Why Chemistry is taking Centre Stage at the Houses of Parliament

Amy Hawthorne

by Amy Hawthorne

9th May 2014

2011 was the Year of Chemistry and many politicians are still raving about the subject, so it seems that Chemistry is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

The chemists at ReAgent are fully-trained and know a thing or two about Chemistry, which is why our customers are always so pleased with our technical services such as Chemical Blending.   Chemistry-final-reagent

On the flip-side, one twitter trend is currently circulating (mainly in the US) where students post a photograph with their chemistry teachers, in front of a sign saying “If we get [any amount] of retweets we don’t have to take our Chemistry final”.

Where did this fear of Chemistry come from? Are we moving away from it or are we stuck in the era of this negative public opinion and resistance to education?

Here’s why politics is backing Chemistry and the chemical industry. 

Chemistry Experiments at the Houses of Parliament

Dr Hal with Andrew Miller MP at the Houses of Parliament

Dr Hal with Andrew Miller MP at the Houses of Parliament

In 2011, Professor Sosabowski (Dr Hal) performed chemistry demonstrations at the Houses of Parliament for the launch of UNESCO’s International Year of Chemistry. This was the first time chemistry experiments had been carried out at the Houses of Parliament and it was one way of striving to increase public understanding of the need for chemistry in everyday life.

Fast forward to 2014, and a bunch of MPs from Britain had the chance to meet Professor Sosabowski and get involved in some more experiments at the Houses of Parliament. Hal is a professor of Public Understanding of Science at the University of Brighton, and one of his research interests is ‘Science in Society’, so this was a great opportunity to integrate science into politics.

Lorely Burt MP being fearless with fire

Lorely Burt MP being fearless with fire

ReAgent became aware of the chemistry event via a newsletter from MP Graham Evans, who is an MP of Chester, local to ReAgent. Graham attended the experiments carried out by Professor Sosabowski in the Houses of Parliament and watched as other MPs got involved in the impressive demonstrations.

It was held by the Royal Society of Chemistry and attendees gathered to talk about the importance of scientific research to the UK economy. Graham Evans said;

“I witnessed the whizzes and bangs of chemistry first-hand as Dr Sosabowski showed off the science behind glow sticks, a liquid nitrogen shower and a flaming methane mamba of soap bubbles. But behind the colourful chemicals and exciting explosions the event was an opportunity to discuss the need for a long-term strategy for UK science funding to drive economic growth and create jobs.

It certainly wasn’t a normal day in Parliament, seeing bright and explosive chemistry experiments. Experiments carried out included a liquid nitrogen shower, chemiluminescence (the emission of light as a result of a chemical reaction) with oxalate esters, and lycopdium powder fireball.”

Prof. Sosabowski spoke to ReAgent, and described “a look of child-like delight on the faces of the MPs” as though their “inner child was still there just dying to play with their chemistry set.”

Politicians Focusing their Attention on Chemistry

Promisingly, a high number of MPs are now encouraging a higher focus for the subject of Chemistry. MP Lorely Burt said of the event at the Houses of Parliament;

“I hope that through displays like this, the Royal Society of Chemistry will encourage more people to study Science, especially girls, who are still under-represented.”

Graham Evans’ political interests include science and education, alongside policing, defence and health care. He is also the vice chair of the Chemical Industry All Party Parliamentary Group, which was set up with the purpose of discussing issues of importance to the future of the chemical industry in the UK.

Valerie Vaz and other MPs admire a Dr Hal demonstration

Valerie Vaz and other MPs admire a Dr Hal demonstration

Additionally, there is a Parliamentary and Scientific Committee set up to provide liaison between Parliamentarians and scientific bodies. The group set up “SET for Britain” which supports early-career research scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians.

In March 2014, Dr Adrian Boatwright, a researcher from the University of Leicester, won a silver award for a competition set up by ‘SET for Britain’ and was awarded it at the House of Commons.

Valerie Vaz – the MP that hosted the chemical experiments event at the Houses of Parliament – hopes for a positive outcome from the event; “I am hopeful that Dr Sosabowski’s roadshow for the MPs will help them to encourage children in their constituencies to take up Science and Chemistry in particular.”

Praise for the UK Chemical Industry

Rainbow-coloured lab coats all round

Rainbow-coloured lab coats all round

As well as trying some practical Chemistry experiments at the Houses of Parliament, MPs are collaborating with the Royal Society of Chemistry to promote interest in Science.

The President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Professor Lesley Yellowlees, spoke about the gains Britain takes from its chemical industry;

“Britain is a world leader in science. The chemical sector alone sustains 500,000 jobs across the country. But over the last decades, public investment in scientific research has fallen behind our international competitors. We want to see a commitment from all sides of the debate to increase total government investment in research in the long-term to set Britain back on the path to science-fuelled growth.”

Mirroring the opening of this quote, soci.org praises the chemical industry for the high amount of jobs it has provided and for how it has contributed to huge progress in safety, health and environmental issues.

“Britain is a world leader in science. The chemical sector alone sustains 500,000 jobs across the country.”

A glowing experiment at the Houses of Parliament

A glowing experiment at the Houses of Parliament

In fact, Britain’s chemical industry represents an eighth of all manufacturing and is the fourth largest behind food, engineering and transport.

According to a report, the UK’s chemical industry also accounts for 15% of UK exports and the industry has a labour productivity which is more than double the UK average. It’s also internationally acknowledged that UK chemists are of such a high quality that they are a significant factor in causing companies to locate to the UK.

It’s excellent news that an appreciation for Chemistry is becoming more wide-spread. Along with new groups being set up between scientists and politicians, high-profile chemists such as Dr Hal Sosabowski are working towards making Chemistry more accessible and especially aiming to get kids to love it.

A message from ReAgent to students with looming Chemistry exams: Don’t take to social media to set up a campaign. Study! – You never know where Chemistry can take you.

Special thanks go to Prof Hal Sosabowski for sending the images of the experiment over to ReAgent.


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