Ken Seddon, the UK's top research chemist, retains a boyish enthusiasm for the subject he first came to love conducting foul smelling experiments in the family kitchen, using chemicals purchased with his pocket money.
In 1980, BP set up a special unit to seek out and fund the most innovative science on the planet. The project succeeded in identifying and nurturing several brilliantly innovative scientists.
Among them was Ken who, in 1987, was awarded a £250,000 grant to kick start research he believed could change the world. Its goal was to develop ionic liquids that would lead to novel environmentally-friendly processes and non-polluting alternatives to conventional solvents.
Now Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and a Director of QUILL, an industry/university cooperative research centre, he was recently ranked as the UK's leading research chemist of the past decade in Times Higher Education.
His contribution to "green" chemistry has been recognised in the wider world too. In 2005, he was presented with a personal George Bush Green Climate Challenge award. The following year he received the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education on behalf of QUILL.
"The whole of life is based on chemistry. It's the science of everything around us. It's all about manipulating your starting materials and giving them the properties you want. It's about making things in a better way or making things that have never been made before anywhere in time or space. That is fun," says Ken.
"Green chemistry is all about doing those things in better, cleaner, less polluting, cheaper, more efficient ways, and that is fascinating."
"One of the biggest challenges facing the world today is the problem of industrially produced volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that are known as greenhouse gasses. If you can stop these compounds being emitted, that would have a massively beneficial effect on the earth's atmosphere.
"Ionic liquids under normal conditions don't produce vapour. That means if we could use them to replace every VOC in industry, we would instantly stop about 90 per cent of industrial vapour pollution.
"To do this you need to look at the entire sweep of the liquids' properties and learn how to choose them, tune them and make them so that they will do exactly what you want.
"There are only 300 or so conventional solvents in use todaywhile there are over one million ionic liquids. If you mix two ionic liquids together, you get a billion solvents and if you mix three, a trillion. That gives you a huge array to work with so you can choose solvents with the absolutely perfect properties for the process you are trying to develop.
"That is what we do at QUILL, which was set up in 1999. We have 16 industrial members including Shell, Procter and Gamble, Chevron and Petronas. They effectively set our research agenda. The work we do is aimed exclusively at tackling the problems they give us to solve. That makes our research extremely relevant. It's also one of the reasons why we lead the world in this field.
"We have an integrated team of close to 100 amazingly gifted postdocotorals, PhD students, technicians and support staff. Their work has been instrumental in taking a research area that was an academic backwater and turning it into one of huge industrial significance.
"When we published our first paper on this subject in 1996, there were around 20 papers being published each year. Now there are over 3,500. There has never been growth like this in any area of chemistry.
"Increasingly, research is showing up in real world applications. Eight years ago there were only two publicly accessible industrial processes making use of ionic liquids. Now there are 17 and we know of at least another 12 that are likely to come on line in the very near future. That is staggering growth in less than a decade."
Since 1993, Ken has witnessed significant investment and growth in expertise in chemistry at Queen's thanks, in no small part, to his dedication and QUILL's accompanying success.
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