Chemical engineer to brief parliamentarians on chemical weapons

Article by Adam Duckett

JENNIFER Spragg, a postgraduate student in bioenergy at the University of Leeds, UK, will advise MPs on policy issues on chemical weapons as part of a fellowship in UK parliament.

Spragg has been awarded the 2018 Ashok Kumar Fellowship by IChemE and the UK Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST).

The three-month fellowship provides the opportunity for a graduate chemical engineer working in research to work at POST and produce a parliamentary briefing note (known as a POSTnote) on a relevant subject for MPs.

Spragg will begin the fellowship in November, researching and writing a briefing note on chemical weapons. It is a topical issue following reports of chemical weapons being used in conflicts and criminal attacks – such as the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury, UK.

The topic is particularly timely as the UK government has announced a £48m (US$63m) investment in a new Chemical Weapons Defence Centre, and has said that it will re-evaluate its chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capability as part of its Modernising Defence Programme.

Spragg graduated with a Master’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of Bath, during which she completed an industrial placement at BP. After graduation, she returned to BP for a year at the CATS onshore gas terminal in Teesside. Now she is working on her doctorate at the University of Leeds, examining novel process designs for extracting hydrogen from bioenergy resources to be used as a renewable energy source.

Spragg said she is looking forward to working with experts in academia and parliament.

“One of things I most enjoy about chemical engineering is the opportunity to tackle societal challenges through an understanding of technical aspects, alongside commercial and social considerations. 

“The Ashok Kumar Fellowship is a fantastic example of how the expertise of chemical engineers can help provide important information that will allow policymakers to make evidence-based decisions.”

Lydia Harriss, senior physical sciences advisor at POST, said: “We’re really pleased that Jennifer will be joining POST. Her briefing will provide MPs and peers with an introduction to chemical weapons – a topic which has featured prominently in parliamentary work this year. Jennifer’s research experience and chemical engineering background puts her in a great position to lead this piece of work and to ensure that it draws on a wide range of expertise from across the research community.”

IChemE’s director of policy and publications, Claudia Flavell-While, said: “The Ashok Kumar Fellowship provides a unique opportunity to bridge academic research, engineering and politics. Jennifer will gain great experience in seeing how parliament operates and using her expertise to write the briefing note.”

The fellowship was created in memory of Ashok Kumar, a Fellow of IChemE and Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East, UK, who died suddenly in 2010. At the time he was the only Chartered Chemical Engineer in the UK House of Commons.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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