From John Wright
There are strong counter-arguments to those presented by James Naismith on CASE awards (Chemistry World, January 2005, p30).
My experience over 35 years is that constraints are (reasonably) far greater for costly industrially-funded post-doctoral projects than for CASE awards. PhD regulations demand that students must have adequate freedom to explore and develop the research independently. Demonstration of these abilities by the student is a requirement for the award of a PhD.
Industrial and government research departments employ experienced scientists to conduct strategically important research. What they lack (particularly in the case of small companies) is time to explore many fundamental issues that may often lead to significant longer-term benefits. CASE awards offer unique opportunities for such exploration, particularly if run in parallel with post-doctoral or in-house industrial strategic projects.
CASE awards do not drain resources or create a trend toward ’do-able projects’. The industrial contribution ensures adequate project resources at a time when many other research students are suffering from cuts necessitated by individual universities. The projects’ links to the fundamentals underlying phenomena of commercial significance provides exciting challenges of guaranteed worth.
The closure of so many university chemistry departments is already leaving many small local entrepreneurial science-based companies deprived of invaluable facilities and expertise. If the CASE awards system were to be ended, one of the last mechanisms facilitating low-cost industry-university links of high potential value to both parties would be gone.
Finally, those who consider that academics know what innovative research will keep industry strong for the next 20 years should remember that the pioneering research on liquid crystal materials was funded by the Ministry of Defence after being rejected by the peer-review system of the Research Council.
J D Wright MRSC
Having just had the opportunity to read the November issue of Chemistry World which a friend had passed to me, I was particularly interested to read, under the title Organic benefits squashed (p. 21), an article about the research by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique.
This research suggested that levels of antioxidants in the blood of those who had consumed organic tomatoes were not significantly higher than the levels in those who had consumed the non-organic product. Obviously, those involved in organic food production need to consider these findings very carefully.
Unfortunately, the article makes no mention of differences in levels of herbicides and pesticides in organic and non-organic foods. Most people who buy organic produce expect to find lower levels of toxins in these crops. They do so because there is a strong and proven link between pesticide/herbicide consumption and the incidence of cancer. The article makes no mention of this.
Instead, we have the quote from Anthony Trewavas of Edinburgh University that: ’Organic food is a foible for those with money to waste’. Trewavas also makes the claim that we have ’lowering cancer rates’. This is incorrect. We have increasing cancer rates but, overall, slightly lower death rates, due to improved treatments. In fact, death rates from certain types of cancer, prostate for example, have continued to increase and teenage cancer rates have increased by more than one per cent per year for the last 20 years (Br. J. Cancer, 2002, 87, 1267).
As for Trewavas’ statement that ’we are a healthy population’, I wonder how he could possibly come to this conclusion when there is well-documented and credible evidence of greatly increasing rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, allergies, mental health problems, etc.
But I like the creative title.
A recent chemical science article (Chemistry World, November 2004, p26) on phototherapy of neonatal jaundice claimed that ’Phototherapy works by making bilirubin soluble, thought the mechanism is still unclear’. Not exactly true. It has been known for a long time (Pediatrics, 1985, 75, 443) that phototherapy works by (1) converting bilirubin to isomers that, unlike the parent biosynthetic isomer, do not require further metabolism for excretion through the liver into bile and (2) oxidising bilirubin to colourless products that are excreted mainly in urine. Isomerisation, being the most quantum efficient, seems to be the most important process clinically.
It is also not true that xanthobilirubic acid can dimerise to form bilirubin. It can’t.
A F McDonagh, MRSC
San Francisco, California, US
As a Floridian who has just gone through several hurricanes, the article on aircraft clouding the skies with soot particles (Chemistry World, December 2004, p18) was of particular interest. I wonder if this would be effective in deactivating hurricanes. The use of silver iodide in the past has not proven to be effective.
J R Hanley MRSC
Fruit Cove, Florida, US
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