Sunday, 15 July 2012

Royal Society of Chemistry: American Chemical Society - Chemistry: a key to human progress

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has continued in the spirit of the International Year of Chemistry (2011) by promoting public meetings.  The latest talk at Burlington House in the Chemistry Centre was on 5th July.  It was titled “Chemistry: a key to human progress” and given by Professor Bassam Shakhashiri, President of the American Chemical Society (ACS).  (  This occasion was also to be the first to be addressed by the newly installed President of the RSC, Professor Lesley Yellowlees. 

I spent much of the day in Burlington House with a meeting in the morning, then a “viewing” of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and ending with the evening lecture. 
I arrived at the desk at the RSC and got my name badge put on and was welcomed by Pauline Meakins upstairs during a coffee session prior to the lecture.  Lesley Yellowlees was being both introduced and congratulated on her role as President of the Royal Society of Chemistry.  Lesley and I share an education at the University of Edinburgh and we chatted about Edinburgh connections. 

Prof Whitestick and Prof Yellowlees
Royal Society of Chemistry
5 July 2012

A brief introduction of Lesley follows.

Professor Lesley Yellowlees

Lesley Yellowlees completed both her BSc in Chemical Physics and her PhD in Inorganic Electrochemistry at the University of Edinburgh. After completing research positions in Brisbane, Australia and Glasgow she returned to Edinburgh in 1986 to an academic position before gaining a personal chair in Inorganic Electrochemistry in 2005. Lesley was Head of the School of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh from 2005-10 and, currently, is Vice Principal and Head of the College of Science and Engineering. Her research interests include inorganic electrochemistry and spectroelectrochemistry, epr spectroscopy, solar energy and CO2 conversion.

I remember a school’s Christmas Lecture given by Professor Evelyn Ebsworth in the 1960s, whose team I later joined as a researcher at university.  The tradition of a school lecture is still strong, so when Lesley announced that she had learned a lot from Bassam Shakhashiri’s demonstrations, it was only a matter of time before one of these demonstrations took place. 

As President of the ACS, Bassam is concerned with many of the issues that face chemistry, science and citizenship.  Bassam has his own blog (, a prolific presence on YouTube videos and even showed a clip where people were wearing Santa Claus hats!  His latest book is coming out soon.

With safety glasses on, Bassam did some basic colour changes with the use of indicators and some changes in acidity or alkalinity.  I particularly liked his asking the audience about what was going on with his demonstrations up front.  At one point he asked the audience to think about explaining what was happening as if it were on radio.  This was music to my ears. 

Earlier I had been discussing how audio description can assist in some videos though if a scientist/presenter gives a coherent commentary and explains what and how changes happen, then science may not be as inaccessible as it is often assumed by some of the chattering classes.    Much of research involves observation and a chemist should be able to communicate both accurately and clearly.  Bassam stressed his view about scientists as citizens and there was a vigorous discussion afterwards during the question and answer session.  The lecture was webcast and is on and more information on it can be found on .

Prof Whitestick with Royal Society of Chemistry team
5 July 2012

After the lecture there was a drinks reception where we were able to continue our discussions in groups.  During the evening, Andreas from the colloid painting session at the Wellcome Elements event recognised me and introduced himself.  ( - he is instructing me in the “painting” of a stained glass window.) And on the way out, I was busy chatting when all of a sudden I was asked if I was Professor Whitestick.  It turned out to be Amanda Chemist from my twitter community who had recognised me!  Amanda offered to walk me to Green Park underground station, from where I caught the train back home.

The Royal Society of Chemistry will continue the public lectures after the summer break.