The role of chemistry is going unrecognised by the general public, in comparison to other sciences such as biology and physics, according to a survey of 180+ chemistry professionals from industry and academia, carried out by Elsevier’s Reaxys team. Of those surveyed, 83% said that, in terms of tackling issues of sustainability and climate change, the role of chemistry is undervalued to some degree. More than half (51%) also stated that when it came to the great challenges of the 21st century, such as providing clean water, food security and renewable energy, that society has ‘no understanding’ of the role chemists played in finding solutions.
Other key findings include:
- A quarter (26%) of all responses suggested that chemistry’s reputation for not being innovative and not being ‘green’, is the main cause of the growing STEM student recruitment crisis
- Breakthroughs in sustainability will increasingly require collaboration between different disciplines, yet only 30% of chemists believe there are definitely enough opportunities to collaborate with researchers in other fields to work on solutions
“These findings suggest that despite the fact that chemistry is critical to sustainability and combatting climate change, chemistry professionals still feel that the general public is not aware of the contribution of their work to these key society issues. Ultimately, negative perceptions of the field also hampers recruitment of a new generation of chemists, when we need more new STEM talent across industries,” commented Tim Hoctor, Vice President of Professional Services at Elsevier. “More people need to acknowledge that without significant contributions from chemists, we simply won’t make the progress needed to solve the challenges of sustainability or climate change. Industry and academic organizations that employ chemists should do more to promote the ways in which chemistry is at the forefront of environmental innovation, to help avoid weighing down funding, research and innovation.”
At a time when more chemists are needed to help make progress on sustainability issues, the research also found that there is growing concern around the recruitment of graduates, with more than a third (36%) of respondents stating the lack of new chemistry students constitutes a crisis for the industry. A further 51% believe that if the situation continues, a crisis would develop. When asked why they felt the problem had come to pass, more than three quarters (78%) indicated that chemistry’s relative lack of ‘news-worthy’ innovations compared to other sciences was a significant contributing factor.
“When people think of chemistry or chemicals, too often they think of toxic spills or manufacturing disasters,” continued Christina Valimaki, Senior Director for Chemicals at Elsevier. “By publicizing the work being done in areas such as biodegradable packaging or water purification, institutions and businesses can change the narrative in people’s minds, and engage young potential chemists. The 21st century is presenting us with some of the biggest sustainability problems we’ve ever faced – the more brilliant minds we have working on solutions, the better.”
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