Letters to a young chemist

Letters to a young chemist

Abhik Ghosh (Ed)  

Hoboken, US: John Wiley & Sons 2011 | 320pp | ?26.95 (PB)

ISBN 9780470390436

Reviewed by Simon Cotton

Book cover - Letters to a young chemist

The first three lines on the back cover sum up this book - ’What’s it really like to be a chemist? Leading chemists share what they do, how they do it, and why they love it’.

The book consists of 17 chapters, each written by a different professor of chemistry. They are personal accounts of why the author became a chemist and the chemistry they have done. They are written as letters to ’Angela’, an imaginary chemistry undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego, US. Their aim is to encourage Angela to consider chemistry as a career.

The areas of chemistry surveyed cover a broad swathe of the discipline, ranging from anaesthetics to green chemistry, bioadhesives to nanotechnology, and metal-organic frameworks to metals in living systems. Several of the letters are concerned with the role of chemists in providing the world’s energy in the future. The coverage is very good, although two areas that I missed were modern organic synthesis and prospecting for new medicines in places like the oceans.

In his foreword, Stephen Lippard of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, comments on the inadequacy of thinking of chemistry as the ’central science’. He’d rather see it as ’the synthetic science’, concerned with making and breaking chemical bonds and using this to construct novel molecules and materials.

Lippard also says that the book should be ’required reading for all faculty members who teach chemistry in high schools, colleges, and universities’. I would endorse this view, as I found the book to provide excellent insights into many unfamiliar areas of modern chemistry.

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