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“Welsh is a language for science”

19 July 2023

A young man wearing a Cardiff University doctoral gown coloured green, red and white with a black bonnet.
"I would encourage anyone to become a part of that community," Owain Beynon’s advice to those thinking of studying science through the medium of Welsh.

A doctoral student from Carmarthen will become the first person in Cardiff University’s 140-year history to complete a PhD in Chemistry entirely through the medium of Welsh when he graduates today.

Owain Beynon, a first-language Welsh speaker and former pupil of Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bro Myrddin in Carmarthenshire, said it was “a natural choice” to complete his PhD in Welsh.

Owain, who made a unique contribution to the field of catalytic chemistry when he defended his thesis as part of his viva earlier this year, believes it is important to show that “Welsh is a scientific language”.

He said: “There seems to be a notion in higher education and in secondary schools that English is the only language of science, as students switch to English if they want to study science at university or are thinking of pursuing it for their career.

"Personally, I think it was important for me to show that Welsh is a language for science and that completing studies and research through the medium of Welsh was not only possible but also exciting."

Owain Beynon

In his thesis, ‘Astudiaeth Gyfrifiadurol o Synthesis a Sefydlogrwydd Defnyddiau Mandyllog Anorganig’, Owain used computational science to see how porous materials could be used for green energy processes and sustainable chemistry.

Owain’s PhD was funded through Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol’s Ysgoloriaeth Ymchwil scheme, which aims to support PhD students in conducting research and writing a thesis through the medium of Welsh.

As part of his study, Owain identified gaps in Welsh scientific terminology.

He worked with terminologists in Bangor to create new terms, and with help from the wider Welsh-speaking chemistry community, Owain added new scientific terms to the Welsh dictionary.

These include:

  • “damcaniaeth dwysedd ffwythianolion” meaning “density functional theory”
  • “brasamcan graddiant cyffredinol” which means a “general gradient approximation”
  • “dull gwahaniaeth feidriadd” which translates as “finite difference method”

He said: “Conducting my research in Welsh gave me access to a supportive community of researchers.

“Through the Coleg, I was able to engage with a network of Welsh-speaking scientists and academics and had the opportunity to attend and present my research at seminars and conferences where I could listen to and take part in discussions on really innovative and exciting science through the medium of Welsh.

“I would encourage anyone to become a part of that community.”

Professor Damien Murphy, Head of Cardiff University’s School of Chemistry, said: “As we celebrate our 140th anniversary this year, Owain’s achievements mark a significant milestone for the School.

"It’s testament to the long-standing contributions our school has made to higher education and research here in Wales. And now, Owain has demonstrated how we can make further contributions through our steadfast support for the Welsh-language in the chemical sciences."

Professor Damien Murphy Professor of Physical Chemistry and Head of School

“We expect Owain will be the first of many future PhDs examined through the medium of Welsh.

“I wish to extend my congratulations to him on the successful defence of his thesis, and thank the examining committee and the Coleg especially for their support.”

Now employed as a post-doctoral research associate in the Institute for Materials Discovery at University College London (UCL), Owain is continuing his research into materials, using computational and data driven methods.

“Everyone here in UCL has been supportive, enthusiastic, and thinks it is very interesting and cool that I completed my doctorate in Welsh.

“My experience just goes to show that the Welsh language is not an obstacle to any kind of achievement or aspiration afterwards in your scientific career,” Owain added.

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