Professor Andrew Hursthouse takes over from Professor Xiang-dong Li who has served as President of SEGH from 2011. Andrew has been involved in the SEGH for over 20 years as a member, regional representative of Europe and International Board member.
Professor Andrew Hursthouse is Head of Physical Sciences at the University of the West of Scotland, based in Paisley near Glasgow, Scotland. He obtained a BSc in Geochemistry from the University of Reading followed by a PhD in Environmental Radioactivity from the University of Glasgow. His research interests cover geochemical contributions to assessing the degradation of environmental quality in urban environments, the remediation of soils and sediments and waste management, nutrition and health as well as the link between science and environmental regulation and policy. Professor Hursthouse has published more than 130 peer reviewed journal articles, proceedings and reports for industry and government organizations. He has worked extensively with small and large businesses on environmental management and impact issues. The current focus of his research is on risk assessment in urban agriculture and improving our understanding of geochemical controls in waste regulation for the steel industry.
We take the opportunity to ask a few questions of Andrew to gain an insight into his experience as an environmental scientist, member of SEGH and his hopes for the future of SEGH.
What are your hopes for the future of SEGH and how do you intend to lead the SEGH forward as the new President?
I hope we can sustain recent growth in interests and membership of the Society, ensuring a regular series of meetings across our regional networks. Some geographical areas have been extremely active, whilst others less so. We have interests from developing as well as strongly growing economies. I intend to work hard to encourage activity in all regions and identify individuals and groups to lead this. During the Presidency of Professor Li, we have already established strong communication structures with our collaborating organisations (IMGA, IAGC) to ensure the International Symposium for Environmental Geochemistry, has a regular and identifiable planning mechanism. Our journal Environmental Geochemistry & Health continues to grow in impact through the efforts of the Editor in Chief Prof Ming Wong, the publisher Springer, and editorial board members. The SEGH Board has a role in ensuring the excellent science undertaken by our members has an opportunity to be presented at high visibility meetings and in our journal, which I intend to promote. Ensuring regular SEGH meetings, encouraging early career researchers to participate and develop their careers with SEGH support must be a central aim of our organisation and the focus of board members.
What are the important challenges that face SEGH in the future?
Collaboration between different specialities is at the heart of SEGH and was one of the founding principles of the organisation. Meetings and discussions are enriched by this fact and have provided us with opportunities not often encountered in single discipline groups. The efforts of SEGH members to encourage and sustain this interaction is a key challenge – the contributions from disciplines unquestionably provide a greater understanding of current issues, but also presents some difficulties in sharing understanding in some areas as the scientific language and approach can vary. The role SEGH meetings have in providing a platform for those discussions to take place and collaborations to develop, should not be underestimated. Expanding this activity, across our regional networks, is a key challenge for the future. We need to ensure our organisation has a balanced representation across scientific disciplines as well as strong organisational structures to maintain the frequency of our meetings and opportunities for scientists from all stages in their careers to interact.
With the advent of communications technology and increasing globalisation, how do you think SEGH could reach out to the developing countries with limited resources and the emerging economic powerhouses to promote scientific collaboration across boundaries?
We are already doing a lot to encourage this. Our regional meetings have benefited from participation by scientists from developing countries and the organisers of our events have been very supportive in reducing financial burdens and providing access to low cost facilities. Our journal publisher, Springer has put in place schemes to help institutions in developing regions to access journals and SEGH membership offering additional access encourages this to be taken up by individuals. We can offer further support to scientists in these regions, through the SEGH board members. This can, and has included discussions and advice to support the development of regional groups, educational development in higher education institutions and their teaching programmes. To encourage future environmental geochemists and health professionals to engage with SEGH beyond meetings and events we can provide support for the development of robust research programmes and help to identify opportunities for financial support.
What do you think are the major scientific issues facing the society’s area of research and how could SEGH take a lead role in these?
As the human population and economies grow, there are considerable pressures on natural resources and with increasing urbanization, human populations are concentrated and their activities often over exploit resources. This leads to increased exposure at both local and regional level, to a range of common pollutants and many new or emerging substances. Environmental geochemistry as a scientific discipline has a key contribution to understanding the impact from chemical substances and with health professionals the consequences for the human population. Future challenges will be in how this rebounds on human behaviour, in light of other drivers, e.g. developing economies and social systems, climate change, which may alter the nature of exposure and affect risk assessments. SEGH must ensure it leads discussions and its meeting organisers encouraged to deal with these topics in session themes and invited keynote speakers. The SEGH board can do a lot to encourage this activity and promote discussion of emerging challenges.
During your scientific career, how has your membership of SEGH benefited you personally? What do you think are the advantages of early – mid – late career scientists joining SEGH?
I have been a supporter of SEGH ever since I participated in my first SEGH conference in the early 1990’s. The meetings have always been lively and broad in content as well as highlighting topical issues. This has helped to encourage me to pursue my research programme, often through difficult financial and organizational periods, where sustaining activities has been a challenge. SEGH has provided external points to help justify my efforts to my peers and mangers. Association with a successful and active scientific organisation has always benefited my career path. My research students have been able to interact with senior scientists and their own peer group. Exchanging experience and finding out about wider scientific community is always a benefit. For early career scientists, it helps to make new contacts and to provide that first step in raising your own research profile. Mid career SEGH offers a chance to find new collaborations, strengthen your research plans and get feedback on your research ideas in a friendly and supportive environment. Those late career scientists will always benefit from engaging with early and mid-career scientists – discussing new ideas as well as offering support to enthusiastic scientists of the future. The SEGH meetings have always provided this – excellent science, good discussion and debate, well organised and new opportunities for your research.
Further details will be announced for the regional structure of SEGH.
Interview by Michael Watts