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Dear alumni,

I am proud that through a year of uncertainty, members of our School have continued their outstanding learning, teaching and research alongside overwhelming professional and personal demands.

I know our new graduates will likewise rise to the challenges they encounter. I extend my congratulations, on behalf of the entire School, to the new graduates of 2021. As new graduates join the ranks of our valued alumni, we thank you, our alumni community, for your support and interest.

Staff and students across the School have been recognised this year for their inspiring research and activities. The inaugural M. Zouhair Atassi Research Paper Prize was awarded in 2021 to Lazaros Melidis and co-workers for generating a new approach to anti-viral drug discovery by the targeting of RNA, published in April as ‘Supramolecular cylinders target bulge structures in the 5' UTR of the RNA genome of SARS-CoV-2 and inhibit viral replication’.

Congratulations also to Zoe Schnepp who has been awarded the Light of Understanding Award. The Light of Understanding is an institution-wide Award to recognise individuals and groups who are carrying out amazing public engagement with research work. The name of the award was inspired by Sir Peter Medawar, Nobel Laureate and Alumnus of University of Birmingham, who was also a pioneer of research communication and storytelling.

The EPS Societies’ Awards saw ChemSoc students Claire Doswell, Lizzie Driscoll honoured with the Diveristy and Inclusion Award and Outreach Award respectively. Claire spearheaded the highly successful Identifying Barriers in STEM seminar series which increased awareness of barriers to inclusion and promoted positive cultural change within the School of Chemistry. Lizzie’s outreach activity in delivering battery education was featured by the RSC, ACerS and Discover Magazine. She also devised and delivered 200 chemistry experiment kits for the use of disadvantaged students around Cotteridge. Plus Isaac Burnell, Amy Locks, Billy Grey, Emily Cramp, Lucy Walker and Zoe Schnepp won the Outstanding Event Award for their organisation of the highly successful EPS Running Festival!

We have worked hard to improve the student experience. In response to the 2020 National Student Survey (NSS), John Snaith led enhancements to staff availability, process and feedback to students. I am delighted that as a result the School is now ranked top in the Russell group for student satisfaction (93%) in NSS 2021. In conjunction with the work and challenges involved in moving to hybrid teaching, this is an excellent achievement.

Investment in people is similarly reflected in recruitment. In January, Neil Champness and his group joined the School; Neil’s appointment to the Haworth Chair featured in Buzz Magazine. We are currently recruiting for to four new academic roles and two promotions were recently announced: Paul Davies to Reader in Organic Chemistry and Paul Anderson to Professor of Strategic Elements and Materials Sustainability. We are also delighted for Adrian Wright, who has been appointed as Academic Director of the Collaborative Teaching Laboratory.

Among those staff who sadly left the School were Lecturer Sedef Karabiykoglu, Reader Joe Hriljac, and Senior Lecturers Mark Read and Francisco Fernandez-Trillo, who returns to Spain with his family. We wish all those leaving the School the very best for the future.

The School’s research activity is growing with major awards from Unilever to support Andrew Dove’s work on biodegradable and controllable degradable polymer formulation and production, and from the Faraday Institute to support the ReLiB project led by Paul Anderson.

Researchers in the school are committed to delivering impact from their research, and over the last year we have had the highest level of patent and invention activity in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, exemplified most recently by commencement of operations at Rob Neely’s spin out company Tagomics.

I am delighted to announce that in April, the University’s Council approved the budget for our forthcoming Molecular Sciences Building. Construction work begins soon and we continue to look to a new long-term home for the School. This story in Construction Enquirer on the appointment of contractors Morgan Sindall gives an idea of the scale of the task, which we know will be of great benefit to future generations of students and researchers.

With very best wishes,

Professor Rachel O’Reilly
Head of the School of Chemistry

Read the 2021 Chemistry Alumni Newsletter here.