Centenary blog: Celebrating a century of achievements and a future of success

Centenary blog: Celebrating a century of achievements and a future of success

1st January 2022

As 2022 marks IChemE’s centenary, we are celebrating our profession and the members who have shaped it. IChemE Fellow and Past President, John McGagh, chaired the centenary project’s volunteer committee who have developed a year-long programme of activity to celebrate this incredible milestone.

In the first blog of our new series to mark the centenary, John talks about how the celebrations evolved into the packed programme which kicks off this month.

Name: John McGagh

Job title and organisation: Retired chemical engineer, Director of McGagh Advisory.

IChemE role: Past President and Chair of the Centenary Steering Committee

Bio: John’s career spanned 35 years including over 20 years at senior levels in international minerals and mining roles. John is retired though maintains some commercial and pro-bono interests through his own advisory company.

Imagine making plans to celebrate your birthday, and then imagine being approached to make plans to celebrate 100 years of IChemE! With the added ambition of using the centenary to look forward to the next 100 years, I found myself with a colossal task on my hands.

Of course, I was delighted to lead this once in a lifetime project, ably supported by an army of knowledgeable, enthusiastic and creative member volunteers, to ensure IChemE’s centenary celebrations are fitting for such a distinguished Institution.

Chemical engineering as a profession has been recognised since the late nineteenth century, but the inaugural meeting of the Institution of Chemical Engineers was held in London in May 1922. One hundred years on, chemical engineers across the globe have played a fundamental role in so many achievements.

How to recognise these accomplishments and ensure the profession continues to thrive over the next hundred years was the question posed

In the initial meetings of the steering committee, we debated how best to celebrate the heritage of the Institution. The team swiftly concluded that the centenary was the ideal opportunity to raise public awareness of the value of chemical engineering, inspire the next generation of chemical engineers and communicate the future role of chemical engineers in helping to solve society’s greatest challenges.

The vision of ‘celebrate, communicate and inspire’ was born and we enlisted a global community of around 70 volunteer members from all grades, sectors and regions to bring the project to life. Combining the wish to celebrate the past with the aspiration to focus on an exhilarating future, the name of the project was chosen to be ‘ChemEng Evolution: a century of achievements, a future of success’. This enabled us to blend together celebrations that acknowledge the legacy of the past whilst also enthusing future engineers with technologies and innovations still to come.

Chemical engineering’s contribution to society is clear to see in every home, hospital, school, factory and high street across the world. Focusing on the past and the present to begin with, to explore where and how chemical engineering has had an impact, we scoured the membership for personal accounts and thought-provoking articles across nine themes which linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These themes are as follows:

  1. Sustainability and Environment
  2. Education and Technology
  3. Social Experience
  4. Energy
  5. Processes and Safety
  6. Food and Water
  7. Built Environment and Transport
  8. Health
  9. Materials

We were inundated with fabulous stories and reports which can all be viewed on our wonderful centenary website which is the focal point of all our celebrations. Take a look at www.chemengevolution.org where you can read our members’ stories and find out more about the centenary plans.

As we make our way through 2022, each month we will be celebrating one of the themes kicking off with the Sustainability and Environment month in February. Keep a look out for our series of blogs which will be published to coincide with each themed month. Each blog will introduce elements to ‘celebrate, communicate and inspire’ from each theme.

To learn more about how each theme will continue to evolve as we turn to look to the future, I encourage you to join in with our series of webinar panel discussions . With a webinar on each theme taking place throughout the year, join us to hear industry and research leaders guide discussions on the future of the profession and its role in society. Find out more about the webinars, dates, speakers and registration details on the events page of the ChemEng Evolution website.

Don’t worry if you can’t join each webinar live as I’m aware that you may be reading this blog from an array of different time zones. You will be able to watch recordings of all webinars and links will be posted on the events page of the website.

Reading through the stories on the website, one of my highlights is the inspirational chemical engineers section. As part of our ‘inspire’ thread we wanted to capture some of that personal inspiration from the past and hence we asked our Past Presidents to identify the chemical engineer who inspired them most. Their stories have been fascinating in their variety and diversity; some of the chemical engineers chosen are household names, some carried out key work in the background recognised by peers but not necessarily further afield, and some remain anonymous.  

I urge you to visit this section, and perhaps ask yourself, “Who inspired me?”.

I am also excited about the celebrations being planned by the members groups and special interest groups across the globe and thank everyone for their enthusiasm in getting involved in the celebrations.

This project has been made possible by the invaluable contribution of our members from those volunteers who shaped the celebrations, the members who shared their own personal stories and those who gave us their reflections on how the future may look. Without their input plus the backing of a number of sponsors and the support of the knowledgeable IChemE staff, the ambition of a full year of celebrations would never have been realised.

Throughout this project I have reiterated the importance of using the knowledge learned over the last 100 years to support the next, diverse generation of chemical engineers. I hope that when I reflect back on the year come December, that we will have achieved our aim of raising awareness of the value of chemical engineering, inspiring the next generation and demonstrating the future role of chemical engineers in helping to solve the world’s greatest challenges. I truly believe that the evolution of chemical engineering can be undeniably summed up by the words ‘a century of achievements, a future of success’.

For more information on IChemE's centenary celebrations, visit www.chemengevolution.org or follow #ChemEngEvolution on social media.