Chemistry Talks

President’s column

Stick to Science!

As I am writing this column, the 5th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) is taking place in Nairobi (Kenya). One of the items on the agenda is to make important steps forward to a new and independent science-policy interface to address waste and pollution at a global level. In other words, to establish an IPCC-type platform, supported by governments, industries, and chemical science organisations around the world, to install effective global science-based advice mechanisms to mitigate the damaging effects of waste and pollution. I recently took part in the Burlington Consensus, a panel discussion organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), which was aimed at raising awareness and promoting this initiative. Furthermore, EuChemS agreed to have its logo added to the declaration statement that is on the table at UNEA-5, thereby expressing its support for creating such an intergovernmental panel. I sincerely hope that this lobby will be successful, and I am looking forward to seeing how EuChemS can keep playing a supporting role in future activities.

Stick to Science (, another initiative that was recently launched, is a campaign to promote an inclusive European research community. It calls for an open collaboration between researchers from all over Europe without barriers. It is in particular aimed at including Switzerland and the UK in Horizon Europe programmes, which is now being held up by political motifs that are not related to science. This is damaging the progression of science and innovation in Europe, which is vital for maintaining a competitive science position in the world, and an important pillar for the European knowledge economy. As EuChemS aims to be an inclusive society, with both of these countries being important actors in EuChemS activities, we genuinely support this initiative and signed up as an organization on the webpage. But this may not be enough; therefore, have a look at the website yourself, and if you are in favour of an inclusive European research community, that includes our Swiss and UK colleagues, please do sign up to also personally support Stick to Science.

Floris Rutjes 
EuChemS President 

‘Many basic aspects of chemistry come together in glycochemistry’

Winning two prizes in one month is not a given for every scientist, especially not this early in a career. But you have to push glycochemist Marthe Walvoort pretty hard to make her say ‘I am proud’. She particularly emphasises the importance of a stimulating environment for success.

Besides her efforts in the areas of outreach, inclusivity, diversity, and helping early-stage researchers, Adjunct Professor of Chemical Glycobiology Marthe Walvoort (38) is steadily building a career based on sugars: on the one hand, the role of glycans in bacteria and, on the other, the sugar molecules in breast milk. In December, she received both the Early Career Award from the KNAW and the Athena Award from NWO. According to the KNAW, the former is intended for ‘researchers in the Netherlands who are at the start of their career and have innovative, original research ideas’. The second goes exclusively to female scientists and has an explicit role model aspect.

The jury’s last statement is difficult to dispute: during our conversation in her office at the Stratingh Institute on the campus of the University of Groningen, Walvoort shows a good smile with an infectious enthusiasm. And a hint of imposter syndrome. Laughing: ‘Yes, that’s right, I can totally relate to that! Even though it doesn’t make any sense. Of course I am proud. I think I am. But I have set myself goals and we are far from achieving them. I am confident that we will get there. But at what point can you really be proud of your achievements? ‘

So when would you describe yourself as ‘successful’?
‘The first thing that came to mind was ‘if my students are doing well’. She points to a picture on the wall. ‘Those are my first two PhD students; they have only just finished. They both have a good job now and the fact that I prepared them for it, that is what I consider to be success. The research itself is also important, of course, but these are rarely major triumphs and mostly small steps. But perhaps I should celebrate those more often. After all, I also celebrate my children’s first steps.’

Read the entire interview here: