Olympiad effort wins education award for early career researcher

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

A talented early-career chemistry researcher has been awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Early Career Prize for Excellence in Higher Education for his outreach work with young people.

Dr Ben Pilgrim, a Royal Society University Research Fellow from the University of Nottingham’s School of Chemistry leads the academic side of the UK Chemistry Olympiad programme, having been the chief examiner for the national rounds and the Head Mentor of the UK delegation at the International Final for several years.

The Excellence in Education Prizes celebrate inspirational, innovative, and dedicated people working in primary, secondary, further education and higher education – including teachers, technicians and more. These prizes recognise a wide range of skills – from curriculum design to effective teaching, and from personal development to working culture. This category includes specific prizes for teams and for those in the early stages of their career.

The UK Chemistry Olympiad is a national Chemistry competition for schools and provides a unique opportunity for students to push themselves and excel in the chemistry field. The competition puts inspiring, informative, and challenging questions at the heart of its active learning experience. It references recent research and current affairs, championing the central role of chemistry in modern life.

Ben has volunteered for the Olympiad for 14 years and has driven access and participation in the Olympiad; the number of competition entries has doubled over the past decade. He has organised the round two selection weekends and training camps where students can perform experiments in state-of-the-art university laboratories for the first time. Ben also acts as the Head Mentor of the UK delegation where he supports those students selected to represent the UK at the International Final, where UK students have been particularly successful in recent years.

Nominated by his peers, Dr Pilgrim was chosen by the RSC’s prestigious panel of judges as one of the most inspirational, innovative and dedicated people in education.

It’s such an honour to receive this prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry. I do much of this outreach work in my spare time and seeing how students can be inspired by chemistry is the reward for me in many ways, particularly if through my work students have been encouraged to pursue their study of chemistry to a higher level. I would like to thank my friends and family for their support without which I would not be able to devote as much time to these activities as I do, and the many colleagues whom I have worked with over the years on these different initiatives.
Ben Pilgrim

Dr Pilgrim joined the University of Nottingham to start his own independent research group as part of the Green Chemicals Beacon of Excellence in 2019. Dr Pilgrim's research interests span supramolecular chemistry, self-assembly, interlocked molecules, and catalysis. The University of Nottingham hosted the UK Chemistry Olympiad team for training last year, and will be hosting further selection and training events this year and in the future.

Professor Jon McMaster (Deputy Head of School) said: “I’m delighted that Ben has received the Education Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry for his terrific contributions to the UK Chemistry Olympiad Programme. Ben is a fantastic researcher and an exceptional teacher, and it’s great that he brings this experience to inspire the next generation of chemists through his contributions to the Olympiad Programme."

For many of us as chemists our teachers were our inspiration – their influence in driving the next generation of amazing scientists cannot be underestimated. That’s why I’m so proud of the winners of the Education Horizon Prizes, each of whom demonstrates an infectious passion for learning that sparks young minds to do amazing things. This year’s winners set exemplary examples of the impact this can make; it’s no exaggeration to say their successes will be felt for generations to come.
Gill Reid, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry

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