Joint Research/Equality & Diversity Seminar

Putting the ‘f’ in chemistry: A molecular exploration of the elements hidden in our nuclear waste

Friday 3 May 2019, 1.00PM to 3.00pm

Speaker(s): Prof Polly Arnold, University of Edinburgh

Uranium is one of the most famous, or perhaps infamous elements. It is the heaviest naturally occurring element and sits amongst the metals at the bottom of the periodic table, the f-elements.
Its packed nucleus draws the core electrons in close, subtly changing the behaviour of its compounds. This has generated many headaches for scientists dealing with nuclear waste which contain complex mixtures of uranium compounds and those of its more radioactive neighbours. We design and make new molecules of uranium, and its rarer, man-made, highly radioactive neighbouring elements, that allow us to model and study these interactions. Where these challenge our traditional views of uranium chemistry, we improve our fundamental understanding of uranium's behaviour, and thus our ability to deal with our nuclear waste legacy. We will show new reactivity of uranium complexes with traditionally inert molecules such as N2, and unprecedented chemistry of the oxo groups of the ubiquitous, and famously unreactive uranyl ion, [UO2] 2+

Outside the laboratory, there is an economically important imbalance in science: the talent pipeline still leaks female scientists and engineers at a disproportionately high rate, with the cost to the UK economy of losing female scientists estimated as US$ 2 billion per annum. The University of Edinburgh’s female scientists started their campaign for equality with street riots in the 1870s, and today Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry has been recognised for its excellence in equality and diversity actions. I made the film ‘A Chemical Imbalance’ as a call to action to improve equality of opportunity in STEM in 2013. I will take a look at how we’ve all been doing since then, and ask if it’s time for another riot.

Reviews of research: P. L. Arnold, M. S. Dutkiewicz, O. Walter, Chem. Rev., 2017, 117, 11460. P. L. Arnold, Z. R. Turner, Nature Rev. Chem., 2017, 1; P. L. Arnold, B. E. Cowie, J. M. Purkis, J. B. Love, J. Austin, Chem. Rev., 2019, in press.
Equality & diversity resources:


Location: C/B/102 - Followed by refreshments in C/B/101 from 2-2.30 pm