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Chemists with bright futures ‘set’ for Parliament

Posted on 15 March 2013

Two scientists from the University of York have been invited to Parliament next week to present their research to MPs and a panel of experts, who will judge their presentations for SET for Britain, a competition promoting early-stage researchers.

Dr William Unsworth, 29, a Postdoctoral Research Associate, will present a poster about his research on the improved synthesis of drug-like organic molecules.

PhD student Stephen Bromfield, 24, will talk about his work developing potential heparin ‘rescue agents’, as alternatives to the current widely used drug protamine. The drug heparin is used during certain types of surgery – particularly heart surgery – to stop blood from clotting, and is later counteracted with protamine, which binds with the heparin to neutralise it, but also has some undesirable side-effects.

The two York scientists, both from the Department of Chemistry, will see their work judged against research by dozens of other early-stage scientists from across the country, in the only national competition of its kind. They were both shortlisted from hundreds of applicants to appear in Parliament.

Dr Unsworth’s research concentrates on the synthesis of a range of heterocyclic scaffolds – a framework of carbon and hydrogen atoms, interspersed with one or more heteroatoms, typically oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur. His work means a range of products can be synthesised quickly and easily, allowing their biologically useful properties to be probed and tested, with the aim of incorporating them into drug or crop protection products.

Dr Unsworth said: “I am honoured and excited to have been awarded a place at this prestigious competition. I look forward both to hearing about all of the novel research being undertaken by my peers, and to discussing my own work with politicians, who are in a position to directly influence policy on scientific funding nationally.”

Stephen Bromfield, who earlier this year co-wrote a research paper showing how heparin levels in the blood can be monitored with ‘Mallard’ dye, said: “The event provides a great opportunity for researchers to remove some of the mystery surrounding their science.

“The chance to present our work in simple and understandable ways to a variety of important non-experts, such as MPs, is one that should not be underestimated. I believe communication is one of the most important parts of science, as without it nobody has any idea what you are doing.”

Andrew Miller MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, said: “This annual competition is an important date in the parliamentary calendar because it gives MPs an opportunity to speak to a wide range of the country’s best young researchers. 

“These early career scientists are the architects of our future and SET for Britain is politicians’ best opportunity to meet them and understand their work.”

Both scientists’ research has been entered into the Chemistry section of the competition, which will end in a gold, silver and bronze prize-giving ceremony.

Judged by leading academics, the gold medallist receives £3,000, while silver and bronze receive £2,000 and £1,000 respectively.

Tom Crotty, Director of INEOS Group AG, sponsors of the Gold Medal in the Chemistry Section, said: "It is crucial that there continues to be investment in skills to provide the next generation of engineers and scientists, particularly as the age profile of highly skilled engineers continues to increase.

“For manufacturing to thrive, the UK needs a large and growing reserve of people with the knowledge and skills to deliver world-class manufacturing and research and development.

“We’re delighted to support SET for Britain as an opportunity to celebrate the success of our early career scientists and we hope it will convince politicians to invest even greater effort to ensure the next generation of engineers and scientists come to the fore.”

The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee run the event in collaboration with the Institute of Physics, the Physiological Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Biology and the Society of Chemical Industry, with financial support from BP, Airbus/EADS, INEOS, AgChemAccess, Essar, the Institute of Biomedical Science, GAMBICA and WMG.

Notes to editors:

  • SET for Britain is a poster competition in the House of Commons – involving approximately 180 early stage or early career researchers – judged by professional and academic experts.  All presenters are entered into either the engineering, the biological and biomedical sciences, the physical sciences (chemistry), or the physical sciences (physics) session, depending on their specialism.

    Each session will result in the reward of Bronze, Silver and Gold certificates.  Bronze winners will receive a £1,000 prize; Silver, £2,000; and Gold, £3,000.  There will also be an overall winner from the four sessions who will receive the Westminster Wharton Medal.

    SET for Britain was established by Dr Eric Wharton in 1997.  Following his untimely death in 2007, the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, with support from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Physics, the Society of Biology, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Physiological Society and the Society of Chemical Industry are working together to further his legacy.

    The event is made possible this year by industry sponsors BP, Airbus/EADS, INEOS, AgChemAccess, Essar, the Institute of Biomedical Science, GAMBICA and WMG.

    Early stage or early career researchers include university research students, postgraduates, research assistants, postdocs, research fellows, newly-appointed lecturers, part-time and mature students, returners, those people embarking on a second career, and their equivalent in national, public sector and industrial laboratories, and appropriate final year undergraduate and MSc students, all of whom are engaged in scientific, engineering, technological or medical research.

    For more information visit: www.setforbritain.org.uk/index.asp.

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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