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York trio awarded prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry Prizes

Posted on 23 November 2021

The University of York has been recognised with three Royal Society of Chemistry Prizes.

Chemistry experimentThe Horizon Prizes for Education highlight initiatives that are set to make a real impact within the field of education.

The team behind the online course, ‘Exploring Everyday Chemistry’ - which was developed at the University of York - has been recognised with a Royal Society of Chemistry 2021 Horizon Award, while Dr Julia Sarju has been named the winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Early Career Prize for Excellence in Higher Education. 

Meanwhile, Nicky Waller has been awarded the Excellence in Primary Education Prize for her contributions to the Children Challenging Industry programme.

Step change

The Horizon Prizes for Education celebrate ground-breaking innovations and initiatives that mark a step change in education.

Professor Andrew Parsons, from the Department of Chemistry, received the prize for developing the University’s first-ever massive open online course (MOOC). 

The course is designed to allow participants to gain an insightful look into everyday chemistry, and was developed to encourage students to study chemistry at university.

Everyday applications

Chemistry admissions tutor Professor Parsons said some students were not opting to study chemistry because its applications were unclear.

With the help of colleagues, he developed the course to explain everyday applications of Chemistry, with topics including the search for new antibiotics, how to make the most delicious coffee, the underlying chemistry behind perfumes and designing performance-enhancing sportswear.

The course is designed to motivate students to learn, as well as giving an insight into what university-level chemistry can offer.

Experiments

Targeted at sixth formers, the four-week course, which is free, typically attracts over four times the number of under 18-year-olds than a typical FutureLearn course. It comprises four weeks of learning and has attracted over 24,000 learners from around 150 countries since its launch back in January 2017. 

Learners contribute to real-world discussions (facilitated by undergraduate York chemists), participate in quizzes, learn about modern research and undertake kitchen experiments.

Pioneering

Professor Andrew Parsons said: "I have relished the opportunity to develop this pioneering free online course. The success of the course, as recognised by this prestigious Horizon Prize, is all down to teamwork.

"It has been a pleasure to work with Katrina Sayer and Iain Barr, two highly talented and very enthusiastic administrative colleagues at York, who have helped me to design, deliver and advertise the course to pre-university students. 

"Ten undergraduate chemists also helped to develop and refresh the course content, as well as facilitate the course over the summer vacations. The course has achieved so much more than I could have anticipated, and the opportunity to enthuse learners across the globe about a subject that I am passionate about has been a real privilege."

High-quality teaching

Dr Julia Sarju, Lecturer in Chemistry Education, has become one of the first winners of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Excellence in Education Prizes.

The Excellence in Education Prizes celebrate inspirational, innovative, and dedicated people working in primary, secondary, further education and higher education – including teachers, technicians and more. These prizes recognise a wide range of skills – from curriculum design to effective teaching, and from personal development to working culture.

In her role, Julia strives to meet the diverse needs of all students and actively promotes equality, diversity, and inclusion. She provides high-quality teaching, evidenced by peer observation, student feedback, and performance review. She takes a scholarly approach to teaching innovation and works closely with students as partners in chemistry education projects. 

Julia also leads prize-winning teaching and accessibility training, which received positive feedback and excellent engagement from students.

After receiving the prize, Dr Sarju said: “To have won an award for work that I care deeply about is extremely moving and a great privilege. Awarding prizes for efforts in Equality, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility signifies the great importance the Royal Society of Chemistry places on progress in this area.”

Inspiring

Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "Educators are some of the most important people in the sciences, nurturing and inspiring the next generation of talent who ultimately will help us further advance understanding of the world around us and solve some of the immense challenges facing the world today and tomorrow.

"Over the past two years, educators have had to deal with circumstances unlike anything we have seen in living memory; with remote teaching and lack of access to equipment due to COVID restrictions making the sciences a particularly tricky subject to teach. What we have seen is resilience and brilliance – and our winners stand high in a particularly inspiring field of nominees.

"Dr Sarju has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to chemistry education, and it is our honour to celebrate their considerable contribution."

Dedicated

Meanwhile, Nicky Waller has received the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Excellence in Primary Education Prize. Nicky was chosen by the RSC’s prestigious panel of judges as one of the most inspirational, innovative and dedicated people in education.

For 17 years, Nicky has been an advisory teacher in the North East for the Children Challenging Industry programme, based at the University of York’s Centre for Industry Education Collaboration (CIEC).

The pioneering teaching and learning programme is designed to bridge the gap between industry and education and has 25 years of experience in inspiring young children to become interested in science.

In her role, Nicky has supported industry partners to get the most from outreach with primary children, made strong connections between the science that takes place in industry and the primary science curriculum, ensuring that school science has 'real life' relevance to children.

After receiving the prize, Nicky said: "I could not be more excited to win the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 2021 Excellence in Primary Education Prize. I am extremely passionate about primary science education and I have worked hard to enthuse and support teachers and children over many years and help them to gain confidence and expertise within this subject area. To be recognised at such a high level for me is an absolute honour and a real highlight of my career."

Further information:

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Education Division Award committee elected to award a 2021 Horizon Prize for the development and significant impact of an innovative free online course designed to aid the transition to study chemistry and related degrees at university. 

For more information about ‘Exploring Everyday Chemistry’, visit the course page
For more information about ‘Children Challenging Industry’, visit the CIEC pages
For more information about the RSC’s Prizes portfolio, visit rsc.li/prize

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