In his comment article, David Fox (Chemistry World, January 2012, p42) highlights the importance of having access to a well-curated repository of small molecules for drug discovery (and chemical genomics), but he feels that it is important to ’combine a well-validated target with a means of intervention that minimises attrition risks’. It is more arguable that it is precisely the target-based strategy of modern pharmacology that has got us into trouble. A return to physiological or phenotype-based screening would avoid the initial need for defined targets (plural) and provides an assessment of both toxicity and efficacy at a physiological level from the start. This systems view sits well with the increasing recognition of the importance of targeting networks in disease, the ’metabolite-likeness’ of effective drugs, the ’off-target’ effects of most successful drugs, the effectiveness of drug target combinations in modifying pathway behaviour, and the major importance of drug transporters in affecting drug distribution, efficacy and toxicity. Function first, target(s) second.

University of Manchester, UK


'Articulating ideas and concepts is an essential aspect of science and this is equally true of science journalism’ (Chemistry World, January 2012, p45). Indeed it is, so please may we have more careful use of the word ‘risk’ (Nanotechnology risks ignored, ibid, p10)? A risk is the probability of a hazard being realised: almost every time the word risk is used in this article it is more appropriate (and more correct) to use the word hazard – as in ‘health risks’. As an example, nanoparticles causing lung irritation is a potential hazard, the risk of this occurring is a probability once the particles have lodged in the lung. Hazards are generally fairly easy to identify – or at least hypothesise about – determination of risk is much more problematic. The debate over genetically modified foods has been hijacked by those who wish to see the technology buried and a key tool in their armoury has been to obscure the distinction between a potentially serious hazard and the risk of its occurrence, which is often zero or vanishingly small. That is not to suggest that the risks associated with nanotechnology are always of such a magnitude: at present they are not well defined and that is a key question for this new(ish) technology.

P B Baker FRSC CChem
London, UK


I refer to the article ‘Giving fuel cells a vitamin boost’ (Chemistry World, January 2012, p30). I got the impression that the use of vitamin B12 was presented as a novel approach, which is not so: the history of the use of transition metal chelates and complexes in fuel cell cathodes originates from the 19th century when one W E Case was reported as using oxygenated blood in conjunction with carbon electrodes to produce an emf. The later literature abounds with examples based not only on cobalt as in vitamin B12 but also iron, nickel, copper, manganese etc, with many types of synthetic complexing/chelating systems.

I should also point out that with regard to catalysis of oxygen electroreduction, platinum is used due to its electrochemical stability rather than efficacy, as its exchange current density is quite low with regard to this reaction.

M Parrish FRSC
Morpeth, UK


I am a little worried about the implications that glass might be in aerial fireworks (Chemistry World, December 2011, p42). In my 60 year experience, this is really weird. Needless to say, I would like to see this material and also, if possible, find out who did the display and supplied the material. I feel that this is serious because such comments are potentially damaging to the industry. On the other hand, we often get letters accusing us of using mercury and cadmium (which is incorrect) and I usually add that more of these things come out of crematoria chimneys.

R Lancaster FRSC CChem
Cambridgeshire, UK


The news that an increased number of students are pursuing chemistry beyond 16 is encouraging (Chemistry World, January 2012, p44). I would like to think that some of the credit for this goes to the interesting and informative publications from the RSC’s education division. The details of career paths other than research and academia are very enlightening to students and their parents. Many parents do not understand or remember the importance of chemistry to everyday life: that is our food, colours in our clothes and the fuels that we rely on.

I have had the pleasure of attending some careers fairs for the RSC over the last few years and I am convinced that it is via such events that students can be helped in making the choice to study the chemical sciences.

P Day MRSC CChem
Bristol, UK


We were interested to read the recent letters in Chemistry World on the subject of chemistry and poetry. For some time, we have been interested in poetry relating specifically to British women chemists. Our findings so far have been published in the Journal of Chemical Education as: British women, chemistry, and poetry: some contextual examples from the 1870s to the 1940s. We would be most interested in receiving additional examples from your readers as we suspect there are many more poems to be found.

M and G Rayner-Canham MRSC
Memorial University, Canada


Correction: The mention of ‘Merck KGaA’ (Chemistry World, January 2012, p18) under the headline ‘Merck gets $950m Vioxx fine’ should have read ‘Merck & Co’.