With regard to your piece on 60 years of innovation (Chemistry World, March 2011, p38). Can I put in a plea for recognition of the pioneering work carried out in the UK on liquid crystal displays (LCDs) in the years following 1970. Following some early work on displays in the US, by RCA and Westinghouse, the Marconi Company of Chelmsford decided to study the application of liquid crystals to low voltage optical displays. It was realised that currently available materials had a restricted temperature range and slow switching speeds. Nevertheless, a simple flat-panel device was demonstrated at a liquid crystal conference in Berlin, Germany, in 1970. 

A joint effort was set up involving George Gray of Hull University, UK (a recognised expert on these compounds), the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE) of Malvern (a Government sponsor), and later BDH Chemicals of Poole. Work carried out by Gray and his team between 1970-1985 produced a range of new organic compounds based on the biphenyl nucleus, which had low melting points and when combined as mixtures gave practical operating ranges of better than 0 to 40?C with fast switching speeds. These compounds were manufactured in bulk by BDH Chemicals for commercial applications. 

It was clear that for fast matrix displays, eg TV screens, an active matrix would be required for each RGB pixel, with each pixel switched by a thin-film transistor, fabricated in some applications from cadmium sulfide. In recent times much work has been carried out on precise orientation of the molecules on the surface of the electrodes (nanotechnology), very close uniform electrode spacing, multiple twist structures and in-plane switching. 

The final result in the late 1990s has been to decrease the switching time in a flat colour TV display from about 30-40 milliseconds to about 5 milliseconds. We have now realised the flat colour displays shown in the film 2001 - A space odyssey 

G Elliott FRSC
Chelmsford, UK


It was with a combination of exasperation and frustration that I read 60 years of innovation  in the March issue. Apparently it was celebrating ’the discoveries and developments made by chemists over the past six decades that have made the biggest difference to our lives, and to understanding the world around us’. Great idea! However, what are we presented with? ’1950s carbon dating, 1960s silicon chips, 1970s the statins, 1980s the polymerase chain reaction, 1990s antiretroviral drugs, and 2000s thin film solar cells’. OK, these were all significant, but they hardly stand out as things which dramatically changed life for us all. 

Let’s take the 1950s, the decade in which I started my career as a chemist. This was an era of extraordinary changes in chemical products, raw materials and processes. Arguably the developments that most affected the world were in polymers and polymerisation. When I was studying for my degree in 1950 only a handful of synthetic polymers were available on the market - phenol-formaldehyde resins, urea-formaldehyde resins, melamine formaldehyde resins, pvc, polymethylmethacrylate, polystyrene, nylon, low density polyethylene and some synthetic rubbers. The chemistry involved in making them was not very well understood. During the next 10 years extraordinary progress was made in the field. Possibly the most important development was that of stereospecific polymerisation which allowed the introduction of, for example, polypropylene, high density polyethylene, linear low density polyethylene and synthetic natural rubber. 

I would suggest that Chemistry World  could, with advantage, make more effort to discuss past and present examples of the effects of chemistry and chemical products on everyday life. 

Peter Wiseman FRSC
By email


I have no quarrel with James Mitchell Crow’s selection but am saddened that all bar one of the institutions that performed the work are in the US. The other one was Japanese. Is this a reflection on the UK’s dismal position in the world? 

J Steggles MRSC
By email


As a cosmetic research and development scientist, and terrible cook, I enjoyed reading Yfke Hager’s article Not just a pretty face  (Chemistry World, February 2011, p65). I would like to point out, however, that along with the less scientifically astute opportunities for advancement in the field - as those mentioned in the article - is the opportunity to accomplish some genuine science that even the RSC recognises. See, for example, the 2002 RSC publication Chemical Science - highlights from the past 50 years  [1952 - 2002], in which the designated chemical achievement for the year 1986 was the launch of 2-in-1 shampoo (i.e., the ability to get a cationic conditioner to separate out from an anionic surfactant and onto the hair). ’It’s surprisingly difficult to combine shampoo and conditioner into one bottle,’ read a caption in the report,’The launch of 2-in-1 shampoo solved this.’ 

R DiSalvo CSci CChem FRSC  
Marina del Rey, California, US 


With reference to the recent correspondence on heat loss through glass (Chemistry World, November 2010, p78 and January 2011, p40), I have long been intrigued by the fact that all discussion of heat conservation in buildings revolves around insulation measures, with barely a mention of the impact on the occupants. Essentially we are not interested in the temperature of a room, but in how comfortable we feel in it. The most basic way to save energy and reduce carbon emissions is to wear warm clothing, something we seem to have forgotten. Before the days of central heating it was common for men to wear thick worsted suits or Harris Tweed jackets indoors, while ladies often wore woollen skirts and sweaters, or even shawls. 

In the 1950s I was living in a poorly-insulated house in the US that had hot-air central heating. I noticed that on a cold winter day it was necessary to have the thermostat set a degree or two higher than on a mild day to achieve the same level of comfort, even though I was bathed in air at the set temperature. Why was that? As it could not be through personal heat loss by conduction or convection, I attributed it to enhanced radiative loss from my body to the surrounding cooler walls. Remembering that Stefan’s law states that radiation is proportional to T14 -T04 where T1 and T0 are the absolute temperatures of the body and its surroundings, it is hardly surprising that radiation plays a significant role in personal heat loss and reduced comfort when the surroundings are cool. Yet this form of heat transfer is rarely mentioned in engineering discussions of building insulation. Good insulation of walls reduces not only thermal conduction but also heat loss through radiative cooling. 

R M Dell CChem FRSC 
Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, UK 


This statement from the RSC follow's Bob Pugh's letter (Chemistry World, February 2011, p36) on the closure of the UK's Forensic Science Service (FSS):

The RSC is naturally very concerned about the demise of the world leading Forensic Science Service, providing highly-specialised skills to criminal justice agencies not just at home in the UK, but to agencies in more than 60 countries worldwide. It would be a crime of another sort if those skills were to disperse into the ether.

It is imperative that where the FSS no longer performs a role, a new provider is already in place to take on the necessary task, as seen this week concerning the provision of drink-drive samples where a new supplier was found in the space of a few days. Rest assured the RSC will be keeping a close eye on the ongoing transition arrangements as the National Policing Improvement Agency, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office continue to work with the FSS to ensure that these arrangements are in place to effectively manage the wind-down of their forensic services.

Advances in forensic science are vital to combat increasingly sophisticated criminal tactics and terrorism. A properly resourced unit with specialist capabilities and an advanced skills base must be retained in the UK to enable us to remain a world leader in the provision of forensic services. 

The RSC’s major concern is that any alternative to the current system must ensure specialist skills and research capabilities are not lost to the UK.


The recent article on particle sizing (Chemistry World, March 2011, p50) provides an interesting introduction to the field. In response, we would like to direct the interested reader to the recently published technical brief for the RSC Analytical Methods Committee on the broader subject of nanoparticle characterisation. 

The brief covers particles in the solid, liquid and aerosol phases, and provides a window on the challenging and interdisciplinary nature of particle measurement which underpins science ranging from air quality and climate science to nanotechnology.

The brief is number 48 in the series, which covers a broad range of subjects related to analytical chemistry and is freely downloadable from the AMC web pages. 

R J J Gilham CChem MRSC 
Exeter, UK  

R J C Brown CChem FRSC 
London, UK  


Regarding the latest body blow to the UK pharmaceutical industry, in the shape of Pfizer’s planned exit from the Sandwich site (Chemistry World, March 2011, p7) and the cutbacks to chemistry education and research in the country, I wonder what part, if any, the government chief scientific adviser has on government policy.  

At the moment, we desperately need a chemist at the forefront advising this coalition government but unfortunately, and out of due respect to this distinguished postholder, the present incumbent is not a chemist. 

Regarding pharmaceuticals, I admit that the current licensing procedure in the UK is too lengthy. This has been widely reported in the media, and is often used as a reason why the pharmaceutical industry is not attracted to the UK, but this does not help the situation at all.

The RSC can still play a major part in emphasising the importance of chemistry and science as a whole to this country’s future, bleak though it may seem at the moment. Irrespective of the global recession, I still believe that these problems really stem both from advances and 
changes in manufacturing technology and the current education system. On this, I still believe in a balanced mixture of in-house work-based training and part-time university/college education as an alternative and in addition to full time study. 

Any comments please?

Robert N Slinn CChem MRSC 
By email 


As a former World Health Organization (WHO)/Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) staff member sitting as an expert on specifications for pharmaceutical preparations, I feel it necessary to make some remarks concerning your feature on counterfeit medicines (Chemistry World, January 2011, p56). The only equivalent words for counterfeit in Spanish are those similar to falsified, adulterated or fraudulent. Illicit, illegal, unregistered or unauthorised refer only to products that should be authorised by an appropriate government agency. 

Generic medicinal products are only legally marketed in most countries (including the US, UK and also developing countries) when the patent that protects the principle or the medicine has expired. Both branded and generic products must be approved by the corresponding national medicines control agency and submitted to laboratory controls in a large number of countries including developing ones. 

Counterfeited medicines should also include those stolen during the distribution process (transporting, wholesalers and pharmacies). At a meeting held in the WHO headquarters in Geneva in 1994 I pointed out that the big concern should be the availability of products with correct active ingredients but in incorrect (insufficient or excessive) proportions including dangerous inactive ingredients and other quality problems which can also occur with legally marketed products not properly manufactured. 

The marketing and utilisation of counterfeited medicines is also a commercial problem affecting the legitimate producers of medicinal products in developing countries and elsewhere, but it is a problem not related to intellectual rights that are provided by international and national legislations. Several active ingredients may have a different patent status in different countries for several reasons. 

M J Vernengo MRSC 
Buenos Aires, Argentina