Kwabena Bediako is Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the American Chemical Society Journal (JACS). Read on to learn more about his life and work.
Describe the current focus of your work.
My group is working on finding more energy-efficient ways to direct charge transport in solids and at solid-liquid interfaces. We try to coordinate these processes with materials that are only a few atoms thick, so-called “two-dimensional” or “2D” materials. Graphene is the prototypical 2D material, but this is a very large and diverse family of materials with unique degrees of freedom to manipulate physical and chemical behavior. Ultimately, we hope that the phenomena and fundamental principles we discover can serve as the basis for new ultra-low power electronic devices and highly efficient electrochemical energy conversion systems.
How did you find out about your area of expertise?
I’ve always been interested in scientific issues related to energy sustainability (after overcoming my childhood dream of becoming a pilot). I’ve read articles on the potential of solar energy to solve some of the critical energy and environmental challenges we face as a global community. When I grew up in Ghana – a country that, like many others in Africa, is blessed with plenty of sunshine – I really wanted to do research in an area that I thought could make this a reality. My undergraduate studies introduced me to inorganic chemistry and as a PhD student I studied electrochemical water splitting (to store renewable electricity in fuels). My postdoctoral research in a condensed matter physics laboratory helped me understand the salient challenges for charge transport in solids and the energy that is currently being wasted in conventional electronic devices. My research program is now trying to find answers to questions related to these fields.
What does it mean to be part of JACS Does editorial advisory board mean for you? What are you hoping for the magazine?
The invitation came as a surprise and it’s a great honor to be part of the EAB of. to be JACS. To me, JACS has always been a forum at the forefront of scientific thought in chemistry. I know this will go on for a long time. I agree with Editor-in-Chief Erick Carreira’s vision that the magazine should continue to serve as the flagship platform for both fundamental discoveries and interdisciplinary advances in the chemical sciences.
Black chemists are still underrepresented. What changes will have to take place in chemistry to change this?
This is quite a complex problem and I am far from being an expert in the field, but there are clearly institutional problems to be overcome at almost every level in both recruitment and retention. It is well documented that one of the fundamental challenges in increasing the proportion of racial and ethnic minorities in STEM areas in the US is creating a sense of belonging. Therefore, any solution to this challenge must involve a concerted effort to foster a community of these researchers where shared experiences can be shared, as well as efforts to increase the visibility of the scientific research and achievements of these groups. Granted, some of the problems are so ingrained that it will take some time to overcome, and not everyone is necessarily able to directly bring about some of the biggest policy changes needed. Still, I think that each and every one of us can learn from us, confront us and work to overcome our implicit prejudices. Everyone has this personal agency. I think that is the challenge for each of us, and a challenge that we can address ourselves to remove part of the problem right away.
What advice would you have wished for before you started your career in chemistry?
Hmm … maybe “take a management course”.
Where do you hope to see the field in terms of Black Scientists in the next 10 years?
I hope that the proportion of black scientists at all levels at least reflects the country’s demographics.
Which chemist has inspired you the most?
Alice Ball’s story is very inspiring. She had such an impact on her time in what was unfortunately a short life.