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Why 2020 is an exciting time to be a chemist  

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Chemistry is at the heart of how we're going to beat some of the world’s most pressing challenges and keep a stable economy. Gill Reid, Head of Chemistry at the University of Southampton, believes there’s no better time to enter the field and be able to have a positive, sustainable impact on society. 
“Chemistry plays such an important role in so many areas of research and discovery. There’s a huge degree of creativity in chemistry – you have an opportunity to design and deliver specific solutions for so many different applications that have real-world impact. 
“It’s significant to note that almost all of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals that are a blueprint for a better future, are tangibly linked to chemistry. They need chemistry to succeed, whether that’s finding new vaccines and diagnostic tests for disease, like we are trying to do for COVID-19 at the moment or harnessing environmentally sustainable energy supplies and improving our agricultural processes to feed a growing global population. Chemistry is essential to make the world a better place.”
Clare Viney, CEO of the Careers and Research Advisory Centre and Chair of the University’s Chemistry External Advisory Board, echoes Gill’s comments. “Students embarking on a chemistry degree this coming Autumn are entering the discipline at an opportune time,” she says. 
“We’ve seen over the past few months that the chemical and chemistry-using industries have had an integral role in our daily lives. Chemistry is at the forefront of the medical response to COVID-19 but is also making sure our daily life is protected during lockdown; such as making sure we have hand sanitiser and that our clean water supplies are secure. If you strip it all back, even our communications networks are chemistry and physics – Netflix is chemistry! 
“Chemists are at the centre of keeping the country going and they will continue to be at the centre as we move forward into the recovery phase.” 
The chemistry and chemical-using industries add £19.2billion of value to the UK economy every year and Clare believes their research and innovation will be key drivers in the country’s economic recovery following the coronavirus. 
“The chemical sector has an annual turnover of around £55.5billion a year. It sits at the head of many supply chains within manufacturing and employs thousands of highly skilled people. The wider chemical and pharmaceutical industry is also one of our largest exporters of manufactured goods. Our universities, which are the envy of the world, as well as the businesses that support and work with them, are a key component in that activity and so will be extremely important in a successful economic recovery,” she says. 
Gill adds: “It will be vitally important to invest in research so the pieces of the jigsaw can be put in place and deliver the economic benefits as well as the wider societal benefits. It’s encouraging to hear positive commitments to increased spending on research and development, so the future is definitely bright.” 
The recent prominence of scientific experts within the media and the exposure of chemistry’s role in people’s lives will have a positive impact on the industry and inspire the next generation of chemists, Clare says. 
“I hope we will see examples from the COVID-19 response, like 3D-printed visors and the chemistry of hand sanitisers, within the future curriculum so students can understand its involvement and become the chemists of the future,” Clare says. 
“We know that doing a degree has a positive impact on your long-term earnings prospects. But we also know that young people today are not driven by money alone and it’s actually positive changes to society, that they want to be a part of. They want to drive the solutions to global challenges. 
“We’ve seen in the last few months the confidence people now have in experts. A chemistry degree develops critical evaluation and analysis skills, which are key and allow you to spring board into different career areas. That’s why a degree in chemistry is so attractive, because it can take you into many different areas that result in positive changes for the world.” 
Gill adds: “Chemistry is an exciting and dynamic discipline that is incredibly creative. It will give students a unique combination of skills and abilities that, coupled with chemistry’s central role in society challenges, will mean young people studying this discipline will be at the forefront of changing the world for the better.” 

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