This may come as a surprise to most given my career, but I consider myself an introverted person. It may not seem like it – after all, I travel across Italy talking to crowds about science; willingly make videos of myself lecturing on complex topics; I am constantly meeting and befriending new people; signing autographs, and more… And yet, if it were up to me, I’d be in a corner, in silence, thinking. However, I recognize that in order to be the best version of myself, I’m constantly needing to adapt to my surrounding and push myself past my comfort zone.
My passion for my job and hearing from others is what drives me to persevere and continue exploring, learning, and meeting individuals who are united by curiosity and an interest in knowledge. So, I put on a nice person mask and, at times, struggle to find something to say. Over the years it has become easier, and through my travels and conversations, I’m fortunate enough to continuously learn and grow my knowledge and expertise in the science industry.
While I find it difficult to keep my social battery from draining, I’m faced with another challenge: I am a chemist. Unfortunately for me, many people do not like chemistry. Or rather, have an unjustified fear of chemicals that are perceived as synthetic, also known as chemophobia. Where I struggle when communicating with non-chemists, is the balance of providing a healthy hesitation towards the chemical industry, while simultaneously showing how chemistry is not bad. Emphasizing that chemistry is essential in finding new tools, technologies, and materials to address our environmental problems.
People have questions and concerns about these chemicals, so by sharing these learnings, it increases the public’s knowledge allowing it to be understood and discussed more widely. The greater the understanding, the more probable it becomes that chemicals will be used wisely and for the greater good in the future.
Younger generations care about the environment, but there is confusion and disillusionment around these topics. After the surge of environmentalism provided by the initial Fridays For Future protests, there was so much hope that things would change. I was confident that this new generation would strive to understand the different branches of science and learn how they affect our earth. However, the youth’s interest has now dwindled down. The only thing that seems to have changed, and for the worse, is public attention to these issues. Passion and hope are cooling down, unlike our earth, which is heating up.
Too often I feel the dramatic consequences of poor communication on these issues. Televisions, newspapers and social media seem to prefer catchy slogans versus understanding the actual causes – understanding the science. The complexity of the topics is not embraced, they are oversimplified and pushed on users with the sole purpose of generating strong emotions.
It’s not just the environment that is misunderstood and invoking an array of emotions. I believe that the same argument can be extended to any type of technology – perhaps the most common is digital sciences. Many keywords are often used inappropriately, causing confusion, including: artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, IoT, etc. These are amazing technologies that already permeate our lives and will continue to do so. As a creator, I look at them with great curiosity and interest, but as a scientist, I display a healthy hesitation.
As we scroll on the internet and listen to the news, absorbing what we are hearing with limited understanding to these complex topics, I encourage everyone to:
- Research and understand what is being discussed, try to look past the slogans and tag lines in an effort to embrace the complexity of the topics
- Discuss the implications that the use of new technologies have, and could create – only if the research and understanding step has been done
- Reflect on the future, envision what you want to accomplish with this new science or technology and how the devices, chemicals, etc. can make wonderful and powerful tools, but only with a conscious mind
By following these steps, we can help our communities better understand digital technologies and chemical products. To move forward with a quick and safe step, we must stop and reflect, and then start again. And if an introverted person encourages you to do the thing they dread – discuss and confront a topic head-on to further understand the full picture.