The great Renaissance painter, Sandro Botticelli, painted his masterpiece the Allegory of Spring amidst the backdrop of an era of profound change. He challenged conventional thought and was one of the most daring painters of his time. He explored both spiritual and non-traditional classical themes with extraordinary results. Today the field of chemistry is experiencing a modern-day renaissance and with this rebirth comes opportunity for individuals and organizations willing to colour outside the lines.
There are many positive vital signs for chemistry in Canada. The recent availability of natural gas has begun to transform North America from an aging regional contender back to a global force in the world of industrial chemistry. It is anticipated that billions of dollars in much-needed investment in chemical production and infrastructure will be spent in Canada over the next decade. Adding to this are recent exciting commercial developments in biomass feedstocks and bio-based chemistry. This is leading to the sprouting of new opportunities in Canada across the spectrum, from the familiar commodity plastics and biofuels to the high-performance advanced nanotechnology composite materials of the future.
With more than 50 percent of Canadians having some form of post-secondary education, our nation is well poised to harness this potential growth. But a highly skilled and educated workforce is only part of the solution. To create opportunities for growth, chemists not only need to be creative and inventive, they also need to be entrepreneurial and resourceful risk takers — paradoxical for a profession that tries hard to manage risk. Essentially, the chemist-entrepreneur needs to embrace a certain level of risk-and-failure tolerance and create new commercial products or start-up companies that will continue to shape society for the better.
There will be a need for creative chemists to lead new product development and commercialization efforts in large multinational firms as well as a need for chemists to start specialized analytical chemistry boutique firms. The reality of today’s global marketplace necessitates that chemists must create or discover these opportunities in areas that are new and unfamiliar yet growing. The chemistry professional must also be proactive in influencing the emerging landscape in Canada.
This also requires taking action and maximizing your personal involvement, engagement and networking as a chemist. For example, join the Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC) and get hands-on at the Professional Development Day at the CSC conference in Vancouver this June. With interactive, industry-led panel discussions and workshops you will continue lifelong learning and build on the skills that make you successful. Also, plan on attending the thought provoking forum on the Future of Chemistry to obtain insights from world-leading researchers on how bright the future will be. Finally, continue your CSC involvement through one of the many regional Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC) local section events and activities. In an increasingly wired yet fragmented social networking world, there is no real substitute for a welcoming smile or a firm handshake.
The academic student and professor, the government chemist and researcher and the industrial technologist and scientist all make an impact in the field of chemistry. They all can nurture innovation and collaboratively change the world. Making the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit is no simple task requiring much personal involvement, perseverance and hard work. There is no doubt that Canada will continue to foster sustainable chemistry growth and job opportunities in an ever-changing world. Our modern lifestyle has grown accustomed to the benefits of chemistry in transportation, the family home and our medicines. Become that fabulous chemist in an exciting chemistry career that welcomes and embraces the return of a long-awaited spring renewal.
Lorenzo Ferrari is the Manager of Market and Customer Development (MCD) at BASF Canada. He is the current CSC president.