Professor Livia Simon Sarkadi is the first female president of the Hungarian Chemical Society (HCS), Head of the Department of Food Chemistry and Nutrition at the Faculty of Food Science, Corvinus University of Budapest, and is very active in national and international society and managerial activities. After a very successful first term, Livia Sarkadi has been re-elected as president this year.
She talks to Dr. Vera Koester for ChemViews Magazine about chemistry in her home country, Hungary, her career and broad experience in societal work, and about women in chemistry.
What motivates you to work for the society?
The motivation to work for others perhaps comes from my father. He was always very active in this respect during his life and I was able to learn from him how to deal with sometimes difficult problems.
I was always very active, loved being involved in organizational matters such as planning and arranging conferences, meetings, get-together parties, and networking. To be involved in such activities as a team member or leader are very different experiences. 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 – food chemistry.
Only one person can be president, but an effective president creates, motivates, and acknowledges the team. If you can find motivated people who want to help it is possible to achieve goals that may seem impossible. I have learned from my life in food chemistry and as president just how rewarding it is to see young and inexperienced colleagues taking on responsibilities and ‘growing’ their abilities as a result of being effectively mentored.
You are also involved in EuCheMS and ChemPubSoc Europe. In your opinion, why are chemical societies important?
The European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS) is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1970; it was previously known as the Federation of European Chemical Societies (FECS). EuCheMS currently represents some 160,000 chemists in academia, industry and government in more than 30 countries across Europe. It has 40 member societies and supports 18 divisions and working parties covering the main fields of chemistry. The main aim of EuCheMS is to promote European cooperation between non-profit-making scientific and technical societies in the complementary fields of chemistry and molecular sciences.
I first joined the Food Chemistry Division of EuCheMS in 1996 as one of the representatives of Hungary, was a member of its Secretariat (Core Group) between 2002 and 2005 and served as secretary and vice-chair during the period 2006–2009 before being elected as the first female chair in 2009 for two periods, served as a member of the executive board of EuCheMS between 2009 and 2014, and currently serve as an elected member of the executive board. I was a member of the Organising and Scientific Committees of the 1st EuCheMS Congress, held in Budapest in 2006.
I have been involved in ChemPubSoc Europe activities since becoming president of HCS. ChemPubSoc Europe is an organization of 16 continental European Chemical Societies, founded in the late 1990s as a consequence of the amalgamation of 14 chemical journals owned by national chemical societies into the current 11 high-quality European journals.
Scientific societies and associations operating at the European level provide advantages for member societies to internationalize their organizations through collaboration, knowledge transfer and exchange, and professional meetings. In particular, it gives smaller societies the possibility to play an active role in the policymaking processes of the European Commission and the European Research Council through EuCheMS representation and helps to ensure that their specific interests and concerns are taken into account.
What is special about the Hungarian Chemical Society?
Whilst the activities of HCS may not differ very much from those of other European Societies, the size of the country (population of approximately ten million) and its scientific and technological achievements are noteworthy. There are 13 Nobel Prize Laureates with Hungarian backgrounds, five amongst whom are chemists – Richard A. Zsigmondy (1925), George de Hevesy (1943), John C. Polanyi (1986), George A. Olah (1994), and Avram Hershko (2004). Professor Olah is an honorary member of HCS.
The Hungarian Chemical Society is one of the oldest professional organizations in Hungary, having been founded in 1907. It represents about 2500 chemists in academia and industry. The society has ten regional bodies and eight workplace groups and supports 24 divisions and 13 working parties covering the main fields of chemistry. HCS sponsors or promotes a number of international activities, including conferences, and edits and supports various national and international journals. It has excellent links with various national and international organizations, including EuCheMS and ChemPubSoc Europe where HCS is a founding member society. When FECS, the former EuCheMS, was established in the politically divided Europe of 1970, it had offices in Budapest and London.
Representatives of the Hungarian Chemical Society are widely seen as leading players within international organizations. For example, Professor Gábor Náray Szabó, the former president of the HCS as well as the last president of FECS, was the main organizer of the first European Chemistry Congress of EuCheMS, a totally new pan-European venture, held in Budapest in 2006.
What are your main goals as president?
The main objectives of the Hungarian Chemical Society (HCS) have not changed greatly since its foundation. The society’s primary objectives include the establishment of a professional public forum for the country’s chemists and provision of indirect support to the national chemical sciences, education establishments, and industries (including the pharmaceutical industry).
Some important goals of my work are to make the society better known and more popular among Hungarian chemists, and especially to attract younger colleagues to join us; to cultivate good relationship between chemists and other professionals of other disciplines in Hungary; to represent the scientific interests of Hungarian chemists within Europe and beyond; and, last but not least, to promote chemistry at the national and international level.
Money is a necessary challenge and in my second term as president of HCS the biggest. I will work with my colleagues to establish new and more efficient ways in which HCS can increase its income to cover the cost of its broad spectrum of activities.
What has changed over the years?
In the 21st century world, science, in general, is very different to how it was when I graduated. It is now interdisciplinary, international, and must take account of economic needs, the concerns of consumers, and the aspirations of society. Science and technology must stimulate and drive innovation.
As scientists we must be much more articulate and passionate about what we do; not just with other scientists but with policymakers, primary producers, large and small businesses, and society. In particular, we have to enthuse young people, and girls in particular, with the challenge and excitement of a career in science, engineering, and entrepreneurial activities so as to create the best possible next generation. This must be done globally, in Europe, and in Hungary, and I am committed to playing my part in this necessary task.
Is “women in chemistry” a topic you are interested in? You are also one of the two editors of the EuCheMS book “European Women in Chemistry”.
European Women in Chemistry is the official book of EuCheMS for the International Year of Chemistry (2011). Its aim is to celebrate the role of women in chemistry that is generally little publicized. It is well known that if you ask children in Europe to describe or draw ‘a scientist’ the great majority will create a picture of a man, frequently looking like Einstein. The book was published by Wiley-VCH and we were particularly pleased that Professor Nicole Moreau (who was then president of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC)) agreed to write the foreword.
Today, women certainly have more opportunities to study and so their presence in science is no longer unusual. However, women are still expected to fulfill their duties at work and then must take care of the household and bring up their children. It is unsurprising that, for many women, her career soon loses out to these other demands on her time and it is often very difficult to return to science following such a ‘break’. Whilst there has been progress, women chemists in academia and industry are still not represented sufficiently well at the upper levels. This is a challenge for all of us, men and women, and I hope that in my professional activities I am able to offer an example to younger colleagues and students.
During the editorial work of this book I have read much about the lives and careers of many dedicated women and have come to better understand the problems that they had to face throughout their careers and admire their ambition, determination, and enthusiasm. They are an inspiration to us all.
What are you most proud of?
There are some important results we have achieved during my presidency. HCS and BASF have established a unique online chemistry knowledge database (www.chemgeneration.com). This multilingual web site, still updated regularly, won the Homepage of the Year contest in Hungary in 2011, being rated top within the entire field of education. HCS organized the EuCheMS General Assembly in 2013 in Budapest for the first time and we hosted the joint Energy Conference of EuCheMS and the European Physical Society in 2013. The ACS presidential visit to Hungary took place in 2012 for the first time in the history of HCS. You can imagine that for a small country like ours these were great achievements, made possible by the enthusiastic and dedicated teamwork of young and experienced colleagues. Not only were these opportunities to promote Hungarian science and scientists, but they also brought many scientists to my country for the very first time.
Hungary is one of many typical male-dominated national societies. I am proud, not just for myself, but for all women scientists in Hungary that, after more than a century, my society has elected a woman as president. To be re-elected for a second period is an enormous privilege. I hope that this election and my service will help to motivate other groups, societies, and organizations in my country and in Europe to give more attention to the professional role of women in society, academia, and business. It is simply not good enough for the proportion of women in these areas to increase if they are still to be found mainly in the lower levels. This will take time but I passionately believe that ability rather than gender must be the major factor in determining professional advancement.
What do you do in your spare time?
I really believe that it is very healthy to establish a balance between the personal and professional aspects of life. I can think of many occasions when taking time to think about or do other things has allowed me to refresh myself and develop new perspectives on scientific issues that I am facing. I am especially interested in music and sports. In my childhood I attended music school and played the piano for 12 years; although I have less time now it is still great relaxation. I was also involved in competitive rhythmic gymnastics and won the gold medal for the youth category in Hungary. Unfortunately, when I started my university studies I had less time to continue my gymnastics at this level and it too became my hobby. Both these decisions were very difficult at the time but, looking back, I have no regrets that I put science first. As you can imagine I am usually very busy, not least with travelling, but when I have spare time I regularly attend music concerts (classical and rock) and do gymnastics, which is good for my health. I also like travelling, meeting new people, and seeing new places. The advances in modern communications fortunately make such a life manageable.
Thank you very much for the interview.
Livia Simon Sarkadi graduated as a chemical engineer at the Technical University of Budapest (BUTE) in 1980. She received a university doctorate degree in Biochemistry from BUTE in 1986 and a Candidate of Science degree in Food Chemistry from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) in 1991. She was awarded a Dr. habil. from BUTE in 1999 and a DSc degree in Chemical Science from HAS in 2010. Since 2012, she has been a Full Professor and Head of the Department of Food Chemistry and Nutrition in the Faculty of Food Science, Corvinus University of Budapest.
Professor Sarkadi’s research centers on aspects of food quality and food safety, with a particular emphasis on amino acids, biogenic amines, and proteins, and on biochemical aspects of abiotic plant stress. She is an author/co-author of over 100 scientific papers in these areas in peer-reviewed journals.
Besides her teaching and research she has been involved in diverse managerial and organizational activities. Among these she has served as chair of the food protein working group of HAS since 1996 and, since 2011 has served as president of the HCS, being elected as its first female president in more than 100 years. She served as chair of the food chemistry division of the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS) between 2009 and 2014, and is currently an elected member of the EuCheMS executive board. She is very active in organizing scientific conferences, is a member of the scientific committee of four series of European conferences, and a member of the editorial boards of three international journals.
- L. Simon Sarkadi, “Occurrence of D-Amino Acids in Food” in Progress in Biological Chirality (Eds.: G. Pályi, C. Zucchi, L. Caglioti), Elsevier, Oxford, UK, 2004, Chapter 28, pp. 339–353. ISBN 0-08-044396-6
- L. Simon Sarkadi, “Biogenic Amines” in Process-Induced Food Toxicants: Occurrence, Formation, Mitigation, and Health Risks (Eds.: R. H. Stadler, D. R. Lineback), Wiley, USA, 2009, pp. 321–361. ISBN 978-0-470-07475-6
- Z. Kovács, L. Simon Sarkadi, G. Kocsy, Differential Effects of Abscisic Acid, Cold and Osmotic Stress on Polyamine Accumulation in Wheat, Amino Acids 2010, 38, 623–631. Link
- Z. Kovács, L. Simon Sarkadi, Cs. Sovány, K. Kirsch, K. Galiba, G. Kocsy, Differential Effects of Cold Acclimation and Abscisic Acid on Free Amino Acid Composition in Wheat, Plant Sci. 2011, 180, 61–68. DOI: 10.1016/j.plantsci.2010.08.010
- European Women in Chemistry (Eds.: J. Apotheker, L. Simon Sarkadi), Wiley-VCH, Germany, 2011. ISBN 978-3-527-32956-4
- L. Simon-Sarkadi, K. Pásztor-Huszár, I. Dalmadi, G. Kiskó, Effect of High Hydrostatic Pressure Processing on Biogenic Amine Content of Sausage during Storage, Food Res. Int. 2012, 47, 380–384. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodres.2011.10.029
- Á. Boldizsár, L. Simon-Sarkadi, K. Szirtes, A. Soltész, G. Szalai, M. Keyster, N. Ludidi, G. Galiba, G. Kocsy, Nitric Oxide Affects Salt-Induced Changes in Free Amino Acid Levels in Maize, J. Plant Physiol. 2013, 170, 1020–1027. DOI: 10.1016/j.jplph.2013.02.006
- L. Simon-Sarkadi, N. Ludidi, G. Kocsy, Modification of Cadaverine Levels by NO in Salt-Stressed Maize, Plant Sign. Behav. 2014, 9(1). DOI: 10.4161/psb.27598
- L. Simon-Sarkadi, “Global Challenges Require Global Cooperation” in Vision 2025: How To Succeed in the Global Chemistry Enterprise (Eds.: H. N. Cheng, S. Shah, M. L. Wu), Washington: American Chemical Society, ACS Symposium Series 1157, 2014, pp. 69–75. ISBN13: 978-0-841-229389