UP MSc student wins international essay competition focusing on young voices in the chemical sciences for sustainability

Posted on December 08, 2023

Petra van der Merwe, an MSc chemistry student in the Department of Chemistry, was recently announced as the winner of the Sub-Saharan regional section of the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD) Essay Competition: Young Voices in the Chemical Sciences for Sustainability.

Van der Merwe’s winning essay, ‘Science – a chess game against time’, was recently published in the RSC Sustainability journal.

“Winning the Sub-Saharan regional section of the IOCD essay competition was the confidence boost that I needed. Research is not a linear path with measurable outcomes; results are mostly unpredictable and multiple iterations of failures are needed before succeeding. Having my essay recognised internationally reminded me that I am going through my studies to build a career in scientific communication. The acknowledgement rekindled the flame to promote science and improve the image chemistry has in society,” Van der Merwe said.

After completing her high school career as head girl, she worked for two years before starting her BSc in Biochemistry (second major in Chemistry). In her first year of studies, she was awarded the Deans Merit Award, followed the year after that by the award for best second-year student in chemistry. This streak continued in her final year of undergraduate studies, where Van der Merwe was recognised as the best student in analytical chemistry. The South African Chemical Institute (SACI) awarded her the James Moir Medal for achieving the best cumulative average of the chemistry honours class of 2021 at UP. Since then, she has been working towards completing her MSc and presented at the 44th SACI convention held in January 2023 in Stellenbosch.

Why is it important for young scientists to be acknowledged? 

“As a budding scientist, I often grapple with feelings of inferiority and imposter syndrome. From conversations with my peers, I take it that I am not alone in experiencing these emotions. Acknowledging young scientists is therefore important to build their confidence and recognise that their voice matters. Additionally, young scientists can bring a fresh perspective and new viewpoint to persisting issues we are facing globally. After all, young voices are the decision-makers of tomorrow,” Van der Merwe explained.

“She added that “Sustainability and climate change are often convoluted topics. Whereas climate change is a controversial topic (most agree on the matter, yet it always sparks exciting conversations), sustainability should be the factor uniting society. Whether you believe the ice caps are melting or not, we should all agree that having a stable, maintainable future where future generations can still have a good lifestyle is a favourable target.”

- Author Martie Meyer

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