Welcome in your new role at EuChemS!
Peter Venturini is the new President of the Slovenian Chemical Society. He is currently the managing Director of Synthetic Resins at Helios – The European Coatings Group.
Dušan Sladić is the new President of the Serbian Chemical Society. He is currently a professor at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Belgrade.
Stian Svelle is the new Secretary-General of the Norwegian Chemical Society. He is currently a professor in the Catalysis section of the Department of Chemistry of the University of Oslo.
Interview with Jan Mehlich, recipient of the 2020 EuChemS Award for Service
Dr. Jan Mehlich is currently the Secretary of the EuChemS Working Party on Ethics in Chemistry. Science and technology ethicist with an educational background in chemistry, Jan Mehlich’s academic interest lies in value co-creation processes and the role of scientists, engineers, designers, and other innovators in the discourse on sustainable scientific and technological progress. He has developed the on-line course Good Chemistry – Methodological, Ethical, and Social Implications, worth 2 ECTS Credits and now available on the EuChemS Moodle platform. His book was recently published to support chemistry students in their studies. Jan Mehlich will be awarded the 2020 EuChemS Award for Service. He will receive this award in recognition of his outstanding commitment and hard work in fostering chemistry in Europe, along with the activities and goals of EuChemS.
You will be awarded the EuChemS 2020 Award for Service. First, congratulations! How do you feel about this recognition?
I am extremely delighted and thankful for this award because it means that my efforts to support both scientific integrity and sustainable impact of chemical research and development with appropriate education is recognized and rewarded! Having such a visibility shows that the topic reached the midst of the chemical community.
A webinar will be organised by EuChemS in October 2021 (date TBD) during which you will be awarded the EuChemS 2020 Award for Service. Can you tell us which topic you plan to discuss during this online event?
From my experience, many chemists believe that all that ethics has to say about chemistry is good scientific practice and research integrity. I want to take the opportunity in this webinar to illustrate how chemists equipped with normative discourse competences contribute more efficiently to sustainable progress, become responsible innovators in academia or industry, and succeed in shifting dual use potentials towards the benefit side.
Could you give us an insight into how your career has developed? What drove you to specialise in Applied Ethics?
As a PhD student doing research on nano-scale surface patterning, I took notice of the public debate on nanotechnology that was often closer to science fiction than to what we nanoscientists actually did in the lab. I thought it would be necessary to have scientific experts who, at the same time, also have the competence to discuss ethical and societal issues of their field of progress. With an additional Master degree in ‘Applied Ethics’, equipped with skills in argumentation and ethical reasoning, I got a job at a technology assessment institute and elaborated recommendations for the European Commission on how to foster the development of nanomedicine with proper regulation. The experiences in this project encouraged me to pursue an academic career in the field of science and innovation ethics.
You created the on-line course Good Chemistry – Methodological, Ethical, and Social Implications, which is now available on the EuChemS Moodle Platform, and published a related book with the same title. Can you please tell us more about this course and its development?
Ethics plays a role for chemists in two different ways: On the one hand, the conduct of research follows certain professional codes that a good chemists should be committed to. The fact that, obviously, not all members of the scientific community comply with these guidelines calls for a better education in scientific integrity. Thus, one part of the course is dedicated to this topic. On the other hand, chemical activity—academic research, industrial R&D, Innovation and trade of goods—has a deep impact on society and environment, both positive and negative. The way we deal with these impacts nowadays demands for chemists with the competence and willingness to contribute with their expertise to the discourse on scientific and technological progress. Therefore, the course dedicates about half of its time to sustainability, risk, dual use, innovation governance, and public communication. The book is based on the lecture scripts of this course and provides a lot of additional material like case discussions and exercises. With this book at hand, students who attend the MOOC have a chance to dig deeper into their topics of interest and get much more background information and practice opportunities than the course can provide in limited time.
Will there be other follow-up initiatives concerning Good Chemistry?
Among the two main threads of Good Chemistry—scientific integrity and impact of chemical progress—there is certainly more to be done on the latter. The guidelines that we ask professional chemists to comply with won’t change much, but our research uncovers more and more ways in which chemists’ contribution can improve science and innovation policy, corporate innovation efforts, public attitude towards scientific expertise, and the efficacy with which we, collectively, tackle the big issues of our time such as climate change, pollution, energy supply, public health, mobility, and others.
You also currently serve the EuChemS community as the Secretary of the EuChemS Working Party on Ethics in Chemistry. In what ways does being part of a EuChemS Professional Network benefit you and your work?
When I joined this working party, I thought of it as a great networking opportunity to meet like-minded chemists. Now I know that it is much more than that. Over the past 10 years, we met frequently and had inspiring and enlightening discussions on topics at the intersection of chemistry, applied ethics, and society. Different colleagues had totally different ideas of what constitutes this intersection, ranging from history and culture to moral philosophy and epistemology to sociology and psychology. It is only through this operation in the inter-space—between people, between views, between experiences—that I could shape and refine my understanding of the normative-ethical dimensions of chemistry.
What are your next professional projects?
In the near future, I will join the University of Bonn and continue my theme of bridging scientific-technical with normative expertise in interdisciplinary multi-stakeholder discourses. Hopefully, research in this field results in strategies or tools for scientists, engineers, and other innovators to translate value and norm commitments into actual studies and designs efficiently and sustainably.
This interview is coming to an end, would you like to add a few words?
I am grateful to EuChemS for its continuous support of the theme Ethics in Chemistry! Especially, I’d like to thank the colleagues and friends without whom I would not receive the honour of this award: Hartmut Frank and Luigi Campanella of the working party Ethics in Chemistry, Iwona Maciejowska of the Division of Education in Chemistry, former EuChemS presidents David Cole-Hamilton and Pilar Goya, and the indefatigable Nineta Hrastelj!
Interview of Jan Mehlich, Recipient of the 2020 EuChemS Award for Service and Member of the EuChemS Working Party on Ethics in Chemistry
Conducted by Laura Jousset, EuChemS Science Communication & Policy Officer