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Leena Otsomaa is the new President of the Finnish Chemical Society. She is the Director of Medicine Design at Orion Corporation

Fátima Guedes da Silva is the new President of the Portuguese Electrochemical Society. She is an Associate Professor at Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa.

Annabel Dias Barrocas Fernandes is the new Treasurer of the Sociedade Portuguesa de Electroquímica. She is a researcher at the Universidade da Beira Interior.

Anne-Sophie Duwez is the new President of the Walloon Royal Society of Chemistry. She is a full professor at Liége Université.


Interview with Livia Simon Sarkadi, recipient of the 2021 EuChemS Award for Service

Livia Simon Sarkadi is the recipient of the 2021 EuChemS Award for service. She was given this honour as a recognition of her outstanding commitment and hard work in fostering Chemistry in Europe, along with the activities and goals of EuChemS. In addition to the EuChemS Award for Service, her work was also recognised by IUPAC, from whom she received the “Distinguished Women in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering Award”.

Dr Sarkadi, alongside her job as a full professor, and head of the Doctoral School of Food Science at the Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is the long-time President of the Hungarian Chemical Society (HCS) – as well as the first woman who serves in this capacity at the HCS. She is also an editor of the book “European Women in Chemistry”. We are delighted to have her answering our questions about her career, achievements, and views.

What has drawn you to the area of food chemistry?

We often hear that teachers have a big influence in arousing children’s professional interest. I can confirm this with my own example, as my interest in biology and chemistry has grown thanks to two extraordinary high school teachers. I am particularly interested in the branch of chemistry that is closely linked to the biological systems, animal- and plant organisms that, as food, affect the quality of our daily lives and health. That is why I chose the Faculty of Chemical Engineering at the Technical University of Budapest, the only university at that time, where I could specialise in food chemistry.

You’ve been serving as the President of the Hungarian Chemical Society (HCS) for more than 10 years. What do you consider the key achievements of the society under your leadership?

I was very pleased to be elected as the first female President of the Hungarian Chemical Society (HCS) in more than a century, and it was a particular honour to be elected in 2011, the International Year of Chemistry. Managing a male-dominated Chemical Society with a long tradition is not an easy task, as a woman and as a representative of food chemistry that is not part of the mainstream of chemistry. Becoming President of HCS gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my experience and ability as a leader but also to promote my own special field of chemistry.

As the important result, I consider the broadening and strengthening our relationship with international organisations, and the renewal the division of young chemists to encourage their activities in HCS, and the division of chemistry teachers to promote chemistry education, as well as the division of the retired chemists so as not to move away from professional life.

As a President of the HCS, you have prioritised international scientific cooperation. What made you decide to do so, and what kind of benefits did this bring about?

Hungary has a long tradition of chemical science. We are very proud of our five Nobel laureates in Chemistry of Hungarian origin. All of them gained their knowledge in Hungary but they had to go abroad to achieve this extraordinary result. In the 21st century, it is more difficult to achieve high-level scientific results without international cooperation. EuChemS benefits all smaller National Chemical Societies by being able to take an active part in European research policymaking, internationalising their organisations through collaboration, knowledge transfer and exchange, and professional meetings. I was always very active in organisational matters such as planning and arranging conferences, meetings, get-together parties, and networking. Over the past 10 years, a number of international conferences have been organised in Hungary, helping Hungarian researchers to build international contacts.

You are also an IUPAC “Distinguished Women in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering” awardee. What are your thoughts about this award and the state of women in STEM?

Recognition of your results is always a good thing, especially if it is done internationally. In 2011, we commemorated Marie Curie, the first female Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. As more attention is being paid to her professional successors, I personally welcome the establishment of this award. Today, women certainly have more opportunities to study than in previous eras and so their presence in science is no longer unusual. There would be no need for such gender discrimination if the statistics showed almost the same recognition number for women and men.

Of course, it is also true that fewer young girls love so-called difficult subjects and later choose fewer professions that require STEM knowledge. Fortunately, a number of national and international promotional programs have been launched for young girls to allay their fears about these disciplines and encourage them to choose a STEM career.

You are one of the editors of the book “European Women in Chemistry”, in which the challenges of female scientists in the past centuries are discussed. How do you see the contemporary scientific landscape for women – are there any challenges we systematically overcome? Which ones remain? Are there any new ones emerging?

It gives me great pleasure to be one of the editors of the book which features 54 well-known (including 4 female Nobel laureates in chemistry) and lesser-known female portraits from 18 countries, including Hungarian researchers. The stories are a good example of the difficulties faced in the past by ladies who gave their heads to learning and wanted to take an active part in science. In many ways, it may be more difficult to build a career as a women scientist to this day, but the examples in the book also show that with a lot of perseverance and commitment, as well as the right support, the goal can be achieved, even if it is the Nobel Prize. I myself believe that it is primarily aptitude and not whether you are a woman or a man that determines professional achievement and excellence. A number of programs to help women have recently been launched. While the so-called women’s quota is not very pleasant for women in many cases, but it must be recognised that it is still necessary to increase the number of women in certain positions. We hope that the need for this distinction will gradually disappear.

This interview is nearing its end – is there anything specific you would like to highlight to our readers?

I feel very fortunate to be one of my female colleagues who may has held a leadership position, both nationally and internationally, in a way that is still considered extraordinary. The message of my example is that with dedicated and persistent work, and of course a little support, everyone can achieve their goal.

Interview with Livia Simon Sarkadi, recipient of the 2021 EuChemS Award for Service
Conducted by Marton Kottmayer, EuChemS Science Communication & Policy Officer