25 Oct 2010
Lampitt Medallist and Chairman of the Membership Advisory Committee Dr Geoff Fowler says he likes to give as much as he can and not admit defeat.
Here he recalls how he first became involved with SCI and his experience with its goverrnance, past and present, and the Environment Group.
What made you become a member of SCI?
I had become aware of SCI as an undergraduate, attending an SCI-organised careers event. However, I did not join SCI until I started my PhD. I did this initially so I could receive my own copy of Chemistry and Industry and to receive notification of conferences. I soon realised that there was much more to the Society.
Why did you decide to get involved?
Shortly after joining SCI my Prof (the late Roger Perry) was contacted by a former student who was on the Environment Group committee (then Water and Environment). They were looking for a student rep. Roger knew I had joined SCI and summoned me to his office to tell me he had volunteered me for this position. How could I refuse?
What has driven your long-term involvement?
I am not sure if I would describe my involvement as driven - when I become involved with something I will give as much as I can and I tend not to admit defeat. I am also somebody who tends to run with something- I am not somebody who plots progression, I am a believer in fate. That said it does helps when you are working with a group of like-minded people who encourage you and are genuinely good at what they do.
All the members past and present of the Environment Committee are very friendly, hard working and we are all very clear what the aims and objects of the group are. They encouraged my progression through the Group officers' roles, first as Hon Secretary and then as Chairman, consequently onto Council and Technical Development Committee. I suppose I just really enjoyed the Council and TDC and felt that I could make a difference to the Society, thus I stood for election as Chairman of TDC and the rest is history.
Has this reflected your professional interests?
I work at Imperial College as a research academic. My field of interest is mainly focussed in the area of activated carbon manufacture and characterisation but utilising waste materials (including very toxic or hazardous waste) as the precursors. This has naturally evolved into the need for carbon conservation, energy recovery (pyrolysis and gasification) and energy efficient manufacturing processes (thermal and microwave heating). Only SCI can encompass this spread of interests within its technical group structure and in my case the Environment Group fulfils this need.
I am a Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, where the groups tend to be very specialist, and a Chartered Chemist. I am a member of the British Carbon Group, but I feel less affinity for other RSC groups due to their (understandable) specialisation. All the meetings I have organised for SCI have been directly related to my research activity and through meeting people at SCI have undertaken consultancy work. Some of this was very left-of field - one project involved trying to set fire to breadcrumbs removed from a deep fat fryer used to cook chicken nuggets!
And your career?
Not directly, although I have gained much experience from my involvement with the Society. From my early days on the Environment Group to my later involvement within the governing structure. I think my communication and committee skills have been strongly developed - this is a great asset when chairing College committees and research project consortia meetings.
Are you still excited to participate in SCI activities?
Absolutely. The last four years as the Chairman of the Membership Advisory Committee and a Trustee have been hard work and very challenging. The change from the old large Council to the much smaller but more agile Trustee Board necessitated by the Charities Commission resulted in fewer people sharing the same workload. However, the ideas being generated by the Forum and particularly my MAC colleagues, has meant that we have so many exciting projects we want to pursue, that prioritising the key issues is not a simple task.
How do you think your contribution has helped shape SCI?
I hope that if only a small part of my work on the Environment Group, MAC and the Board of Trustees has contributed to a wider awareness of the Society, I will be pleased. I have worked hard to stress the need and importance of the Groups. The Groups and their activities are what has given SCI a presence and reputation. Additionally, alongside my colleagues in MAC, we are rolling out the word to a wide audience through the Public Lectures - this will, I hope make Society more aware of SCI and the contribution it makes to knowledge.
What are SCI's biggest opportunities?
I have often described SCI as a very well-kept secret. Anybody can join the Society, you do not need to be a professional scientist - interest is sufficient. The nearest equivalent organisation in the UK is the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Many people know about the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures and its links to Michael Faraday, but SCI is generally less well known outside of the 'science' community - although we have some equally as famous past members. If we can widen the reach of the organisation then it can become as well known. Through increasing our profile we can then increase our impact through highlighting the importance of the chemical and allied sciences in the UK.
Are you excited to become a Lampitt Medallist?
I was completely astounded when I received the letter from the Chairman of the Awards committee notifying me of my receipt of the Medal - I checked the address to make sure it was meant for me. Having nominated others for the award in the past, I know how significant the Lampitt Medal is. I know several recipients very well and I know that this Medal is not awarded lightly and it is a great honour to receive this recognition. I will be having stern words with my nominees, if I ever find out who they were!