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IUPAC-Solvay International Award for Young Chemists 2000-2019

Mark C. Cesa, INEOS USA LLC (retired), 2014-2015 President, IUPAC Natalia Tarasova, D. Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology; Director, Institute of Chemistry and Problems of Sustainable Development; 2016-2017 President, IUPAC Paul Baekelmans, Science Advisor, Solvay; Chair, National Committee for Chemistry, Belgium; Titular Member, IUPAC Committee on Chemistry and Industry


2019 marks not only the centenary of IUPAC, but also the 20th year of the IUPAC-Solvay International Award for Young Chemists. The IUPAC-Solvay Award was established to encourage outstanding young research scientists at the beginning of their careers. Awards are given each year for the most outstanding Ph.D. theses in the general area of the chemical sciences. The Award has been generously sponsored by Solvay since 2014. We take this opportunity to reflect upon the influence of the IUPAC-Solvay award on the career trajectories of some early winners.

For more information on the Award, see: https://iupac.org/2020-iupac-solvay-international-award-for-young-chemists/.

Keywords: Chemical research, PhD thesis, Chemical education, IUPAC-Solvay

2What is the IUPAC-Solvay award?

IUPAC’s strategic plan emphasizes scientific excellence and objectivity as well as diversity and inclusiveness, including particularly the encouragement and support of young scientists. The IUPAC-Solvay Award addresses all of these imperatives.

Entrants must have received their Ph.D. (or equivalent) degree, or completed all Ph.D. requirements including successful defense of their doctoral thesis, in any of the countries that have IUPAC member (NAO) or associate member (ANAO) organizations. The research described in an applicant’s thesis must be in the field of the chemical sciences, defined as “chemistry and those disciplines and technologies that make significant use of chemistry.”

In addition to a 1000-word essay describing their thesis work, applicants for the Award supply two supporting letters, one from their thesis adviser and/or chair of their thesis committee and one from an additional faculty member who is familiar with the applicant’s thesis work, commenting on the qualifications and accomplishments of the applicant and the significance of the thesis work.

Awardees are chosen from among dozens of applicants each year by a Jury that comprises members of the IUPAC Bureau along with the advice of a Solvay scientist, and which is led by the immediate IUPAC Past President. The Jury makes efforts to ensure inclusivity with respect to gender and geographical distribution in their selection of the winners.

The prize for the winners includes a USD $1,000 cash award along with travel expenses to the IUPAC Congress and General Assembly, where awardees are invited to present a poster on their research and to participate in a plenary award session. They are also expected to submit a review article on their thesis research for publication in Pure and Applied Chemistry.

Since 2000 the Award has recognized ninety-eight young scientists and granted Honorable Mention status to many others. Awardees earned their degrees in twenty one different countries, and they now hold academic, government, and industrial positions in chemistry and related sciences and engineering all over the world.

As part of the celebration of the centenary of IUPAC this year, the Union is drawing attention to many of its meritorious activities, and especially to those projects and programs that have a significant beneficial effect on the future of the chemical sciences. The IUPAC-Solvay Award is an excellent example of such a program.

3How has this award influenced the careers of the winners?

We were curious to learn from past Awardees how effective the Award has been in encouraging these young scientists in their careers, and what influence winning the Award has had on their careers as they have progressed. Therefore, Awardees were asked to answer the following question: “How has the IUPAC International Award for Young Chemists affected your career?”

Twenty of the awardees replied to our question. They said that winning the Award benefitted them in their careers in many ways. They noted the Award’s recognition of diversity and gender equality, how winning the Award helped them in starting their careers, how it rewards excellence in fundamental research, and assists Awardees in expanding their scope of influence in their fields. Following are a few examples of the (unedited) responses we received.

4Alberto Credi, Professor at the Center for Light-activated Nanostructures, University of Bologna, Italy

Alberto Credi, professor at the Center for Light-activated Nanostructures (CLAN) at the University of Bologna, Italy, and an Awardee in 2000, commented on how winning the Award helped him gain independence as a scientist:

“My PhD thesis, discussed at the University of Bologna (Italy) in 1999, was about molecular machines and logic gates. It was the first one in Italy on such a new topic and surely one of the first worldwide. Hence, I was particularly pleased and honoured when one year later IUPAC decided to recognise my work with the International Award for Young Chemists. It was thrilling to receive the prize at the IUPAC World Congress in Brisbane, Australia! The IUPAC Award certainly helped my career as a researcher in the transition to scientific independence, and has a part of merit if today I am still doing research on molecular machines and motors.”

5Michelle L. Coote, Professor at the Research School of Chemistry, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Michelle L. Coote, Professor at the Research School of Chemistry of the Australian National University, is now a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, was an Awardee in 2001. She wrote about how winning the Award helped her career get off to a good start:

“This came at a turning point in my career when it was not easy to be taken seriously as an Australian female chemist, and gave me the boost I needed to stay in science. I am sure it also later helped me to make the jump from being a postdoc to a faculty member.”

6Zhipan Liu, Professor, Department of Chemistry, Fudan University, China

Zhipan Liu, a 2004 Awardee and a professor in the Department of Chemistry in Fudan University in China, emphasized the effect the Award had on improving recognition and acceptance of the field of theoretical chemistry, in which he focuses his research:

“I appreciate greatly IUPAC for the prize when I received as a PostDoc in Cambridge. My academic career has been quite smooth after that. I came back to China and got Professorship directly when I am 29 years in one of the most prestigious university, Fudan University at Shanghai. I am theoretical and, if you go through the awardee list, there is few theoreticians. For most chemists, particularly in China at that time, it has been quite difficult to understand the significance of simulation in chemistry. This prize helps a lot to convince the general chemists on the importance of the field. Because it is quite smooth for me, my CV has been very simple: I have been in Fudan for 14 years and has received many other prizes. But among all, I most appreciate the prize I received from IUPAC. I was appointed as senior editor for the Journal of Physical Chemistry A/B/C and learned to do good service for the whole community.”

7Ruben Costa, Head, Hybrid Optoelectronic Materials & Devices Laboratory, IMDEA Materiales, Madrid, Spain.

Ruben Costa, an Awardee in 2011, works in industry as Head of the Hybrid Optoelectronic Materials & Devices Lab of IMDEA Materiales in Madrid, Spain. He emphasized how winning the Award helped him start his postdoctoral career by recognizing his potential:

“At first I felt that the IUPAC International Award for Young Chemists was only a recognition to my PhD work. The perfect crown for this intensive period. Obviously, this encouraged me to move on with a Humboldt post-doc, a Liebig junior group leader fellowship, and many others until my current position. Now I know that this award had a bigger dimension. It was the first real trust of my colleagues on me as a promising researcher. This was, indeed, the landmark shaping my scientific career.”

8Bozhi Tian, Associate Professor, James Franck Institute and the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, University of Chicago, USA

Bozhi Tian, a 2011 Awardee and associate professor of chemistry at the James Franck Institute and the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics at the University of Chicago, USA, wrote about the impact of traveling to the IUPAC Congress and General Assembly in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2011 had on him with respect to diversity in the chemical sciences:

“In retrospect, the most important thing IUPAC affects my career is about diversity. I went to Puerto Rico in 2011 to receive the IUPAC-Solvay International Award for Young Chemists. I met numerous scientists from different countries and with diverse backgrounds. At that time, I realized how diversity plays an important role in advancing the sciences and connect scientists together. I started my independent career in 2012, and since then, I have always been putting diversity as the first priority in my lab. Our lab members include students and postdocs from several countries such as America, Israel, India, South Korea, China, Netherlands, and the Czech republic. We have a great gender balance and several minority groups in the lab. We include people with backgrounds in chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, physics, neuroscience, bioengineering, and biophysics. Such diversity has greatly enhanced our sciences!”

9What were the findings of this retrospective?

Clearly, then, the IUPAC-Solvay International Award for Young Chemists can have beneficial impact on the careers of Awardees even beyond the recognition of their achievements in their graduate research. As IUPAC Past President Prof. Natalia Tarasova has noted, “The IUPAC-Solvay Award stimulates and supports international research and collaboration of young scientists.” Dr. Paul Baekelmans, Science Advisor, Solvay, and Titular Member of the IUPAC Committee on Chemistry and Industry, adds, “I really believe that this project highlighting the young generation in their achievements with the support of the Award is really a very good initiative.”

IUPAC is proud of the accomplishments of all of the Awardees and Honorable Mentions of the IUPAC-Solvay Award for Young Chemists in the twenty years of its existence. IUPAC is pleased to continue to administer the Award, with the support of Solvay, in the coming years. Current Ph. D. candidates are encouraged to apply, and we look forward to their continued success.


Cesa, M.C., Tarasova, N. and Baekelmans, P. "IUPAC-Solvay International Award for Young Chemists 2000-2019: A Retrospective". IUPAC 100 Stories. Retrieved from https://iupac.org/100/stories/iupac-solvay-international-award-for-young-chemists-2000-2019/. (Accessed: day month year)

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