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5 Unsung Heroes Who are Transforming the Environment Industry

publication date: Apr 19, 2017
author/source: Radleys

Compiling a list of chemists isn’t that difficult, just open a text book.

radleysHowever, while we’re all aware of Marie Curie, Lois Pasteur and every Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, there are a large number of chemists who are changing the environment today, that you’ve probably never heard of.

While you might not know their names, you certainly know their work. From climate change to water shortages, disease and poverty, there are inspiring chemists everywhere who are tackling some of the world’s biggest environmental challenges.

Radleys, a UK leading supplier of eco-friendly laboratory equipment, is here to introduce you to five environmental  heroes who you should get to know today…  

In no particular order….

1. Theresa Dankovich

Did you know that today 663 million worldwide still don’t have access to clean drinking water?  The reason? Water filtration is too expensive. This was the problem facing Theresa Dankovich, when she developed her revolutionary paper filter while studying for her PhD at McGill University in 2012.

The cheap paper filter uses anti-microbial properties of silver nanoparticles to remove bacteria from drinking water. It works too! Trials in several in countries including Honduras and Ghana, have shown the filter can be used to purify even the dirtiest water.

Today, Theresa is the co-founder of Folia Water, with the aim to make clean water available to one billion people for just a penny a day. Her work has also led to multiple awards too, including being named in the top 100 leading global thinkers by Foreign Policy Magazine in 2015.

2. Staff Sheehan

Finding cost-effective and eco-friendly alternatives to fossil fuels, is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Yet, it’s also a challenge that Yale University graduate Staff Sheehan may have solved. Staff discovered a surface-bound molecular electrocatalyst that enables efficient oxidation.

Unlike other bulk metal oxide catalysts, Staff’s process is a more cost-effective and stable way of creating hydrogen gas as a renewable energy source. Plus, it does this as a by-product of a process which removes organic contaminants from wastewater!

Staff’s discovery led to him being named in the Forbes 30 under 30 in the energy sector this year, only a year after completing his PhD in Chemical Physics from Yale University. He has gone on to found the company Catalytic Innovations, which is working to develop applications for his ground-breaking discovery.

3. Maanasa Mendu

Age is just a number and no one embodies that statement more than 13-year-old Maanasa Mendu. Named America’s top young scientist in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, Maanasa invented HARVEST, a device to capture energy from renewable sources and convert it into power.

The revolutionary HARVEST was created using the piezoelectric effect, which uses pressure to make electricity from certain substances, including biological matter. It can also be created from environmentally friendly and cost-efficient materials.  

She may not have a chemistry degree but clearly it’s only a matter of time for this brilliant young scientist.

4. Professor Kelly Chibale

“Africa needs science not aid” that’s the claim by Professor Kelly Chibale, who set up the Drug Discovery and Development Centre at the University of Cape Town in South Africa – the first of its kind in Africa. Having completed a PhD in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Cambridge, Professor Chibale chose to return to the continent, despite the huge environmental challenges and the lack of funding and infrastructure that are detrimental to scientific work in Africa.

Professor Chibale aims to put Africa at the forefront of developing new medicines for the treatment of communicable diseases which are endemic to the continent. Even though developing such drugs isn’t always considered commercially viable, his research has led to the discovery of a compound that could be used to treat all strains of malaria in a single dose.  

5. Maria-Liisa Riekkola

Few scientific professors have spent their professional life as productive as Maria-Liisa Riekkola. While she was the first female professor in Finland in 1987, she has gone on to become head of the University’s analytical chemistry lab, a department at the forefront of environmental monitoring. She has also helped to produce 400 Msc students and 40 PhD students from the department.

She is now viewed as a pioneer of analytical chemistry in Finland and was one of a handful of women to make it on to the Analytical Scientist Power list in 2013 and 2015. She has also published more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers and a book.

If that wasn’t enough, Maria has also been awarded multiple accolades including the Magnus Ehrnroof Prize in chemistry while serving as a mentor for Advance Training for Women in Scientific Research.

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