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Get to Know: Kwabena Bediako

Kwabena Bediako is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry of the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS). Read on to learn more about his life and work.

Describe the current focus of your work.

My group works to find more energy efficient ways to direct charge transport within solids and at solid–liquid interfaces. We look to tune these processes using 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 for manipulating physical and chemical behavior. Ultimately, we hope that the phenomena and fundamental principles we discover can serve as the basis for new ultralow power electronic devices and highly efficient electrochemical energy conversion systems.

How did you become interested in your field?

I have always been interested in scientific problems related to energy sustainability (that is, after I got over my childhood dream of becoming a pilot). I read articles about the potential of solar energy to solve some of the critical energy and environmental challenges we face as a global community. Growing up in Ghana—a country that, like many others in Africa, is blessed with a lot of sun—I was eager to do research in a field that I felt could make this a reality. My undergraduate studies introduced me to inorganic chemistry and as a graduate student I studied electrochemical water splitting (with a view to store renewable electricity in fuels). My postdoctoral research in a condensed matter physics lab helped me to appreciate the outstanding challenges for charge transport in solids and the energy currently wasted in conventional electronic devices. My research program now tries to find answers to questions at the nexus of these fields.

What does becoming a part of the JACS Editorial Advisory Board mean to you? What are your hopes for the journal?

The invitation came as quite a surprise and it is a great honor to be a part of the EAB of JACS. For me, JACS has always represented a forum at the pinnacle of scientific thought in chemistry. I know this will continue long into the future. I echo Editor-in-Chief Erick Carreira’s vision for the journal to continue to serve as a flagship platform for both fundamental discoveries and interdisciplinary advances in the chemical sciences.

Black chemists continue to be underrepresented. What changes need to take place in the chemistry field to change this?

That is quite a complex problem and I am far from an expert on that subject, but clearly there are institutional issues to overcome at nearly all levels in terms of both recruiting and retention. It is well documented that one of the root challenges to increasing the proportion of racial and ethnic minorities in STEM fields in the U.S. is the creation of a sense of belonging. So, any solution to this challenge must include a concerted effort to foster a community of these researchers in which common experiences can be shared, along with efforts to increase the visibility of the scientific research and accomplishments of these groups. Admittedly, some of the issues have become so ingrained that they will take time to be overcome, and not everyone is necessarily in a position to directly bring about some of the biggest policy changes that are needed. Still, I think what we can each do as individuals is to learn about, confront, and work to overcome our implicit biases. Everyone has that personal agency. I think that is the challenge to each of us, and a challenge we can begin addressing on our own, right away to chip away at one part the problem.

What’s one piece of advice you wished you’d received before starting your career in chem?

Hmm… maybe, “take a management course.”

Where do you hope to see the field, as it pertains to Black scientists in the next 10 years?

I hope that the proportion of Black scientists at all levels at least reflects the population demographics of the country.

What chemist has inspired you most?

Alice Ball’s story is quite inspiring. She had such an impact on her time in an unfortunately short life.

Read Kwabena Bediako’s Research in ACS Publications Journals

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