Last Saturday, Oct 28th, some sixty graduate students, professors, and members of the public braved the rain to attend Professor Polly Arnold’s sunny and upbeat lecture which covered everything from Pacman and nuclear waste to Sherlock Holmes and blue glitter.
Prof. Arnold holds the Crum Brown Chair at the University of Edinburgh, where she studies the structure and bonding of lanthanides and actinides for the development of novel catalysts.
In her words, the f-block elements comprise “the wild west of the period table” as researchers such as herself are still working to establish their fundamental chemistry. She colourfully describes them as being “stuffed with electrons like pomegranates”, around which “organic shrubbery” can be placed to create a highly tunable, low toxic, and abundant set of catalysts that could, most remarkably, lead to safer management of nuclear waste.
Aside from her enthusiasm for research and lab specs, Prof. Arnold is also an advocate for ending gender disparity in chemistry. While her department boasts a 30% female professoriate, what is considered a “critical mass” in terms of diversity, Prof. Arnold highlights how female researchers face leaky pipe as they advance through the ranks of academia.
A few years back, she used her Rosalind Franklin prize from the Royal Society to investigate how gender parity might be achieved. Her work led to the production of the short film, “A Chemical Imbalance”, which highlights the history and experiences of female researchers in her department and how, at the heart of the matter, lies society’s unconscious bias.
Check out Professor Arnold’s short documentary here, “A Chemical Imbalance”: http://www.chemicalimbalance.ed.ac.uk/
Explore your unconscious bias here: www.implicit.harvard.edu