Selkirk chemist Imogen hopes she has right formula to impress MPs

Imogen Riddell chemist
Imogen Riddell chemist

IMOGEN Riddell credits her interest in chemistry to the encouragement of teachers while a pupil at Selkirk High School.

That early inspiration started her on a journey that has already taken Imogen from a masters degree at Strathclyde University to a place at the University of Cambridge to study for a PhD – and once that is complete, she will jet off to Boston to continue her research at one of the most prestigious technical universities in the world.

But before all that, she has a date with some of Britain’s top politicians and leading science experts at the Houses of Parliament in London on Monday.

For Imogen, 26, will present her science to a range of politicians and a panel of judges, as part of SET for Britain.

SET for Britain is a poster competition in the House of Commons, involving approximately 180 early-stage or early-career researchers, and is judged by professional and academic experts.

All presenters are entered into either the engineering, biological and biomedical sciences, physical sciences (chemistry), or physical sciences (physics) session, depending on their specialism. Each section will result in the award of bronze, silver and gold certificates. Bronze winners will also receive a £1,000 prize; silver, £2,000; and gold, £3,000.

There will also be an overall winner from the four sessions who will receive the Westminster Wharton Medal, named after the late Dr Eric Wharton.

Imogen’s poster presentation on research investigating self-organising structures and their potential application in real-life situations, such as the capture and recycle of the most potent greenhouse gas (SF6), will be judged against dozens of other scientists’ research in the only national competition of its kind.

Imogen’s poster has been entered into the chemistry section of the competition, which is run by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee in collaboration with the Institute of Physics, the Physiological Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Biology and Society of Chemical Industry, along with a range of sponsors.

Committee chairman Andrew Miller MP explained: “These early career scientists are the architects of our future and SET for Britain is politicians’ best opportunity to meet them and understand their work.”

Imogen told TheSouthern she was thrilled to be taking part in such a prestigious event: “It is a fantastic opportunity to present the results of my research to members of parliament and highlight the importance of scientific research performed within the UK.”

The daughter of Selkirk builder Keith Riddell and his wife, Anne, Imogen says people should not let the fact they hail from small towns deter them from aiming high.

“I went to school in Selkirk – Knowepark Primary, then Selkirk High. From there I went to Strathclyde in Glasgow to do my masters degree and now I am at Cambridge.

“When I finish, I have just accepted a position at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] in Boston to continue doing research.

“I chose chemistry as a career because I had really good teachers at school, who encouraged me to question why reactions happen.

“I enjoy working as a chemist because the challenges you face day-to-day are always very different, you need to apply logic and problem-solving tools to try and address the questions you face in your research.

“It is also a very active job and I was conscious that I didn’t want an office job where I was sitting at a desk all day.”

She added: “I always think that when I was growing up in Selkirk the opportunities that were perceived to be available were very limited, and I would certainly never have imagined going to Cambridge, let alone entering this competition.”