From David Britz
I wanted to mention that there is an error in the Chemistry World article, Record breakers about the world’s smallest test tube (December 2004, p7). In the initial press release we errantly listed the volume of our test tube as 10-24 litres, or a yoctolitre. In reality, it is 10-21 litres, or a zeptolitre.
This does not change the fact that we broke the record. However, it does change the magnitude by which we broke it, which is now several times smaller, not whole orders of magnitude. I deeply apologise for this error. We strive to ensure that our work is accurate and are sorry for this oversight.
I thought I’d share my concerns about the comment article in November’s Chemistry World (p56) from Brian Tempest. His basic premise is probably true, and India and China will provide tough competition in the future, but this article is misleading in many ways and does not match our experience within AstraZeneca or that of my colleagues at other UK pharma companies.
Reading this, and other articles from Tempest, our senior management would be forgiven for thinking that there are thousands of unemployed potential R B Woodwards hanging around on street corners in Mumbai just waiting for a job. This isn’t true.
There are, no doubt, some very good scientists in India, but the average level of graduate education, from my experience, is below that of a comparable graduate from the UK. Many of their best PhDs have been trained abroad, and without this they would not be of as high a calibre. I’m a bit disappointed in the RSC letting this one slip through. If the motivation is to give government and academia a kick up the backside and make them aware that our strength in chemistry is not a given and can be lost overnight, then obviously I support it.
However, the RSC has to be aware that in most big pharma companies there are managers who may not be as well-informed and, with cost cutting on the agenda, will seize on articles like this and draw the wrong conclusions. I’m not advocating protectionism, just a fair fight. Early next year we will try and get an article together to put across the positives about keeping jobs in the UK. I hope you’ll see fit to publish it. Sorry for the rant, but I’m not sure your colleagues in the RSC realise that we are living in very sensitive times within big pharma.
D C Lathbury FRSC
I think its time to end the collaborate (CASE) research studentships system. The pressure on young chemists by departments to secure this funding (any funding) is intense.
However, I think the price is too high. Unless you are a big player, you need to meet objectives, some set by the company and not your main theme. The CASE system is draining valuable commodities away from perhaps unfunded but more exciting research.
The ’unique’ nature of the PhD programme in the UK has created a trend towards safe, do-able projects, CASE awards exacerbate this. What we need from industry is political support, some financial support and advice on their important problems. If industry wants to support PhD training, make grants to departments. If it wants academic research, then fund post-docs.
UK industry has been a tremendous boon to academic chemistry, that link must be kept. But the CASE system has created a dependency culture which is undermining the long term health of UK chemistry to no one’s advantage. As academics we should be doing the innovative research that will keep industry strong in the UK in 10-20 years.
J H Naismith CChem FRSC
St Andrews, UK
Many readers will be familiar with Sir William Perkin and his discovery of mauveine. Having read the book Mauve by Simon Garfield and finding to my surprise that I actually lived less than a mile away from the church where Perkin and his family were buried, I undertook to look for his grave recently to pay my respects.
After a great deal of searching I managed to locate a grave with Sir William’s name on it. The grave itself was very modest and not at all the grand imposing memorial that I had expected. Moreover, to my surprise the grave was completely overgrown and in a poor state of repair. Indeed, the condition of the gravestone was very poor and I would imagine that in the not too distant future, it will be almost impossible to read.
I am not sure exactly what should be done (perhaps Perkin and his family wanted nothing more than to be left in peace), but given that he was one of the great figures of world chemistry and can be perhaps regarded as the founder of the modern chemical industry, would readers not agree that to lose the grave completely to nature, the elements - if you’ll pardon the pun - and posterity would be a great sadness?
I am aware that there is a memorial to Perkin where his factory was situated on the banks of the Grand Union Canal and of course there is a medal named after him but it won’t be long before his grave will join other graves in a small secluded north-west London cemetery - nameless, forgotten and lost.
E R Sie CChem MRSC
Harrow on the Hill, UK
Can anyone explain to me why the word ’chemotherapy’ which is essentially ’therapy’ with a prefix clearly related to ’chemical’ has now acquired the absurd pronunciation with a long first ’e’.
As an undergraduate at the University of Leeds in the early 1950s when I attended a lecture course entitled ’Chemotherapy’ given by Ted Clark, the word was certainly pronounced sensibly with a short ’e’.
As a new lecturer at the then Manchester College of Science and Technology (later UMIST) in the early 1960s, I attended another lecture course with that same title given by Frank Rose, a pioneer in the field from what was then ICI (Pharmaceuticals), and again the ’e’ was short.
I must regard the long ’e’ pronunciation as an affront to my profession and I would appreciate support from the RSC to put oncologists, medical practitioners and others in their place.
J Lee CChem FRSC
I retired from teaching chemistry at Imperial College London, UK, eight years ago, having been responsible in particular for the admission and later the organisation of our undergraduate courses as the department’s director of undergraduate studies. In retirement I enjoy reading Chemistry World to keep me up to date.
Like most academic chemists I am appalled by the never ending stream of universities that have been forced to close even four star departments and so their
undergraduate chemistry courses because like other science and engineering courses they are too expensive to teach. As one consequence international firms, especially in the pharmaceutical industries are revising their long term plans for research by recruiting staff from other European countries and/or moving to cheaper and less unfriendly environments like the US. But from reading the December issue of Chemistry World, one would have no inkling that our academic and soon commercial research base in chemistry here in the UK will continue to disappear at an ever increasing rate.
Quite apart from the impending loss of academic and industrial teaching and research nationally, even the RSC and in turn its journals will eventually follow a decline into insignificance. Can I persuade you, implore you and beg you to ring the alarm bell loud and clear - it is already nearly too late!
B P Levitt CChem FRSC
I am in the habit of reading the list of ingredients on goods like toiletries. Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) can cause problems of burning or smarting when used in under-arm products.
To avoid this, ethanol is replaced by water - cosmetically called ’aqua’. Imagine my feelings when I looked at the ingredients list on two antiperspirant deodorant products, marketed by large international companies, designated ’alcohol free’.
In the list I discovered stearyl alcohol, hexadecanol and several other -ols - of course no ethanol!
F C Saunders CChem FRSC
Ramsey, Isle of Man, UK
As highlighted in the feature by Vikki Allen in the December 2004 issue (p36) of Chemistry World pollution and misuse of drugs have been linked to chemistry’s poor image. Chemists themselves might have done more to avoid terminology that can convey a poor image, and especially in regard to agricultural chemicals.
It is, therefore, gratifying that Chemistry World, also in the December 2004 issue (p6 and 13) refers to these as ’agrichemicals’.
JDR Thomas CChem FRSC
I have been reading with interest, the article about Cuban biotechnology in the November issue of Chemistry World (by Michael Gross, p38).
I have a particular interest in Cuban bioscience as we work with YM Biosciences, the company that brokered the deal with the US treasury to license Cuban assets from Centro de Immunolog&0x00EC;a Molecular (CIM) to CancerVax. This was alluded to in the article towards the end but YM Biosciences was not mentioned.
This is a shame, as YM has been a pioneer in building strong links with the Cuban industry. One of their lead products, Theracim, was also licensed from CIM and is presently in trials for metastatic pancreatic cancer.
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