The global COVID-19 pandemic has truly touched our lives, both personally and professionally. We have changed how we work, adapted how we interact with friends, family, and colleagues, and how we communicate and disseminate information. While webinars have been around for a long time, we have a renewed perspective now. We recognize that participation in these events makes the content much more accessible to the global community, reduces the carbon footprint, and the information is captured online long-term.
Enabling attendance by people from all corners of the globe not only provides a diverse group of speakers, sparking new collaborations globally, but also lessens the environmental impact of attending conferences. An early example is the European Biological Rhythms Society that trialed a hybrid conference model in November 2019 (pre-pandemic) including both in-person and virtual sessions . In addition to reducing the carbon footprint of the conference, the organizers saw a 10 % increase in attendance versus their main in-person conference, and the keynote presentation was watched from 18 time zones! This level of accessibility is unprecedented, with participants highlighting that they saw time and energy savings by not having to travel, students being able to attend for free, and enabling those who needed flexibility in their schedule to be involved.
The global pandemic led to fully virtual conferences and thus a more sustainable and even more accessible and inclusive environment for scientific exchange at the global level . However, we often hear about how meeting peers and interacting with colleagues face-to-face has been lost in this setting. While we still have a long way to go to optimize virtual meetings, there are numerous online tools available that can help streamline this process.
What started out as a campaign to fight fake-news about the COVID-19 outbreak and spread information on relevant initiatives has rapidly grown into several initiatives that are led by the International Younger Chemists Network (IYCN, an organization affiliated with the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, or IUPAC)  and the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN, young division of the European Chemical Society, or EuChemS) [4,5]. We have also collaborated with other networks devoted to early-career chemists, including the Younger Chemists Committee (YCC, younger division of the American Chemical Society, or ACS)  and the Young European Catalysis Network (YEuCat). Given the postponement and cancellation of scientific conferences and meetings worldwide, we recognized the need to produce online content aimed at connecting and empowering early-career chemists and giving them an opportunity to present their research work on a global stage.
Our collaboration began by updating the scientific community on efforts that were underway to fight the COVID-19 crisis. In this regard, there was significant misinformation circulating in the media and on social media, and we wanted to gather qualified researchers who were actively working in this area to discuss their findings and provide the community with accurate information.
The series began with the webinar “Chemists Fighting COVID-19: The Status Quo” and featured Professor Javier García-Martínez, Universidad de Alicante, Spain, Dr. Angela Zhou and Dr. Cynthia Li, Information Scientist and Manager of Scientific Information at Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), USA, respectively, Dr. Emmanuel Balogun, Senior Lecturer, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, Dr. Jadel Kratz, Discovery Manager, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, Brazil, and Ms. Julia Klüpfel, Pandemic Important Resource Allocation Tool (PIRAT), Germany (see Fig. 1). The panelists discussed the pivotal role of chemistry in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the strategies for developing therapeutics and vaccines, prevention and control of COVID-19, the role of open science and alternative research and development models during pandemic responses, and the development of PIRAT as a way to distribute equipment and consumables to those who need it most.
Figure 1. The presentations during the “Chemists Fighting COVID-19: The Status Quo” webinar were followed by an engaging panel discussion (lower right), moderated by Dr. Antonio M. Rodríguez García (EYCN Chair).
Our second webinar on “Chemists Fighting COVID-19: Tools to Thrive Remotely” explored strategies and tools for being productive while working from home. The webinar featured Dr. Fun Man Fung, Scientist-Educator, National University of Singapore, Dr. Emma Pewsey, Comment and Careers Editor, Chemistry World, UK, and Dr. Fernando Gomollón-Bel, Press and Communications Coordinator, Graphene Flagship, UK. The presentations addressed several topics including how to create an engaging virtual classroom environment for online learning, how to maintain a healthy work-life balance while working from home, and ways to communicate chemistry effectively. The webinar also included a panel discussion and included Professor Alisa Lincoln, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA, and Professor Jennifer Heemstra, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA, who shared advice and tools to look after our mental health during these unprecedented times (see Fig. 2).
Figure 2. An engaging panel discussion followed “Chemists Fighting COVID-19: Tools to Thrive Remotely” and was moderated by Mr. Sebastian Weber (IYCN Social Media Chair).
During our discussions, it became clear that there is a real concern about the job market due to the global pandemic. This led to our third collaborative effort on “Job Hunting during COVID-19”, a webinar dedicated to exploring the changing landscape that the pandemic had given us, and the different career paths for young professionals. The webinar was headlined by Chemjobber (Twitter handle: @Chemjobber), who offered a look into what we could expect from the chemistry job market in a near future, aided by the global financial crisis in 2008. We also had presentations from Dr. Paulette Vincent-Ruz, Postdoctoral Associate, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, who spoke about how to distinguish yourself in a saturated job market, while the industry recruiter Ms. Michelle Lucas, Talent Acquisition Business Partner EMEA, Sibelco Group, Belgium, and Dr. Robert Bowles, Careers and Professional Development Adviser, Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), UK, summarized the actions that could be implemented to help scientists looking for a job.
The recordings of these webinars are available on the IUPAC YouTube channel.
Fellowships and Awards for Young Chemists
In our journey to keep supporting and empowering early-career chemists, we launched a webinar aimed at informing them on European awards and prestigious fellowships to pursue their career goals in an international scheme. The webinar was used to promote the different Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) and awards available to European chemists (see Fig. 3).
We invited Professor Pilar Goya, EuChemS President, and Dr. Antonio M. Rodríguez García, EYCN Chair, to present the European awards hosted by EuChemS. Professor Goya encouraged young chemists to participate in the EuChemS Lecture Award and the European Young Chemists’ Award (EYCA). The first serves as a recognition of the major achievements of one junior scientist working in chemistry in a country with a EuChemS Member Organisation. The EYCA recognizes research excellence by young scientists in Europe working across the chemical sciences. With regards to the EYCA, we wanted to promote the participation of as many researchers as possible.
On the topic of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), we invited Dr. Margarida Santos, National Contact Point Horizon 2020 and International Programmes Manager, Agência Nacional de Inovação, Portugal, and Dr. Claudia Bonfio, MSCA Fellow, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK, to promote the participation of a wider public and present the goal of the Individual Fellowships (IF) program. The MSCA aims to enhance the creative and innovative potential and support the career development of researchers of any nationality wishing to diversify their competence in terms of skills acquired through advanced training, international, interdisciplinary, and intersectoral mobility. Dr. Margarida Santos provided an overview of the program explaining the different types of MSCA fellowships that exist.
Dr. Claudia Bonfio complemented the webinar by sharing her MSCA journey and disclosing her own perspective on how to write a successful MSCA IF proposal. Her talk focused on how to approach it, the keys to success, how to do matchmaking and find groups that are willing to host you, as well as information for potential MSCA scholars who could come from outside the EU. In this way, we could open the webinar beyond the European borders and generate interest globally.
The recording of the webinar is available on the EYCN YouTube Channel.
Figure 3. Professor Pilar Goya and Dr. Antonio M. Rodríguez García (upper left) presented the different awards available to early-career scientists within EuChemS, Dr. Margarida Santos (upper right) introduced the MSCA fellowships, and Dr. Claudia Bonfio (lower) talked about her own MSCA journey.
As an addition to the many events directed at personal and professional development, the EYCN set out to collaborate with the YEuCat to create “Catalysis Talks”. This series focuses on a continuation of the academic research culture during the pandemic, with a special focus on enabling early-career scientists to present their findings in these difficult times. In today’s academic world, it is more important than ever for Ph.D. students, postdoctoral fellows, and early-career group leaders to present their newest research data to develop their skills, further their research careers, and expand their networks.
To date, ten sessions of the series have been held, providing 30 researchers with an opportunity to present their research results to the community (see Fig. 4). The high demand for an event like this was demonstrated by hundreds of registrations for the sessions, and by dozens of researchers providing us with their abstracts and sharing stories on how their originally planned presentations had to be canceled. This showcased the genuine interest and motivation of early-career scientists to present their research virtually and discuss it with their peers. The organizing committee, consisting of members of both networks, carefully selected the speakers from the pool of abstracts to provide thematically appropriate and diverse sessions for the benefit of the scientific community interested in catalysis.
Figure 4. Pictures of some of the participants on the “Catalysis Talks” while presenting their work on the course of this year. “Catalysis Talks” is a series of programmed presentations, twice a month, established as a collaboration between the EYCN and the YEuCat.
Bringing the year to a close, we believe that there is still a high demand for research-focused presentations and that early-career scientists are among those researchers who are most affected by COVID-19. We think so because they are more challenged to improve their communication skills and build their resumes. Additionally, the challenge of building a new professional network during the global COVID-19 pandemic is greater than maintaining connections with already established contacts and networks. Therefore, we plan to continue this series while there is a demand for a platform for young professionals. The newest information about the series can be found on Twitter.
The EYCN also hosted some of the in-person events that were planned for 2020 online instead, aiming to support the young chemists’ community in remaining connected and keep the interest in networking activities high. Among them, the [email protected] event, both an “electronic” and a “European” Young Chemists’ Meeting, was organized due to the postponement of the 8th EuChemS Chemistry Congress (ECC8) until 2022. In the words of Dr. Alice Soldà, Advisor to the EYCN Board and project leader, “COVID-19 should not interfere with our curiosity and knowledge outside the classic scientific field”. The online event included multiple sessions about the future in chemistry, different career opportunities, and professional development for young scientists in academia and industry.
Particular attention was devoted to grant writing through two workshops that provided useful tips for writing competitive MSCA and European Research Council grant proposals. The significance of effective science communication during this unprecedented period was also highlighted, as, according to Mr. Maximilian Menche, EYCN Secretary, online meetings and e-poster sessions have become the only way “to uphold some of the routines and traditions of social life in the labs”. Dr. Antonio M. Rodríguez García, EYCN Chair, approached this period of restriction from a more optimistic perspective, pointing out that “although working in the lab is essential for chemists, this time can be a unique opportunity to learn and improve less known abilities in chemistry such as outreach and organization skills”. Therefore, an additional session of [email protected] was devoted to science communication, where invited speakers provided insights into science journalism and advice for effective research dissemination.
The recordings of the sessions are available on the EYCN YouTube Channel.
The postponement of ECC8 excluded the future participation of some researchers due to age limitations. Given this, the EYCA 2020 contest, launched by EuChemS in February 2020, was integrated into the [email protected] event. This award seeks to recognize and reward younger chemists of exceptional ability who show promise for substantial future achievements in chemistry-related research fields.
During the online event, twelve finalists presented their research, and the final evaluation took place. At the Early Career Research level, Dr. Maria Chiara Sportelli, National Research Council/Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnologies – CNR-IFN, Italy, and Dr. Grégory Chatel, University of Savoie Mont Blanc, France, were awarded the Gold and Silver Medal, respectively, and at the Ph.D. level, the Gold Medal was awarded to Dr. Eoin Murray, T. E. Laboratories, Ireland, and the Silver Medal to Dr. Emilia Paone, University of Reggio Calabria, Italy (see Fig. 5).
Figure 5. Gold (upper) and silver medal (lower) winners of the EYCA 2020 for the Early Career Researcher (left) and Ph.D. (right) levels.
ChemVoices is a collaborative effort between IYCN and IUPAC, with sponsorship from Bayer LLC. The overall goal of ChemVoices is to provide a platform through which early-career chemists can discuss issues of immediate concern to them. In this way, ChemVoices is giving a voice to the future generation of chemists to highlight their research and other contributions to the broader scientific community—an opportunity not often afforded to this group.
To date, we have held several webinars that have focused on topics such as building resilience, career opportunities, and fostering innovation through collaboration. The first webinar featured Dr. Anna Regoutz, Lecturer, University College London, UK, Dr. César Urbina-Blanco, Senior Postdoctoral Researcher, Ghent University, Belgium, and Dr. Jesús Esteban Serrano, Lecturer, The University of Manchester, UK, who discussed strategies on how they increased their capacity to cope, learn, and thrive throughout their careers.
Our next webinar highlighted the experience of three early-career chemists working in market development (Dr. Natalie LaFranzo, Vice-President Market Development, Cofactor Genomics, USA), science communication (Dr. Fernando Gomollón-Bel, Press and Communications Coordinator, Graphene Flagship, UK), and global policy (Dr. Aubrey Paris, Science and Technology Policy Adviser, US Department of State) about their transition from academia into different industries. We also heard from Dr. Torsten John, Postdoctoral Researcher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, USA, Dr. Marilia Valli, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of São Paulo, Brazil, and Dr. Nnanake-Abasi Offiong, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Uyo, Nigeria, about managing collaborative initiatives that foster innovation and advance professional development (see Fig. 6).
Figure 6. Map showing the location of presenters who have participated in the ChemVoices webinars. Red pins: “Chemists Beyond the Bench”; yellow pins: “Empowering Diversity in Science”; blue pins: “Fostering Innovation through Collaboration”; purple pins: “Resilience: a key in overcoming challenges”.
Visit www.ChemVoices.org to find out more about the upcoming webinars, register to attend, and re-watch past offerings.
IYCN/YCC Symposium on Chemistry Entrepreneurship
IYCN and YCC joined forces to organize a symposium highlighting entrepreneurial activities across the chemical sciences that have been successfully translated from the bench to the market. The main goal of the symposium was to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit and creative thinking among early-career chemists, open their minds, and highlight the key role of the chemical sciences in addressing pressing societal challenges. Three successful international innovators and entrepreneurs from Europe and the USA, namely Professor Javier García-Martínez, Co-Founder and Chief Scientist, Rive Technology Inc., Monmouth Junction, NJ, USA, Dr. Tammy Hsu, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Huue Inc., Oakland, CA, USA, and Mr. Andre Watson, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ligandal Inc. San Francisco, CA, USA, talked about their innovative ventures and engaged in a panel discussion (see Fig. 7).
Rive Technology Inc. began as an academic project led by Dr. Javier García-Martínez during his postdoc at MIT. It aimed to improve traditional zeolite catalysts by introducing new medium pore size channels (“molecular highways”). These channels led to an enhanced diffusion of hydrocarbons both into and out of the zeolite crystals, thereby improving the catalytic performance.
Huue Inc. was spun out following the conclusion of Dr. Hsu’s Ph.D. project and focuses on making sustainable indigo blue dyeing solutions for the denim industry by growing bacteria. This delivers a product with five times less toxicity potential compared to conventional petroleum-based dyes while maintaining quality.
Ligandal Inc. seeks to create tailored gene therapies using non-viral, cell-specifically targeted nanotechnology, aiming to improve patient outcomes and minimize side effects. Each of the entrepreneurs spoke about the challenges they faced when starting their companies, including strategic planning, business plan development, safety, and scale-up of their products, to name just a few. They shared their in-depth experience, tips, and advice on how to translate lab findings into innovation and run our own business, as well as on how to become a successful chemistry entrepreneur.
The recording of the webinar, as well as other resources on entrepreneurship, are available on the IUPAC YouTube Channel.
Figure 7. Professor Javier García-Martínez (upper left), Dr. Tammy Hsu (upper right), Mr. Andre Watson (lower left) talked about their entrepreneurial journeys, how to translate scientific discoveries from the lab into the market, and how to create your own business and become a successful chemistry entrepreneur. The speakers also engaged in a panel discussion (lower right), moderated by Dr. João Borges, IYCN Conference Presence Committee Chair.
IYCN Workshop Series on Professional Development Skills
The IYCN has been organizing a series of virtual workshops focusing on professional development skills to the benefit of early-career chemists. To date, we have held three workshops. The first featured Professor Sam Pazicni, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, and Dr. Nadine Borduas-Dedekind, Principal Investigator, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, who shared insights into life in graduate school and provided tools and advice for students to succeed—from starting the application process to getting a degree (see Fig. 8). The workshop included advice for choosing the best graduate program, tips for preparing a motivation letter, ways to keep the balance between research, course load, and personal life, and strategies to manage mentor expectations and mentee responsibilities, among others.
Figure 8. Professor Sam Pazicni (left) and Dr. Nadine Borduas-Dedekind (right) shared advice on how to choose the best graduate school program and succeed in graduate school during the workshop “Preparing and Thriving in Graduate School”.
The second workshop, entitled “Diversity in Career Paths in Chemistry”, highlighted the array of careers that those with a chemistry background can pursue. It gathered panelists from academia (Professor Zhe Han, Lecturer, National University of Singapore), industry (Dr. Catherine Rawlins, Global MALDI Applications Specialist, Kratos Analytical Ltd., UK, and Dr. Jenny Deng, Patent Counsel, Henkel Corporation, USA), and governmental organizations (Dr. Nicholas Anastas, Senior Advisor, Environmental Protection Agency, USA). The panelists shared their background and career paths, challenges, perspectives, and engaged in a panel discussion providing advice to early-career chemists considering the opportunities that are open to them (see Fig. 9).
Figure 9. Professor Zhe Han, Dr. Catherine Rawlins, Dr. Nicholas Anastas, and Dr. Jenny Deng engaged in a panel discussion moderated by Mr. Raymond Borg, IYCN Conference Presence Committee member, during the “Diversity in Career Paths in Chemistry” workshop.
The third workshop of the series focused on “Science Communication” and featured Dr. Joana Lobo Antunes, Head of Communication, Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisboa, Portugal, Dr. Marco Carlotti, Scientific Collaborator, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Genoa, Italy, and Ms. Anna Ahveninen, Communications Officer, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra. The panelists shared their career paths from a chemistry background to science communicators. They also engaged in a panel discussion giving tips and advice on how to effectively share and communicate scientific discoveries in an engaging and clear way to be understood by the general public, as well as how to become a professional science communicator (see Fig. 10).
Figure 10. Dr. Joana Lobo Antunes (upper left), Dr. Marco Carlotti (upper right), and Ms. Anna Ahveninen (lower left) shared their career paths, as well as tips and advice on how to effectively communicate science and become a professional science communicator. The speakers also engaged in a panel discussion (lower right), moderated by Dr. Claudia Bonfio, IYCN Conference Presence Committee member, during the “Science Communication” workshop.
The recordings of the workshops are available on the IUPAC YouTube Channel, with more to come!
The topics of the upcoming workshops include science outreach, grant writing, publishing, scientific management, and translational research, and will count on the active participation of panelists from across the globe. These topics are often not taught during BSc, MSc, or Ph.D. programs and are essential to advance the career development of early-career scientists.
Early-career chemists do not routinely get the opportunity to present in webinars, nor do they get many opportunities to organize symposia. The pandemic has emboldened early-career chemists, pushing them to develop online content to support each other’s growth and contribute to a larger discussion with a diverse global audience.
The opportunities that the pandemic has created, despite its devastating nature, highlight the importance of collaborative initiatives such as the ones mentioned above that place an emphasis on a more accessible and sustainable world. That is why we, as a community, should take advantage of the skills, resources, and technologies that we have today to embrace both online and hybrid conferences, meetings, and seminars and work together for a more sustainable and inclusive future.
Enabling attendance by those who may have been excluded under in-person-only models—whether due to travel, financial status, health reasons, family commitments, or other limitations—to fully participate in the exchange of scientific information and connect with peers is beneficial to the greater scientific community and contributes to advancing professional development. It is only when everyone can be truly involved that we can make significant progress, devise creative solutions, and foster innovation. As early-career chemists, the members of the IYCN, EYCN, YCC, and other young chemists’ networks will continue to work towards this common endeavor in the future to connect, support, and empower younger chemists.
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Dr. João Borges is a Researcher at the Department of Chemistry, CICECO – Aveiro Institute of Materials, University of Aveiro, Portugal, focusing on the rational molecular design, synthesis, and development of bioinspired supramolecular biofunctional materials to interface with living systems. He is a Member of the Executive Board and Conference Presence Chair at the International Younger Chemists Network (IYCN; 2019–2021), and Member of the Networks (since 2017) and Global Connections (since 2019) Teams at the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN), extensively supporting the networking activities among and empowering younger chemists in their career development, and effectively working to advance the dissemination and understanding of chemistry worldwide.
Dr. Lori Ferrins is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Northeastern University. Lori’s research has primarily focused on the development of drugs to treat neglected tropical diseases, like Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, and human African trypanosomiasis. Recently, her research has evolved to include agents responsible for a wide variety of infectious diseases. These include repurposing kinase inhibitors for malaria and amoeba, identification of novel antifungal agents, and a target-driven program for SARS-CoV-2 Mpro. In addition to her research, Lori has been involved with several volunteer organizations, including the International Younger Chemists Network (IYCN; 2017–2018: Public Outreach team lead, 2018–2019: Vice-Chair, 2019–2021: Chair), and the Northeast Section of the American Chemical Society (2019–current).
Dr. Antonio M. Rodríguez García is a Research Assistant Professor at the Instituto Regional de Investigaciones Científicas Aplicadas (IRICA) at the Universidad de Castilla La Mancha. He joined the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN) of the European Chemical Society (EuChemS) in 2018 as the Spanish representative. He has represented the Spanish chemists at EYCN since then on behalf of the Jóvenes Investigadores Químicos (JIQ) from the Real Sociedad Española de Química (RSEQ). He became the EYCN Chair in 2019. Nowadays, he works to empower and encourage the younger generations together with the 33 EYCN delegates, with committees coming from 27 different countries, representing 43000 young chemists.
Maximilian Menche is a Ph.D. student at BASF and the Catalysis Research Laboratory of Heidelberg University, working on computational homogeneous catalysis at the interface of academia and industry. He joined the German Chemical Society (GDCh) and its young chemists’ network in 2015 and has taken over various responsibilities within the network. In 2017, he started to support the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN) of the European Chemical Society (EuChemS) and took over the Secretary position in Spring 2019. In this role, he supports the development and education of young scientists and promoting chemistry to the broader public.
Image © Dr. Thomas Schaub
Dr. Dimitra T. Pournara is a Medicinal Chemist, working as a Scientific Editor and Communications Consultant in Europe and Asia to support scientists in efficiently communicating and publishing their research in high-impact scientific journals. Since 2018, she has been a Member of the Networks and Communication Teams at the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN) and the Social Media Team at the International Younger Chemists Network (IYCN), where she is actively involved in supporting the networking activities and promoting scientific exchange among young chemists.
Dr. Katja Väyrynen is a Materials Chemist working as a Process Development Engineer at Beneq in Finland. Beneq is a company that specialized in atomic layer deposition (ALD) and provides both equipment and R&D services related to the method. Before joining Beneq, Katja worked on the ALD of metal thin films for microelectronics applications at the University of Helsinki. She joined the Networks and Communication Teams at the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN) in 2020 and is mostly involved in publishing and sharing the vision of the EYCN to the broader public.
Dr. Jovana V. Milić is a Group Leader and Swiss National Science Foundation PRIMA Fellow at the Adolphe Merkle Institute of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Her research focuses on bioinspired supramolecular nanomaterials for energy conversion, with a particular interest in hybrid photovoltaics and smart nanotechnologies. She has also been dedicated to supporting and empowering young chemists globally as Board Member and Networks Team Leader at the European Young Chemists’ Network (EYCN) as well as Governance Team Member at the International Younger Chemists Network (IYCN).
Juan C. Aponte-Santini is a Ph.D. Candidate with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico – Río Piedras Campus. He is the second student to explore a combined thesis in organic chemistry and chemistry education research there. He has distinguished himself as a very active member of the American Chemical Society since he was an undergraduate student (since 2002). He is now the Chair for the Younger Chemists Committee in Puerto Rico (since 2011). Furthermore, he is a member of the ACS Younger Chemists Committee at a national level with leading roles in sub-committees (since 2012). He also has been recognized as a 2016 SciFinder Future Leader and 2017 IUPAC Young Observer.