Chemical attraction

Updated: 2011-06-03 11:15

By Alexandra Leyton Espinoza (China Daily European Weekly)

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Chemical attraction
Scientist Kari Kveseth acts as a bridge builder between Norwegian and Chinese scientific communities. Alexandra Leyton Espinoza / for China Daily 

Norwegian grandmother has better things to do than quietly skiing off into retirement

Kari Kveseth could be enjoying a peaceful retirement in Norway after years as a top research administrator. Instead, she is embarking on a new project as her country's first counselor for science in China. "I can't retire, I feel too young for that. I have been waiting for this opportunity," she says. In her former role as the international director at the Research Council of Norway, Kveseth had noticed an increasing interest for research consulting among international agencies.

Her role there was to strengthen research cooperation among European research programs as well as maintaining traditional ties to North America.

"In Europe, research consulting related to international cooperation is more systematic and well established. In China we saw the opportunity for and the importance of establishing new contacts and networks," she says.

Kveseth was fascinated by chemistry from a very early age, a fact for which she credits inspirational teachers. Science back in the 1970s, she says, was one of the many professional sectors dominated by men.

"When I started, very few women worked in this field. Still, it was better than physics, where there were no women at all," she says.

Kveseth recalls that when the English chemist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin received the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, she was asked by a reporter if the reason for women being interested particularly in structural chemistry was because they were fond of embroidery.

"She got really insulted by this question and told the reporter it had nothing to do with that," Kveseth says. "But this was the attitude many people had about women in this field.

"In China I notice more and more opportunities for women. The challenge in China is for women to receive the same opportunities for academic achievement as men.

"In Norway, the opportunities are more equal and we have seen great changes in the last decades, although top leaders are still predominantly men also in academic institutions."

To be different and to "engage in something you are really fond of" has always been the key for success for Kveseth, and that is often-repeated advice she gives students.

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