Chemistry Talks

President’s column

From Open Access to Open Science

On a regular basis, the European Chemical Society (EuChemS) publishes positions about chemistry-related issues based on the best available independent scientific knowledge based on the views of experts across our member societies.  

When it comes to more general science-related policy questions, however, we also work together with other organisations on the European level. More specifically, EuChemS is a member of the Initiative for Science in Europe (ISE), which is an independent platform of European Learned Societies and Research Organisations from various science disciplines. ISE supports all fields of science, involves researchers in the design and implementation of European science policies, and is a strong advocate of independent scientific advice in European policy making. Topics that are currently discussed by ISE are amongst others researcher’s careers, Horizon Europe, young researchers, and Open Science. EuChemS has its own Task Groups on some of these topics and the Task Group members actively contribute to ISE’s activities.  

The EuChemS Task Group that focused on Open Access (publications financed with public money should be publicly available) broadened its activities to Open Science. This stands for open access to scientific knowledge, to science infrastructure, science communication, and involvement of societal stakeholders. Open Science is also associated with a broader view on research and innovation: scientists engage more in discussions with societal actors, output is no longer restricted to scientific publications and societal challenges have to be addressed by multidisciplinary teams of scientists. These developments cause that conventional ways to assess research quality (e.g. number of publications, journal impact factor, H-index) require revision and that other activities such as teaching, leadership, and outreach to society also must be taken into account. We should, however, not completely abandon the existing metrics, but instead move to a more integrated approach to assess the quality of research and the researchers involved.  

The EuChems position on Open Science is expressed through participation in ISE activities, but also by participation in expert groups. An example is the EuChemS participation in the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP), a High-Level Group of stakeholders advising the European Commission on Open Science policy, thereby contributing to articulating the voice of chemists at the European level. 

Floris Rutjes 
EuChemS President  

EYCheM – A Platform for Connecting and Empowering Early-Career Chemists 

Scientific talks, networking, EYCN DA and social events at previous PYCheM and EYCheM editions. Image credit to the conference organisers and attendees.

The European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN), the young division of the European Chemical Society (EuChemS), has created a platform for biennial meetings of young chemists across Europe – the European Young Chemists’ Meeting. Since its inception in 2016, EYCheM has become a unique international platform for scientific exchange between young chemists in Europe and beyond. The meeting offers early-stage chemists a unique opportunity to develop their professional skills, expand their network, and increase their international visibility while building long-term and fruitful collaborations.  

EYCheM evolved from PYCheM, a biennial scientific conference for the community of Portuguese young chemists, founded in 2008. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 3rd EYCheM had to be postponed and will be held in January 2022 online. However, a wide variety of online events were held in 2020 and 2021. The lessons learned here stimulate discussions about more sustainable and inclusive conference formats. Hybrid conference formats are possible, which would allow a broader international community to participate. 

Important for further success is continued support, for example through sponsorship by industry, and the participation of established experts who are willing to mentor the next generation of young chemists and support their professional development.  

Read the full article by João Borges, Jovana V. Milić, et al. in ChemistryViews:  

Timeline from EYCHeM 2019 to EYCHeM 2021

Analysing the Night Watch with top-notch chemistry 

A paradigm in organic chemistry that has been in use since 1931 has turned out to be wrong, Amsterdam scientists found. It is not carbon s-p hybridisation, but steric repulsion that causes the variation of e.g. C-H bond lengths. ‘This discovery has been in the making for about twenty years.’

At the end of the nineteenth century, researchers were already using the then newly discovered X-rays to look through oil paintings. But in the last few decades, the scientific analysis of art has expanded enormously. Using enormous amounts of data, researchers are trying to find out what chemical and physical processes take place in art objects. 

Chemist Katrien Keune links fundamental research on the properties and behaviour of materials to the appearance of pieces of art in the collection in her work at the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands, first as a researcher and since 2019 as head of the Science department. Keune tries to gain insight into how the appearance has changed in the past and how it may change in the future. She is currently responsible for the scientific research within Operation Night Watch, a large-scale research and conservation project in which Rembrandt’s famous painting is being meticulously mapped out using a wide range of analysis techniques. 

How does your fundamental research translate to museum practice?  
‘That is exactly what makes my role so interesting. I am embedded in a restoration studio at the museum and every day we have discussions and questions about this very topic. What is the point, what do we still need to know? That’s what’s so good about Operation Night Watch, that we have weekly meetings with conservators, restorers and researchers where we ask each other questions from all sides. That way you immediately see where all the holes in the science are, because there are many questions that I can’t answer at the moment.’ 

What makes Operation Night Watch so unique?  
‘Besides the close cooperation between the various groups within the museum, it’s mainly the mix of complementary techniques that we use. The way we are now researching the Night Watch would not have been possible five years ago. The speed and resolution of analytical techniques have improved so rapidly in recent years. Our ambition is to get the most complete picture possible of the painting, of the materials used and of its condition. You usually don’t get to study the Night Watch every month or year, so this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ 

Want to learn more about how Katrien Keune came to be an art researcher and what analytical tools she uses? You can read the complete interview here: 

Katrien Keune in her laboratory ©Jordi Huisman