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Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry


Dr Chiara Giorio, courtesy Gabriella Bocchetti

Dr Chiara Giorio has been awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Early Career Award in Environment, Sustainability & Energy for her role in the discovery of how systemic pesticides harm honeybees.  

Giorio became involved in the collaborative research project with Professor Andrea Tapparo and entomologist Professor Vincenzo Girolami when she was completing her PhD in atmospheric chemistry at the University of Padova, Italy.

“Because of our experience in atmospheric science, in particular atmospheric particulate matter, we proposed a new route of exposure of honeybees to neonicotinoid insecticides that had been previously overlooked,” Giorio said.

The scientists conducted field trials in which bees were trained to fly over a maize field while corn seeds treated with neonicitinoids were being sewn. They measured the environmental dispersion of the neonicitinoids emitted during the sewing, and the consequential in-flight contamination and acute toxicity for the honeybees. “Our research explained some of the large and rapid colony collapses observed in Europe during the spring seasons,” said Giorio.

The research team joined the International Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP), which had been formed in response to concern around the impact of systemic pesticides on biodiversity and ecosystems. Its intent was to provide the definitive view of science to inform more rapid and improved decision-making. “Our work, together with the work of the other scientists, laid the foundation for improving policy around pesticide approval for use in Europe for a more sustainable agriculture,” said Giorio. “Other countries then followed the lead of Europe. This was a clear example of how my work in the lab could have beneficial impacts for the preservation of nature and for society.”

Giorio is pleased and honoured to be recognised for her part in the research. “I knew about this award for years; receiving it was one of my dreams but for long I thought it was out of my league. I am very grateful to my mentors that guided me through my first steps in science and always supported me, especially Professors Andrea Tapparo and Vincenzo Girolami, and all the people that worked with me over the years.

“I am also honoured to be seen as a positive role model and ambassador for chemistry. I will do my best to live up to expectations and I hope that my experience will inspire younger generations to pursue chemistry for their career and use chemistry to benefit society.

“My main motivation in pursuing research in chemistry is for the benefit of society. I cannot know if my research projects will succeed or not, or if through them I will make a fundamental impact by addressing societal challenges. What I know is that I want to spend my career trying to achieve that goal.”