Welcome in your new role at EuChemS!

Maximilian Menche is the new Chair of the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN). He is currently a PhD Student at the University of Heidelberg.

Liva Dzene is the new Secretary of the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN). She is currently assistant professor at École nationale supérieure de chimie de Mulhouse.

Lieke van Gijzel is the new Treasurer of the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN). She is currently a Marie Curie PhD student at the TU Darmstadt.

Patrick W. Fritz is the new Communication Team Leader of the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN). He is currently a PhD Student at the University of Fribourg.

Shona Richardson is the new Global Connections Team Leader of the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN). She is currently a PhD Student at the University of Edinburgh

Denisa Vargová is the new Membership Team Leader of the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN). She is currently a Post-doc at the Max-Planck-Institute.

Claudia Bonfio is the new Networks Team Leader of the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN). She is currently a research fellow at the University of Cambridge.

Sebastian Balser is the new Science Team Leader of the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN). He is currently a PhD-student at the Goethe University of Frankfurt.

Antonio M. Rodríguez García is the new Advisor of the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN). He is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Castilla–La Mancha.

Rachel Mamlok-Naaman awarded the IUPAC 2021 Distinguished Women in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering 

Dr. Rachel Mamlok-Naaman, from the Israel Chemical Society, is currently the Chair of the EuChemS Division of Chemical Education. She is a member of the chemistry group at the Department of Science Teaching, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, where she served both as the head of the National Center for Chemistry Teachers (until present); the coordinator of the chemistry group at the Department of Science Teaching (until June 2016); the coordinator of chemistry teachers’ programs in the framework of the Rothschild-Weizmann MSc program for science teachers, and of projects in the framework of the European Union. In addition, she serves as: The chair of DivCED EuChemS, IUPAC Titular member of the committee on chemical education, and executive member of various IUPAC committees, e.g., the Gender Gap Committee. Thus, her publications focus on topics relating to students’ learning and to teachers’ professional development. For her work on chemistry teachers’ professional development in Israel, she was the recipient of several awards: Two from the Weizmann Institute – 1990-Bar-Ner (for teaching), and 2006-Maxine Singer (for professional development of science teachers); ACS award (2018) for incorporation of sustainability into the chemistry curriculum; 2021 Distinguished Woman in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering.

Recently, you were awarded the IUPAC 2021 Distinguished Women in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering Award. Congratulations! How do you feel about this recognition?
I was very excited about being elected and recognised by IUPAC as a 2021 Distinguished Woman in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering. For me, it is an acknowledgement to the fact that loving my profession as well as believing in what I am doing are the main components to success. The passion to research a domain in which I have the opportunity to use the entirety of my mind and soul kept me moving on even when I was faced with difficulties. Science education research in general and chemistry education in particular are composed of many different aspects: curriculum, teachers, students, policy makers, etc. It is always recommended to only focus on a select few aspects. However, a researcher should be acquainted with the other components. The process may be full of hindrances, and I did face quite a number of challenges including personal family constraints, however, I was persistent, loved my research and my practical work, developed self-efficacy, and believed in my ability to make a change.

You will receive your award during the IUPAC World Chemistry Congress in August 2021. The event will be held online, do you know how the award ceremony will take place?
The distinguished women will be honoured during a ceremony which will be held at the IUPAC World Congress in August 2021, and a special symposium featuring the awardees is also being organised. Plans are however being reviewed in the light of the congress becoming virtual.  

Awardees have been selected based on excellence in basic or applied research, distinguished accomplishments in teaching or education, or demonstrated leadership or managerial excellence in the chemical sciences. Could you please tell us a bit about how your career has developed?
My research can be described as a spiral procedure, referring to the diverse facets of chemistry education, which are largely integrated with one another. The findings on student learning and motivation guided (and guide) me in designing and revising curriculum materials and professional development (PD) programs for chemistry teachers, since they are the key to the success of their students, implementation of new curricular materials, and reforms in education. Therefore, I always put a lot of emphasis on research regarding chemistry teachers’ professional development (PD). I myself was a chemistry teacher for 26 years, part of them – parallel to my work at the Weizmann Institute. More specifically, the professional development programs and models which I developed, implemented and researched over the last 20 years in the Jewish and Arab sectors in Israel, as well as in USA, Georgia, Germany, Singapore, Taiwan, Estonia, Japan, Tanzania, Turkey, Czech Republic, etc., are based on research findings on students’ conceptions and misconceptions regarding chemistry learning, inquiry-based skills and activities, including relevance in chemistry education, or teaching and learning in different cultures, e.g., argumentation, asking questions, hypothesising. The chemistry education programs were designed and researched in collaboration with colleagues.

Collaboration with colleagues in Israel and abroad

In education, it is very difficult to reach meaningful achievements without collaboration. For me, as a chemistry teacher, a chemistry regional consultant, a deputy chief chemistry superintendent, and later also a researcher, it would be impossible. When I finished my PhD (1998), I was invited by Professor John Penick to North Carolina State University (NCSU) to spend 3 months at the Department of Education as a Visiting Professor.  I gave and attended seminars and was involved in studies and did my post-doctoral studies on scientific socio-economic issues (Mamlok-Naaman, Hofstein and Penick, 2007). A few months later, I travelled to Ann Arbor, USA, to do my post-doctoral studies at the University of Michigan with Professor Joe Krajcik. My work mainly revolved around “Design-based science education” (Fortus, Dershimer, Krajcik, Marx and Mamlok-Naaman, 2004). This was the beginning of my academic collaboration: (1) travelling to conferences in Israel and abroad, e.g., National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), the European Science Education Research Association (ESERA), the European Conference on Research in Chemistry Education (ECRICE), or Eurovariety, (2) being invited to give key-note or plenary lectures, e.g., ACS PacifiChem meetings, ECRICE in Krakow, Poland, July 2010; Jyväskylä, Finland, July 2014; Gordon Research Conference, June 2015; Barcelona, Spain, July 2016; at ICCE in Malaysia; at the 3rd Conference in Teaching and Dissemination of the Sciences in Portugal, 7 July 2018; 2nd International Conference on Science, Mathematics, Entrepreneurship, and Technology Education in Turkey (on-line), and (3) involvement in collaborative research projects, such as following three consecutive projects of the European Union – EU (2008-2017) in the framework of FP7, which ended at: Popularity and Relevance in Science Education and Scientific Literacy, (PARSEL),  Professional Reflection-Oriented Focus on Inquiry-based Learning and Education through Science (PROFILES), and Teaching Enquiry with Mysteries Incorporated (TEMI). Professor Avi Hofstein and Professor Ron Blonder from the department of Science Teaching were also involved in these projects, together with Drs. Dvora Katchevich and Malka Yayon.

At present, I am involved in another EU project together with Professor Ron Blonder: Addressing Attractiveness of Science Career Awareness – SciCar, in the framework of Twinning of research institutions, financed by Horizon 2020. Our partners are Professor Miia Rannikmae from Tartu University in Estonia, and Professor Jari Lavone from the University of Helsinki. Lately, I have become an external evaluator of different EU projects regarding the enhancement of professional development of science teachers, such as ARTIST, DISSI, and LOVE.

I would like to elaborate on three specific projects:

Annual chemistry teachers’ meeting, December 2015
  • The National Center for Chemistry Teachers was established in 1996, with the aim to provide a strong framework for life-long-learning (LLL) to each chemistry teacher. Its objectives are: (1) designing standards and models for effective professional development based on academic research and development, (2) conducting long term professional development programs for leading teachers, (3) working collaboratively with the chief chemistry superintendent, Dr. Dorit Taitelbaum (3) providing professional consulting based on scientist and science education experts in each of the disciplines, (4) offering prototype courses and teaching/guiding materials, and (4) supporting regional professional development frameworks.
  • Participation at Malta Conferences (Frontiers of Science: Research and Education in the Middle East, 2014) held every two years, and initiated by Professor Zafra Lerman. These gatherings bring together around a hundred scientists from more than a dozen Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, Jordan, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Topics range from materials science, nanotechnology, and medicinal chemistry to environmental issues of concern to the entire region, such as freshwater scarcity, alternative energy, and air pollution.
  • Acting as part of an exhibit created for the Museum of the Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, which was inaugurated in Marseille – the city named the European Capital of Culture for 2013. The exhibit created for the museum’s opening, attended by France’s former President, François Hollande, was called Citizenships and Human Rights. The exhibit featured nine women, from different walks of life and nationalities, who have made significant contributions to society. In the exhibit, each of the women told her life story and described her philosophy in a filmed monologue; the films are continuously screened on a wall in the museum.
Malta conference, November 2016

I was one of these women, explaining in the film the importance of science education, which spans borders and cultures, and advances humankind as a whole: “Learning science is an inseparable part of general education – not just a subject for future scientists, but knowledge that is crucial to all citizens of the globe who want to understand the world around them or even make rational choices in their lives. A broad education that includes science may not be the quickest route to economic success, but it is a sure one, and one that enriches the spirit of humanity. It is the essence of what makes us human”.

I feel that my main achievements are in combining research and practice. I am happy that I had the opportunity to act as a chemistry teacher for 26 years, and to be able to conduct research studies in relation to teaching and learning chemistry. In addition, I got to know several aspects of the Ministry of Education through my projects as well as due to my roles as a regional consultant of chemistry teachers, and as a substitute of the chief inspector of chemistry. My experience in the education system helped me in planning and conducting professional development programs in cooperation with science educators in Israel and abroad. I felt the importance of highlighting the point of education through science / chemistry, and not just teaching or learning chemistry. It gave me huge satisfaction to work with teachers from all over the world, and to try to influence their attitudes towards the way in which chemistry should be taught, as well as their motivation to perform changes in their teaching strategies, e.g., planning lessons in which every individual student will be able to express himself / herself and get the chance to understand chemistry.

Moreover, I would also like to mention that my work has been done in collaboration with students and colleagues. I published papers with my students and collaborated with excellent science and chemistry educators from Israel and from abroad, with whom I conducted practical work and research and also published papers in peer reviewed science education journals.

What drove you to pursue a career in STEM?
As a child, I was often asking questions and wondering about what was happening around me. These feelings became deeper when I grew up and wanted to study medicine, hoping to find solutions to many health problems. However, I wanted firstly to study the root of the problems, and therefore I chose to study chemistry. While doing my studies, I noticed that chemistry is a central subject, helping us to understand the world around us, and being connected to other disciplines such as physics, biology, history, technology and humanity. It reinforced my attitude towards chemistry, as well as towards the other connected STEM disciplines. Therefore, as the first stage of my career, I wanted to convey these insights to young students. I became a chemistry teacher in high schools, loved my work with my students – seeing the sparks in their eyes when they were enthusiastic about something, and years later I pursued academia. My work as a teacher, and my experience with the education system (as mentioned above), helped me a lot in my research studies.

Do you have some advice to give to young people interested in Chemistry studies?
Science in general, and chemistry in particular, helps our understanding of the world around us. Everything we know about the universe, from how trees reproduce to what an atom is made up of, is the result of scientific research and experiment. Human progress throughout history has largely rested on advances in science. Chemistry is sometimes called “the central science,” because it bridges physics with other natural sciences, such as geology and biology. Chemistry is connected to real life, as well as to different research areas, such as medications, energy sources, fighting cancer, slowing down global warming, preventing hunger and drought, facilitating human life in space, etc. It is a fascinating subject, with endless career opportunities.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing chemical education nowadays, in Europe and beyond?
In my opinion there are three main challenges: (1) Chemical studies are not easy for many students; students are not aware about the variety of career opportunities as chemistry graduates, (2) chemistry is responsible for disasters in the world, e.g., chemical weapons, and (3) there is a belief that by studying subjects such as finance, economics, and computer sciences, their career opportunities will be better, and their salaries will be higher. Therefore, there is quite a lot to be done in the pursuit of minimising these beliefs.

Do you think opportunities for chemists are the same among the different countries of the EuChemS Member Societies?
I am not sure about it, especially when it has to do with women in chemistry. According to UNESCO institution of Statistics, fewer than 30% researchers all over the world are women. Women continue to represent a small proportion of faculty members in science and technology programs, especially in more prestigious research academic institutions, as well as industry. For women in STEM faculties for example, academic tenure often coincides with their child-bearing years, decreased lab space, inadequate resources, lower salaries, and fewer prestigious opportunities. All these aspects make early stages of an academic career particularly difficult. They still need to cope with discrimination with an unconscious bias as well as with the demands of their families.

You are the Chair of the EuChemS Division of Chemical Education. What are some of the moments and achievements from your time as Chair that you are most proud of?

2019 EuChemS General Assembly, Bucharest, Romania

In general, I am always happy when I can meet and interact with scientists from the other chemical divisions and discuss potential collaborations. One of the highlights was the EuChemS General Assembly Meeting in Bucharest, on 3 – 4 October 2019. On 20 January 2021, I initiated a Zoom meeting with the Division delegates and invited Dr. Nineta Hrastelj. We discussed the situation of teaching and learning in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion enabled an exchange of ideas, and even highlighting positive aspects regarding the on-line communication system. I felt that looking at the benefits of the technological advancements during these challenging days was beneficial to everybody and moreover – helped us all in conveying the conclusions to the chemistry teachers in their countries, encouraging them, and highlighting some positive aspects of this period. We all stressed the point, that we hope that these positive points will continue, and the educational system will benefit from the fact that teachers developed a more advanced technological literacy (albeit due to problematic times). For our annual meeting (this time at Eurovariety 2021), we (I and the co-chairs – from east and west Europe), will send a letter to the partners, inviting them to discuss some important points, such as: Did I learn new techno-pedagogical strategies to teaching as well as to assessment? Did the on-line teaching encourage the students to develop self and independent learning? Did the on-line teaching encourage me to be more creative and innovative than I used to be? Do I believe that I will integrate the on-line strategies in the face-to-face classes?

Eurovariety is the key conference of the EuChemS Division of Chemical Education. Can you tell us more about the upcoming event?
The 9th European Variety in University Chemistry Education Conference, Eurovariety 2021, will be held from 7 to 9 July 2021 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, as an on-line conference. There will be the possibility of online participation for this event. The Eurovariety 2021 conference, run under the auspices of the EuChemS Division of Chemical Education, will be hosted by the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Education in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

This conference will bring together chemistry lecturers and educational professionals to improve the understanding of chemistry teaching and learning. They will share and showcase the best practices in the field, and network across the community. Topics:

For university level:

  • COVID-19, and teaching and learning chemistry
  • Innovative approaches in chemistry teaching
  • Application of ICT in chemistry education
  • Mentoring chemistry students

For primary and secondary schools :

  • Developing competencies of primary and secondary school chemistry pre-service teachers
  • In-service professional development of chemistry teachers

Are there other upcoming projects of the EuChemS Division of Chemical Education that you would like to mention?
I would like to mention the DivCED EuChemS meeting which is planned to be held during the 2021 Eurovariety conference. In this meeting, we will discuss further collaborations and projects, hopefully face-to-face. In addition, we started planning ECRICE 2022 in Israel. This conference was planned for 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This interview is coming to an end, would you like to add a few words?
I hope that I managed to describe my work, which covers a variety of science education facets: research and practice, advising graduate students, collaborating with researchers and science in Israel and abroad, writing in 2014 a Handbook for Reviewers Conference Contributions, together with Martin Goedhart, Iwona Maciejowska, and participating in science education committees of IUPAC (CCE, Gender Gap, Standards in Chemical Education, Systems Thinking), as well as of EuChemS (co-editor of Chemistry Teacher International;. Ethics for chemistry students; Periodic table; Year of Chemistry). I did my best to contribute as much as possible to science education in general, and to chemistry education in particular, and I am very grateful for the acknowledgment of IUPAC: receiving the IUPAC 2021 Distinguished Women in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering Award.

Interview of Rachel Mamlok-Naaman, Chair of the EuChemS Division of Chemical Education,
Conducted by Laura Jousset, EuChemS Science Communication & Policy Officer