Was that the International Year of Chemistry?

Not a lot of people seem to know this but 2011 was designated by UNESCO as the International Year of Chemistry.

As such, IYC 2011 has the stated aim of “increasing the public appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs, to encourage interest in chemistry among young people, and to generate enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry.”

But, with the year almost up, IYC 2011 has, at best, been a low-profile profile affair – particularly in Europe where the initiative might have done most good.

At a recent press conference at the Shell Technology Centre in Amsterdam, Shell Chemicals boss Ben van Beurden was asked why the chemicals industry wasn’t making more of the Year of Chemistry.

He replied that industry had taken steps to promote itself more during the year, but that it would take much more than the Year of Chemistry to make a difference.

“We need a long-term reappraisal of the industry to see how do be portray ourselves,” said van Beurden. “The industry, let’s face it, does not have a very good reputation with the public at large.

“We are not trusted generally. We are seen as bit if a dinosaur industry, less relevant and certainly less sexy than some of the other emerging industries.”

The Shell Chemicals boss said it was vital to turn these perceptions around, for example, by highlighting how many of the innovations taking place in other industries are essentially chemical innovations.

“Without a vibrant chemical industry and innovation in chemistry, we are not going to have the growth in innovation that we so much want in Europe and North America. It is all going to migrate elsewhere,” said van Beurden. 

“Getting the talent pipeline refilled is going to be one of the most important challenges we have,” he concluded. “In the end, the most important feedstock we can have for our industry is going to be the talent we can attract.”