Isla Swanney – a passion for science

Isla Swanney NZ

Hello, my name is Isla and I am a passionate science student.

I have always had a passion for science and the way it helps us to understand the world around us. In 2023 this passion scored me a place in the NZ Chemistry Olympiad team and a ticket to the International Olympiad in Switzerland. My teacher reached out to The Kāmahi Trust to see if they could support me in covering the cost of the trip, and after I met Rebecca Mason and discussed the purpose of the experience they graciously agreed.

The International Chemistry Olympiad is a global chemistry competition with over 90 participating countries. Each country selects a team of four, who are then trained using preparatory problems provided by the host country. The competition is held over one week, and includes two five-hour exams, a practical and a theory, social events, and excursions around the host country.

This was an amazing and eye-opening experience for me. The focus of the 2023 Olympiad was “finding solutions together”, and there was a big emphasis on climate change and how chemistry can be used to solve many of the issues we face.

This experience changed my whole perspective of chemistry. I had never really thought that chemistry could provide solutions for problems like climate change before, however, through the preparatory problems and talking from researchers in chemistry I learnt chemistry plays a central part in both causing and solving climate change. Chemistry plays a role in the making of just about every mass-produced product, from food to synthetic fabrics. Because of this, chemistry is key to reducing the carbon footprint and waste of these processes and products. Chemistry is also the science behind technologies like carbon capture, which are helping to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

This also changed my perspective on my future career path. I’ve always been passionate about the environment, but I never envisioned myself in a career helping the environment. I always thought that to help the environment you would have to study biology or environmental science, but I have always been more interested in the physical sciences like chemistry and physics. Meeting and talking to representatives of chemistry companies and research groups convinced me that chemistry can also provide a pathway to helping the environment through science.

I’m still unsure of what career path I want to pursue, but thanks to this experience I know that I will be able to find a way to combine my passion for science and the environment in whatever field of science I choose. This experience inspired me and gave me clarity on what I want my career to look like. I think the focus of the 2023 Chemistry Olympiad, finding solutions together, beautifully sums up what I want out of my career.

I have so much gratitude for the The Kāmahi Trust for supporting me to have this amazing experience. The Kāmahi Trust has a beautiful vision, and the world would be a better place if there were more organisations like it.

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