— part of the Researchers Shaping The Future Series —
It’s my great pleasure to introduce…
Dr Marco Sacchi
I am a Royal Society University Research Fellow in Computational Chemistry. I am also a Parent, Writer, Policy Advisor, Research Strategist and Quantum Biologist.
About Marco’s Research
I use quantum chemistry to design novel materials for catalysis and energy applications. The goal is to replace high-cost metal-based catalysts with more eco-friendly alternatives based on graphene, a 2D materials made of carbon. By designing more sustainable catalysts for carbon dioxide reduction we can help fight global warming and improve the environment.
Insights from Marco
Elaine… As someone with a proven track record in multi-disciplinary research, why, in your view, is research so important to societies and economies globally?
Marco… Curiosity-driven research catalyses progress and advancement in human knowledge because it shed lights on the fundamental mechanisms that govern the universe. Therefore, the impact of scientific research on the global economy cannot be over emphasised.
In less than a hundred years, the advancement in scientific knowledge, in particular in the field of chemistry (e.g., artificial fertilizers) and medicine (e.g., antibiotics), has contributed to increases in the average life expectancy, globally, from 46 in 195) to 71 years in 2015.
Plus, the internet, nuclear energy and artificial intelligence (AI) would not exist without the work of academic researchers who were not pursuing short-term financial gain.
In the current creative economy, the value of ideas and inventions is enormous. The progress in transport and manufacturing has made it easier than ever to transition from a phase of research to the development of prototypes and finally to large-scale production and sales.
Of course, the speed of research and innovation might be a double-edge sword. Products that dominate the market for decades can be almost completely wiped-out by disruptive innovation and AI controlled robots might replace human labour in several industries.
Looking to the future, there is potential for scientific research to produce enormous positive impact on a global scale as well as on our cities. For example, through the discovery of more sustainable and ecological building materials, with safe and electrically powered autonomous transport or with carbon-neutral manufacturing.
Quantum leaps in technological progress are happening all the time. 3D printing, a relatively new technology, might soon lead to production of artificial organs and help millions of people suffering from life-threatening conditions.
Elaine… The theme of this blog series is Researchers Shaping The Future. Why do you believe the world needs research talent to help shape the future?
Marco… We need young and enthusiastic researchers to come up with new ideas and approaches to solve global emergencies such as global warming and antibacterial resistance.
Long-term scientific goals such as developing clean energy, carbon capture, removal of plastic from the oceans, sustainable clean water technologies can only be tackled with a global concerted effort that needs to involve scientists of all fields and of all generations.
Scientists and researchers also have the moral duty to contribute to scientific education and scientific literacy worldwide. Increasing participation of professional scientists and researchers in governance, policy advice and law-making is not only necessary, but critically urgent. We must change the focus of national and global leadership away from ideologies towards pragmatic and scientifically sound research strategies.
Elaine… You are an experienced researcher and Chair of the University of Surrey’s Early Career Researcher Forum, what 3 tips on building a successful research career would you give to aspiring researchers?
Marco… (1) Don’t be afraid of failure and learn from your mistakes. The only way to avoid failing is not even trying, and if you do not even try you are guaranteed to lose in the long term. Put your best effort in what you do in the lab and what you do outside the lab. Hard work pays, even if it does not produce immediate results and publications. If you do not get a fellowship or a lectureship the first time around, your applications will be much better the second or third time.
(2) Be a giver and a helper, but do not be afraid of asking for help and advice. Be humble, you don’t know it all. Not even in your narrow field of research. Be ready to help and to give a hand to your fellow researchers without expecting anything in return, but knowing that your giving has already made you a better person and a better scientist. Collaborate and exchange your knowledge, it will help your career in ways you just can’t imagine.
(3) Don’t be afraid of change and learn as many skills as you can. After my PhD in experimental Chemical Physics, I became a Computational Surface Scientist. The transition was not easy, but I have never regretted the time I spent in learning the new skills required for doing theoretical research and, even more importantly, the different mindset and perspectives I have acquired. Never be too comfortable with your research, keep looking for more challenging and more ambitious goals.