Campus News

Seven years ago, when Dr Michael Forde boarded the plane to attend the Commonwealth Science Conference, he little dreamed that he was stepping onto the path to one of his most illustrious accomplishments.

“The now deputy principal of UWI St Augustine, Professor Ramnarine, volunteered me to go to that conference,” he explains. It was the middle of the semester, but the Senior Lecturer in Chemistry was willing to go.

While there, he attended a meeting held by the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK. Dr Forde recalls, “At that meeting, we decided that we should take this idea of coming together, co-operation within the Commonwealth, using our common goals and vision, and also our recent shared history.”

The decision was the genesis of Commonwealth Chemistry: Federation of Chemical Sciences Societies.

Since he was part of the organisation’s starting phase in 2017, Dr Forde became a board member. A few years later, he has reached the highest position by becoming the first individual from the Caribbean region to be President of Commonwealth Chemistry. He beat out eight candidates, many of who were leaders of chemistry societies and international entities. Votes came in from 27 countries.

Representing the Commonwealth

As the current president-elect, he will take on the presidential position at next year’s annual general meeting. His responsibilities will include representing the interests of the societies which make up the membership, prioritising the financial stability and sustainability of the organisation, and hopefully, developing models which will be used going forward.

Dr Forde is not only excited about the work ahead. He is ambitious about the benefits his position could bring to The UWI.

“The first thing of course is visibility,” he explains, “and we should never discount the value of visibility, especially when we are about putting ourselves on the world stage as a global institution with a global footprint.”

He also looks forward to funding opportunities for The UWI.

A passion for promoting science

The President-Elect also envisions his role as a means to promote his passion, science popularisation, locally and regionally. He observes that chemistry is a central science, “the science that enables all of the others”. However, at the same time generally, “People don't see chemistry as really valuable until they think it's valuable”. Highlighting how much chemical societies contribute to the economic prosperity of many countries, he declares, “We want to let people know that chemistry is valuable for all industries”.

He adds, “I would like every single person in Trinidad and Tobago who passes through a primary and secondary school system to know some chemistry.”

Dr Forde’s own specialty is sustainable chemistry, and he believes a strong chemistry curriculum which involves sustainability, green chemistry, systems thinking, life-cycle assessment and more will help the population to better embrace sustainable thinking. There would be a greater understanding of recycling for example.

While discussing his current work, Dr Forde mentions that they are looking at converting agriculture waste materials into beneficial chemicals which could be a great asset for the region. For example, they have estimated that the grasses growing in unused Caroni lands could provide a useful option.

“We could easily convert that grass into gasoline blenders and also ethanol,” he reveals. “The volume produced could power several hundred thousand passenger cars.”

Already as a result of increased understanding of the level of talent in chemistry in Trinidad and Tobago and the region, two new chemical societies have emerged: The Trinidad and Tobago Chemical Society, and a revamped CAS Chemistry Chapter in Jamaica. Dr Forde hopes the local society will get ample opportunity for growth.

"I think the election to this post shows that we can be a big player,” he observes. “So, we want to capitalise on that.”

You can learn more about Commonwealth Chemistry at Anyone interested in the Trinidad and Tobago Chemical Society can contact Dr Terry Mohammed - or Dr Nigel Jalsa -

Dixie-Ann Belle is a freelance writer, editor and proofreader.