IRIS was shortlisted along with the Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) for the Times Higher Education Widening Participation/Outreach Initiative of the Year award for its innovative chemistry research project, Towards Greener Fragrances. While we didn’t win, being shortlisted for an award which recognises imaginative and innovative initiatives promoting diversity and encouraging people from non-traditional backgrounds to enter higher education was an achievement.
The project launched in Northern Ireland in 2021. Last year more than 200 students from 10 schools in Northern Ireland took part and the project is now open to students across the UK. Greener Fragrances provides a cross-community opportunity to be part of a research team addressing real research problems. As part of the project, students, aged 16 to 19, explore how ionic liquids can be used to make industrial processes more sustainable.
Feedback from students who completed the projects says it increased their confidence in chemistry, showed them how chemists can contribute to a better world, and opened their eyes to what a research career could be like.
Our director, Jo Foster, said: “IRIS’ guiding principle is to capture talent and break down barriers that impact underrepresented young people in STEM. It’s fantastic to be recognised for our efforts in doing just that. Thanks to the dedication of the Greener Fragrances team, passionate young chemists from all walks of life are entering the world of higher education with confidence, ambition and a commitment to improving our world for the better.”
Through the project, students gain hands-on research experience, which allows them to utilise reactions studied at A-level, develop practical skills and gain insight into the research profession. Greener Fragrances was developed by QUB’s Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre to enable young people to experience the creativity of scientific research and learn how it relates to the real world.
Sophie, from Our Lady’s Grammar School in Newry, Northern Ireland who carried out research as part of the project, said “it allowed me an opportunity to explore aspects of green chemistry which is something you don’t get to see when you’re studying A-level chemistry. It’s been nice to see how chemistry can contribute to a better world.”
Thanks to the dedication of the Greener Fragrances team, passionate young chemists from all walks of life are entering the world of higher education with confidence, ambition and a commitment to improving our world for the better.
Prof Gosia Swadzba-Kwasny, professor of Inorganic Chemistry and QUB and Director of the QUILL Research Centre says: “We want to inspire young people from all backgrounds and show them how interesting and exciting chemistry can be when applied to real-life problems. Equally, we want them to see that they can be part of it all.”
The impact of the project would not have been possible without Prof Gosia Swadzba-Kwasny, Dr Kevin Morgan and the QUB team – who helped develop the project using current QUILL research – and support from the Royal Society of Chemistry Outreach Fund.
This year’s ceremony took place on Thursday 7 December 2023 at the ACC in Liverpool.