The changing nature of opportunity

KCMC’s outgoing Director, Dr John Conti-Ramsden, bids farewell with some closing thoughts

When KCMC started in 2009, we set ourselves the highest bar in materials chemistry because we knew it was essential to attract the right partners and build trust and stronger collaborations between business and academics in the chemistry-using industries. 

When I look back at the organisations we’ve helped and the way we’ve gone about it I can say with all honesty that we achieved our original goals, and I’ve been proud of the way our team has approached new developments in the field and found ways to help our community adapt, grow and prosper as a result.

Resilience is a buzzword, but it is a genuine strength of KCMC and something of a pet subject of mine. I’ve made no secret of my love of puzzles and problem-solving. Not everyone relishes that sort of challenge-led environment, but I look at it as an opportunity to keep learning. 

So, where to from here? I see future developments through two lenses: the challenges society faces, and the solutions chemistry can provide – doing things better, faster and cleaner not just in industry but in all walks of life. Today, for example, we’re facing an unprecedented energy crisis and people are feeling the pinch. There are deep materials challenges in this spanning the whole energy spectrum, from greater renewable generation and smarter storage solutions to more efficient use. It is a unique opportunity for us as scientists and technologists to translate our work into visible and tangible benefits for society.

Novel chemical designs and biocatalysts, data-driven science and processes, automation and robotics… so much is happening in parallel, and it is helping to expand the horizons of chemical science, as well as the industries that depend on it. A whole new value-creation space is emerging, and its impact will resonate for decades to come. Some fear the outcome will amount to a loss of opportunities – redundant skills, industrial disruption, etc. – but the visionaries understand that it is just the nature of opportunity changing. 

Climate change and the environment will remain top priorities as we look for innovative ways to reduce emissions and build more circularity into production and consumption cycles. Transformational work in sustainable, bio- and waste-based packaging and other industrial and commercial materials will continue to drive our sector and, no doubt, fire our imaginations. 

Some innovations will yield results faster than others, so it is important to keep the pipeline full of ideas on how to develop greener, more cost-effective and high-volume products meeting society’s changing needs. That way, we meet our commitments to the planet and people, a circular economy and wider Sustainable Development Goals. More personally, we also quench our thirst for knowledge and the adventure of discovery. In the process, we do our bit for the materials chemistry community, while nudging UK science and industry in a positive direction. Every little bit helps. 

I could speak about myriad technologies benefiting from incremental chemical improvements or about a handful of innovations materialising into disruptive and niche technologies of the age, transforming businesses, sectors and whole regions along the way. I could also name-drop the outstanding contributions of our peers and our KCMC team in many of these developments. But that’s not the goal here. Besides, you already know how much I have valued all your work during the past 12 or so years. 

The lasting image I want to leave is one of a bright future built on the faith that I have in everyone’s passion not just for materials science but what it can achieve in industry and society. While it’s time for me to move on, I know I leave KCMC in good shape and in safe hands. Thank you all so much for helping to make our work count. 

Click here to read our latest newsletter.