tricky. People from industry speak a different language. When you have never worked in industry it can be really difficult to understand.

Have you noticed challenges within your own work/life balance that might be unique to women in professional careers? How have you addressed these challenges?
Well, there was a time when my partner complained a lot that I did not help enough in our household. I was convinced that I did as much and we argued a lot–but then someone told me that there are studies that the perception between men and women regarding this topic differ in general. So, I hired help at home which ended the discussions. I did this because I realized we all have limited energy and it should be spent wisely.

What advice would you give to a young woman today navigating a career in green chemistry and sustainability?
I would give her the advice to try to get a job in the core of the value chain where she can really change things. Pure sustainability departments do not have access to power at the moment but the technical departments have it.

21330543-1ee0-47fe-b11b-dcb58a9aeda0Laura Muollo, Ph.D.
Director, Life Sciences R&D
Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry

Education:
Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Green Chemistry Option, University of Massachusetts Lowell
B.S., Chemistry, Environmental Studies minor, Stonehill College

What do you believe is one of our society’s greatest challenges in sustainability today?
If benign alternatives to traditional products and processes were glaringly obvious, and zero cost would be incurred by switching to these alternatives, we’d be in great shape. However, usually the benign alternative needs to be discovered, and that takes time and money, which not every person or industry is eager to invest. Unless a regulation or mandate comes down, or a particular traditionally-used material simply is no longer available, the immediate benefit can be difficult for some people to see.

Tell us about your work in green chemistry and/or sustainability.
I joined the Warner Babcock Institute in 2008, and have since worked on dozens of projects spanning a very diverse range of fields. I have led teams which have developed environmentally benign asphalt rejuvenating additives, non-toxic hair colorants, methods for recycling batteries and electronic waste, and methods to enhance water solubility of pharmaceutical ingredients having poor bioavailability, to name a few.

How does your work contribute to sustainability?
In many ways. Re-designing industrial processes to reduce materials, solvent and energy use, in turn reducing waste. Replacing petroleum-derived materials with renewable alternatives. Improving API performance to decrease dosing requirements, resulting in less material excreted into the environment.

What is the most exciting or satisfying part of your job?
I enjoy the variety of projects that I work on. There is no field of research to which sustainability is not applicable, so the number of potential projects is literally endless. I am constantly challenged, and learning new things. 

Have you had a mentor, or educator that was particularly inspirational whom helped to influence your career choices?
Yes, though oddly enough, she was not in the sciences. My high school U.S. history teacher was an incredibly brilliant, funny, strong, independent woman who constantly challenged me to be the very best version of myself. She instilled in me critical thinking and debate skills, a strong work ethic, and probably most importantly a confidence that I could achieve great things with enough determination.

What has been one of the most rewarding achievements that you have realized professionally?
Having led the research teams which generated two different products that are now on the market, Hairprint and Delta S.

Knowing what you know now, are there skills that you would recommend to a student pursuing training in that you wish you had upon entering an industrial career?
I wish I had taken a public health class. Chemistry, the environment, and public health are far more intertwined than I realized as a college student, and having a strong foundation in all of those disciplines can really be an asset, even if your career is primarily focused in only one of those areas.

Have you noticed challenges within your own work/life balance that might be unique to women in professional careers? How have you addressed these challenges?
I’m a mom, so absolutely. I felt that my maternity leave was too short, and felt guilty bringing my baby to daycare as young as he was. Having to figure out when/where to pump breastmilk while on business trips was a challenge, not to mention the guilt I felt about being on those trips in the first place. Now my son is 2, so it’s a bit easier, but I feel like I am neglecting my work when I’m at home and feel I’m neglecting my son when I work long hours. I address the challenge by reminding myself that the work I do is for my son – to give him a better life and improve the world around him. It’s also important to recognize that it’s ok to ask for help. At the end of the day, when my son’s face lights up when he sees me, it’s all worth it.

What advice would you give to a young woman today navigating a career in green chemistry and sustainability?
Stay confident. Science is still a male-dominated field, and while I have encountered little blatant sexism, subtle insinuations that women are inferior still persist. A male colleague may be given credit for an idea you generated. You may have to bite your tongue when a client “informs” you of facts that you already know. When you are referred to as an “emotional woman,” be proud that you are passionate. It is that passion, backed by your intelligence and determination that will change the world.

d2c3b804-bfaf-4433-bf9c-49a8852a91b3-2Kate Maziarz
Junior, Chemistry Major
Mt. Holyoke College

Education:
A.S., Chemistry
Kingsborough Community College

What do you believe is one of our society’s greatest challenges in sustainability today?
There are not enough environmentally-minded chemists in the world to impact global challenges and inform other chemists. We need to teach green chemistry to college and high school students. If we do not start educating chemistry students early on in science education, then we will never build a sustainable future.

Please share your history with green chemistry and sustainability.
My first experience with green chemistry was under Professor Barcena at Kingsborough Community College. He had his students follow procedures using the principles of green chemistry in the classroom and during research. Green Chemistry introduced the concepts of toxicology and prevention, which were interesting and extremely useful.

What was the most exciting or satisfying part of learning about green chemistry?
The most exciting part about learning green chemistry is the overall challenge. Green Chemistry isn’t just about knowing the principles, it’s about critical thinking. When starting a reaction and even before it is important to ask: How can I make this reaction greener? Green chemistry keeps one focused on how to constantly improve processes.

How has what you learned in your academic career and within your research contribute to sustainability?
My education instilled the idea of how important recycling is within chemistry. Once I learned the principles of green chemistry, I understood why I should care about waste. I understood that what I do as a chemist impacts what options are available for others to follow. What is really great is that through green chemistry anyone can contribute to sustainability.

Have you had a mentor, or educator that was particularly inspirational whom helped to influence your education and career choices?
Both in Poland and within the United States, every single educator I have encountered gave me the passion and inspiration to go into the field of chemistry. From elementary school on, my teachers helped to cultivate a love for chemistry. I could actually list all of their names as being a mentor, but Professor Barcena is the one who helped me realize that green chemistry is the future.

What has been one of the most rewarding achievements that you have realized during your higher education?
It was rewarding to realize that I could use the principles of green chemistry in my everyday life as a chemist. Professor Barcena showed us the big picture of how industry could recycle polymers for future products and that a plastic bottle, for example, did not have to become waste. I realized that I gained a special skill that could translate to anything I did within chemistry.

Have you noticed challenges within your own work/life balance that might be unique to women in professional careers? How have you addressed these challenges?
I have learned that I always need to be prepared, believe in myself, and act like myself even when I am feeling otherwise. The perception of women in science is improving, but I think the environment is still very male dominant. When you are the only woman in a room of men, it can be very intimidating. My confidence goes away even if I am prepared. I have attended conferences where it is mostly dominated by men even though the field is estimated to be 50/50 right now. Older men within the field do not come across as supportive. It feels as though you cannot contribute as a female chemist even if when knowledgeable. I selected an all female college which has helped me to find my own voice within the field of chemistry.

What are your future career goals?
My immediate goal is to finish my bachelors of science in chemistry. I want to learn as much as I can through my research. Then, I would like to go for a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and practice what I learn.

What advice would you give to a young woman today navigating an education and career that involves green chemistry and sustainability?
I would say, congrats! Green chemistry is the future! In a matter of time, every university will incorporate greener methods in their teaching, until it becomes standard practice. People may associate chemistry with toxic materials and chemicals, but we can change the way they think by  practicing green chemistry.

b20dd5de-8ee4-4144-862d-6b6db7f222f4Maureen Kavanagh
Technical Manager
Renewable Materials
and Sustainable Adhesives
3M Corporate R&D
St. Paul, MN

Education:

University of Wisconsin-River Falls
BS, Chemistry
The College of St. Scholastica
MA, Management

What do you believe is one of our society’s greatest challenges in sustainability today?
I feel people don’t understand what sustainability is. Simplifying what sustainability is so everyone understands how they can make an impact each day is essential. Sustainability is a broad term to me but encompasses everything from green chemistry, recycling, renewable feedstocks and much more. It takes everyone to make a difference.

Tell us about your work in green chemistry and/or sustainability.
I have always been a champion for sustainability, trying to develop new ways to help divisional customers meet their environmental challenges, along with ways to reduce our products’ environmental impact. I chaired a technical forum within 3M to foster additional growth in Green Chemistry throughout the organization. Also, being part of some great external organizations such as the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) and the Center for Sustainable Polymers is a great place where others share the same passion for green chemistry and sustainability as myself.

How does your work contribute to sustainability?
My team and I continue to be the experts for the company for renewable materials and strive to meet 3M’s sustainability goals but most importantly working day in and day out to show people how they can make a difference.

What is the most exciting or satisfying part of your job?
As a manager, my number one priority is helping my people build a career path that they are passionate about. My passion is also how to change the way we look at sustainability and green chemistry because making tiny changes does make an impact.

Have you had a mentor, or educator that was particularly inspirational whom helped to influence your career choices?
I have had many mentors and people that have been a true inspiration to my career. They may not even know how much they have shaped me to be excited and passionate about what I do and say each day. I continue to strive to be better each day and continue to take bits and pieces from people who have influenced me along the way. It also has been important for me to be my true self along the way. It just feels more natural that way.  I feel as if I am evolving each day in what I was meant to do for people and the world.

What has been one of the most rewarding achievements that you have realized professionally?
Seeing the growth in my people and leaving the greatness to them. It really is not about me, and once I had that moment of clarity everything else just seemed easy.

Knowing what you know now, are there skills that you would recommend to a student pursuing training in that you wish you had upon entering an industrial career?
You need to have an open mind and be coach-able. School gives you the foundation, industry teaches you application. You are creating your own story so be passionate about the skills that you are building and have a great resume.

Have you noticed challenges within your own work/life balance that might be unique to women in professional careers?
As a woman, I have learned to tell my most challenging stories about my career. Although, it is uncomfortable for me to share my story, I have realized how important this is to make a better path for future women.

What advice would you give to a young woman today navigating a career in green chemistry and sustainability?
We are at a crossroad, humanity and the earth needs your desire and passion to overcome the unsustainable lifestyles we take for granted.  We need highly trained, motivated passionate women to lead the charge of change. Green Chemistry and sustainability is a path that we need to continue to forge ahead with a future that is sustainable beyond my lifetime. You need to continue to teach and educate others on the importance of green chemistry and sustainability. Be persistent. Be patient. Lastly, be you!