Meet the winners of this year’s RSC awards for chemistry educators

Earlier this month, the Royal Society of Chemistry unveiled the 2019 winners of its annual prizes and awards. These recognise teams and individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the chemical sciences through innovation at the cutting edge, and by inspiring others at the very beginning of their career in science.

Among those celebrated this year are several who have made significant contributions to chemistry education.

Nyholm prize for education

Dr Marcy towns

Source: © Marcy Towns

Marcy Towns is the director of general chemistry at Purdue University and was awarded for her research into the understanding of learning in undergraduate laboratories, in addition to her contributions to teaching and assessment of climate science.

Marcy began her career as a secondary school teacher of maths and chemistry, before returning to university to complete a masters degree focused on chemistry education. She went on to carry out a PhD in physical chemistry. During her academic career, Marcy’s research has examined new ways to assess student skills in the laboratory, augmentation practices, student understanding of maths in chemistry and student understanding of the chemistry in climate science.

Marcy described the Nyholm prize as ‘an extraordinary honour’ and noted that it recognises the ‘innovative and creative work’ carried out by her graduate students.

Higher education teaching award

Dr barry ryan

Source: © Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is a lecturer at the Technological University Dublin and was awarded for innovation in chemistry education, in particular for his approach to ‘integrating students as co-creators of knowledge’.

Barry has a passion for research-informed teaching and is the chair of the Methods of research in science education (MORSE) conference and the Journal of Science Undergraduate Research Experience. Throughout his career, he has sought to improve chemistry education with a student-centered approach.

On receiving the award, Barry acknowledged the chemistry higher education teaching community, adding that he feels ‘privileged to have been recognised from within this group’.

Schools education award

Niki Kaiser headshot

Source: © Niki Kaiser

Niki Kaiser is a chemistry teacher at Notre Dame High School in Norwich, serves on the RSC’s Education division council and chairs the RSC’s 11–19 curriculum and assessment working group. She was awarded for her ‘outstanding commitment to the incorporation and dissemination of research informed teaching approaches’.

Before becoming a teacher, Niki completed a PhD in atmospheric chemistry and carried out post-doctoral research on marine biogeochemistry. More recently, she was a member of the expert advisory panel for the Education Endowment Foundation’s Improving secondary science report. Niki mentors school leaders in Norwich to help them incorporate evidence-based teaching practices at their schools, and helped set up the #CogSciSci peer-support network, which helps members share ideas for applying cognitive science to their science teaching.

Niki said that this year’s schools education award reflects the fact that teachers are increasingly using research to inform their teaching. ‘I believe that good professional development and excellent support for classroom practitioners is vital,’ she added.

Higher education technical excellence award

The DCU technical team standing together

Source: © Dublin City University

The technical team at Dublin City University’s school of chemical sciences received this year’s award for ‘exceptional services to health and safety and accessibility in Irish Higher Education laboratories’.

The team comprises a dedicated group of people spanning a broad range of disciplines that includes analytical chemistry, organic chemistry, materials science, environmental science, instrumental analysis, and health and safety. Together they work to create an inclusive environment among staff and students, and endeavour to create a ‘supportive environment where students of all abilities can thrive’.

Veronica Dobbyn, the team’s chief technical officer said the award was ‘a most welcomed and exciting acknowledgement for the technical team of the work and commitment to our school’.

Inspiration & industry award

Pfizer team holding science in a box pamphlets

Source: © Pfizer

Pfizer’s Science in a box team was recognised for developing an interactive schools’ programme to inspire children to study science, which to date has been delivered to 23,000 pupils.

The Science in a box: molecule to medicine programme shows school pupils each step of the process behind creating new medicines – from pre-discovery to supply. It enables students to appreciate the complexity of these industrial projects and visualise the range of different roles and potential career paths available for them in the future. The team conducted 116 events at 75 schools in its first year.

The team said it was ‘delighted’ to receive the award, adding that the many Pfizer colleagues involved in the programme ‘are passionate about developing the breakthrough medicines of tomorrow and the science it takes to do that; it is inspiring and motivating for us to share that passion with the scientists of the future.’

Inculsion and diversity prize

Essex 120

Source: © Jane Essex

Jane Essex was awarded for ‘a lifetime spent furthering the active engagement of everyone in science, regardless of their identity or individual circumstances’. In particular, Jane’s efforts to maximise impact through her work with teachers was recognised.

Jane is a lecturer in chemistry education at the University of Strathclyde, having previously worked as a science teacher. She cites ‘recognising and countering the exclusion of certain learners’ as a career-long interest and her current research focuses on preparing teachers for inclusive science teaching, as well as the impact of science outreach.

Jane said she feels she is accepting the award ‘on behalf of the diverse young scientists’ that she has worked with throughout her career. She is excited to plan for a future that ‘embraces the vision of a truly representative science community’ and looks forward to ‘playing an active role in the building of that strong and diverse group of scientists’.

Volunteer recognition awards

Gill Berkeley

Source: © Gill Berkeley

Gill Berkeley received an award in recognition of her commitment to the RSC and the chemical education community in Scotland.

Gill is the director of curriculum at Inverness College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands and is chair of the RSC’s Education division, Scotland. Throughout her career, she has led in the design and delivery of qualifications across a range of subjects, from horticulture to nursing, and worked to ensure that chemistry was embedded within those course programmes. Gill was also one of the founders of the Moray Science festival.

Michael seery

Source: © Michael Seery

Michael Seery was recognised with an inspirational member award for his ‘dedication to the diversification of the programmes for both the Chemical Education Research Group’ and to his RSC local section.

Michael is the editor of the journal Chemistry Education Research and Practice and was previous chair of Education in Chemistry’s editorial board. His research focuses on laboratory learning and students’ independent learning, and he has previously received awards for his approach to teaching, teaching research, and use of e-learning.