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Research - EuChemS Newsletters

Research

20 years of Marie Skƚodowska-Curie Actions

Launched in 1996, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) have become, after 20 years, an essential tool of the EU to strengthen research at a European level and support the researchers’ work through Europe. Promoting transnational mobility of excellent researchers has been one of the key elements of the MSCA programme, with the aim of achieving  high-level training of early-stage and experienced researchers in an intersectoral, interdisciplinary and intercultural environment, so they are better equipped to meet the challenges that will define the future of Europe. According to European Commission (EC) data the MSCA budget significantly increased over the previous framework programmes, from slightly more than €3,000 million for the period 1994-2006 (FP4-FP6) to the current figure, exceeding €6,000 million (Horizon 2020). More than 100,000 researchers have been supported by MSCA after the results announced this January of the 2016 call for Individual Fellowships. European Commission statistics reflect that thousands of institutions, organisations and companies from more than 100 countries have participated. Four Nobel Prize winners and one Oscar winner have been directly involved in the programme.

Chemistry has been very relevant in MSCA. A scientific panel is devoted to proposals directly related to chemistry, but it is also present in other panels like Engineering, Environment, Materials or Life. In the case of Individual Fellowships, for which a more clear division of topics exists, more than 1,000 of the almost 9,000 proposals presented in 2016 corresponded to the Chemistry Panel. This indicates that of the 1,200 grants awarded for European Fellowships (EF) and Global Fellowship (GF) actions, more than 120 would were granted to chemistry projects. From these figures, it could be estimated that, overall, 10,000 to 15,000 chemistry researchers have been supported by MSCA during this 20 year period. It is worth mentioning that two out of the four Nobel Prize winners above mentioned received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry: S. W. Hell (2014) and B. Feringa (2016). In the words of the EC, companies and organisations outside academia involved are “principally in the pharmaceutical, electronics, chemicals, and software sectors”.

As for other European Union programmes, success rates are quite small. It is my own experience, from both sides, that only a few of the excellent proposals presented in the field of chemistry can be funded under the MSCA umbrella. However, this continues to be a unique opportunity to foster the scientific career of researchers in Europe.

For more information see the webpage for MSCA: https://ec.europa.eu/research/mariecurieactions/

Santiago V. Luis
Chair of EuCheMS Division of Chemistry and the Environment

EYCN and COST Actions

The European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN) moves forward thanks to its Board and four teams consisting of delegates (Science, Networks, Membership and Communications).[1] In this contribution to the Chemistry in Europe newsletter, we would like to highlight the work of one of our teams, the Networks team. During the past two years, the Networks team has worked closely with several European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Actions[2] to build up new links and prepare the ground where brilliant opportunities for Young Chemists could arise.

COST actions are networking instruments for researchers and scholars that allow the development of ideas in cooperation between European countries. Towards this end, topics are defined and actions, such as annual meetings, are proposed. For young and early career chemists, COST Actions are very good occasions to meet, exchange ideas and establish new connections. Thus, two years ago the EYCN Networks team approached several COST Actions by contacting their Chairs. We established our first collaboration with COST Action CM1201 “Biomimetic Radical Chemistry” (Chair: Chryssostomos Chatgilialoglu) and the Horizon 2020 Innovative Training Network (ITN) “ClickGene”.[3] In April 2016, they met in Grenoble (France) for a two-day workshop. Together, we organised a call for one scholarship for a young chemist working in a COST member country. The awardee would participate in the conference and present a scientific contribution during the Young Investigators session. After a selection made by the COST scientific committee and EYCN, Ms Stella Totti from the University of Surrey (United Kingdom) presented her PhD work in Grenoble. An EYCN representative, Ilya Vorotyntsev, also attended the meeting where he presented EYCN’s main activities and awarded a prize to Mr Gianluca Toniolo, PhD student at the Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology “Demokritos” (Greece) for the best overall presentation at the COST Action 1201 meeting.

The next COST Action EYCN is currently working with is CM1407 “NatChemdrugs” (Chair: Bruno Botta), which is mainly focused on “Challenging organic syntheses inspired by nature – from natural products chemistry to drug discovery”.[4] A two-day research workshop is planned to take place in March 2017 at the University of Krakow (Poland) where EYCN is going to send another young chemist with a scholarship.

Dear reader, if you are part of a COST Action and you want to forge a link with EYCN, please feel free to contact us at secretariat@eycn.eu.

[1] For more information regarding EYCN see :http://www.chemistryviews.org/details/education/8230181/EYCN_Ten_Years_Connecting_Young_Chemists.html
[2] For more information regarding COST Action: http://www.cost.eu/COST_Actions
[3] More information regarding “ClickGene” can be found at http://www.clickgene.eu
[4] For more information regarding COST ActionCM1407 “NatChemdrugs” see  http://www.natchemdrugs.eu/

Camille Oger
EYCN Secretary

Women in chemistry: time to move on

Since the age of alchemy, for years a secretive and persecuted activity, women have significantly contributed to chemical sciences. Prominent chemists revolutionized life with new discoveries and research, new findings that have had a huge impact in fields as diverse as medicine, physics, materials, environment and aeronautics. Marie Skłodowska-Curie, a double Nobel laureate, is the most famous woman in chemistry, but not the only one. There are many other female scientists who were also Nobel laureates such as Dorothy Crowfoot-Hodgkin for using X-ray to determine the structure of biomolecules; Irene Joliot-Curie for the discovery of artificial radioactivity and Ada Yonath for her pioneering work on the structure of the ribosome. Famous non-Laureate female researchers include Elisabeth Arden mother of cosmetics; Rosalind Franklin who discovered the structure of DNA; Stephanie Kwolek inventor of Kevlar; Patsy O’Connell Sherman co-inventor of Scotchgard; or Gertrude Elion who developed the AIDS drug AZT are only a few examples of a longlist. These women have demonstrated that chemistry has no generational, national, racial, ethnic or ‘background’ barriers. Their passion, dedication, creativity, courage, determination and entrepreneurship have been an example of accomplishment and success. They have fought and stumbled in an era when they were not socially accepted and too often their work was ignored, unheard or even usurped.

Over the ages, women have had to overcome the aversion and distrust of a society where labour and success was dominated by men. Discriminatory social constructs, many of which were commonly accepted until recent times, such as testing if women had the same physical and psychological strength as men in space (Valentina Tereshkova, 1962) or segregation as happened with the Afro-American mathematician Katherine Johnson, NASA pioneer in space science and computing (1953) and now featured in the film “Hidden Figures”, should be withdrawn and considered as a past way of thinking and doing. Still in 2001 the Nobel scientist Tim Hunt said that female scientists caused trouble for men in labs.

Chemistry in the 21st century has to be seen as a wide and dynamic science that aims to give equal opportunities for both men and women, encourages new knowledge, trust, research and innovation, and warrants its decisive role in education, industry, policy and politics.

The current generation of female chemists has the potential to overcome most of the barriers. For many women in chemistry, spanning all its disciplines and spheres of action, there is a common pattern that we have evidenced over the years: the enthusiasm to pursue an objective, dedication, critical thinking, wittiness, teamwork, leadership, and, most of all, the desire to construct, create and spread new knowledge. In this revolutionary digital and technological era, chemistry has a decisive influence on our living conditions, and there is a need to overcome past stereotypes and focus on the opportunities and advantages that women provide in all fields of chemistry: progress can only be achieved if we work as a team. But there is still a long way to go as the number of women in science and in the private sector, especially in directive positions, remains stubbornly low. We might ask ourselves:

• How many women researchers were keynote presenters in the last conference I attended?
• How many women were in the last company meeting I attended?
• What is the percentage of Nobel Prizes in chemistry honored to women?
• How many female chemists have been publicly awarded?
• How many female chemists progress in their careers?
• How many women cannot access chemistry or science education because of social hindrances?
• How many women have left studies, research or careers in chemistry because of motherhood or family issues?
• How many women have been disrespectfully or offensively treated?

To change the situation might be a question of time or mentality, but there is no need to wait for the news on “the first woman to win…”. The change must begin with the recognition of women in chemistry. We hope this letter serves to value women in chemistry for their effort, knowledge and skilfulness.

Silvia Lacorte
IDAEA-CSIC

Maria Teresa Galceran
University of Barcelona