Dr Lesley Sloss is an environmental consultant with the IEA Clean Coal Centre (CCC), a not-for-profit organisation providing information on the clean use of coal. Whether you love coal or hate it, it is an important part of the current energy mix and will remain so for a few decades yet. The IEA advise on how best to use it cleanly and efficiently. A lot of their work is getting this kind of information out to emerging economies. They write reports, run workshops and conferences, speak at meetings and often interact with agencies such as the European Commission, UNEP, the US EPA and the governments of individual countries.
"I was lucky enough to land this job straight out of my PhD in Microbiology. I had written 17 papers during my PhD, which is pretty prolific but just a lucky quirk of the kind of work I was doing (bacterial identification). I had also just published a children’s book, so I was taken on for my writing skills as much as for my scientific background."
The CCC encourages its staff to network and collect and disseminate information as much as possible. The major part of their work is therefore to produce summary documents of important issues relating to the clean use of coal. This involves reading thousands of papers, and attending many meetings and conferences. "This isn’t a job for a wall-flower. I think I got to be chair of so many committees and conferences by being confident and committed to my work. A sense of humour and a well-controlled temper help too. I have had four children, one of whom is now a professional stand-up comedian. I like to laugh and, as long as it is appropriate, humour at a meeting can be a great bonding tool."
"I fully believe that it is not just what you know but who you know …and what they know! Networking is so important in science. So many fields overlap and there is a risk that we will become too focused on our own work without appreciating how much we can learn from the work of others. The publications, webpages and meetings run by the IES help us to get out there and meet, learn, share and benefit. Sometimes the serendipity at a meeting is as important as the science - there is at least one occasion in my career where a chance meeting at a conference reception has led to a demonstration project contract."
Lesley's proudest achievement is to be recognised as an expert in the field. She is proud to have sat with work colleagues and government ministers from around the world and have provided honest answers to difficult questions. She has sat on a number of CEN/ISO committees to write new emission monitoring standards and has run several regular international meetings and conferences. She is regularly asked for information and advice on mercury control.
"I am perhaps most proud of the role I have played in the field of mercury information dissemination in the run up to the launch of the new UNEP Minamata Convention, which was signed in Japan in October 2013. The convention aims to reduce emissions and use of mercury worldwide as escalating concentrations in the food chain, especially fish, pose a significant health effect. I have been involved since the international negotiations began, providing unbiased expert scientific information to the delegations. That was such an interesting period in my career – learning how to get scientific facts across into a legal framework whilst taking into account considerations of geography, economics, social agenda and even human behavior. Getting the world to agree on the wording of a single legal document is understandably challenging but very rewarding when it finally happens. I then had the honour of chairing the launch the work of the convention at the International Conference on mercury as a Global Pollutant in Edinburgh this summer in front of over 900 international delegates. We even managed to get a full-scale bumper car arena into the conference centre. Seeing delegates from over 65 countries, many of who have significantly differing views on some scientific issues, launching themselves at each other in bumper cars with huge grins on their faces was surreal but wonderful."
"I have plenty more to do. I am looking forward to providing input to the COPs (conference of the parties) of the Minamata Convention and to helping the aim of the treaty move into a physical reality. This is the beginning of an exciting new era for mercury research and development and I am proud to be helping to steer the boat, so to speak."