Readers’ thoughts and feedback

…And on the other hand

I enjoyed reading the letter by Teodor Silviu Balaban where he describes homochirality. However, I have to question his statement that the stereogenic centre in (L)-alanine is configured (R) in the Cahn Ingold Prelog (CIP) system.

I recall being told as an undergraduate that ‘all (L) series amino acids are (S) unless they contain an S’ – or sulfur atom – in which case the CIP priority rules take account of the higher atomic number of sulfur over oxygen, and the sulfur containing amino acids become (R) in the CIP system.

I hope my memory isn’t playing tricks on me.

Donald Cairns FRPharmS CSci CChem FRSC

Reply: Thank you very much for correcting my blunder when I wrote that natural L-(+)-alanine has (R) configuration. Your memory is perfect! The point I was trying to make is that stereochemical descriptors, like (D) and (L) or (R) and (S) are not related to the (+) or (–) sense of rotation of plane polarised light. (L)-alanine is correlated chemically to (D)-glyceraldehyde, thus they have same handedness, even if, nomenclaturewise, they seem to be on opposite sides of the mirror. 

Teodor Silviu Balaban 
Marseille France

Cocktail chemistry degrees

Alan Henderson’s letter stating his experience of a steady decline in graduates’ grasp of the fundamentals of chemistry poses an important question: what has led to this decline?

British education in general, and the BSc degree in particular, used to be recognised as one of the best, if not the best, in the world. 

In my own experience of the chemistry degree, the course of study in the good old days consisted of the main subject and two ancillary subjects; ideally, physics and pure mathematics. Some students chose to combine chemistry with biology subjects but suffered in their full grasp of chemistry as a physical science.

Nowadays, one hears of combinations which have no rationale and can only be described as ‘pick ‘n’ mix’, leading to ‘cocktail’ degrees. Some educationalists may support this trend in the name of multidisciplinarity, forgetting that the inclusion of such other subjects comes at the expense of depth in the main subject – chemistry – thus making the graduate’s contribution poor or ineffective. Multidisciplinarity is best served by a team of graduates, each with strong knowledge of their identifiable subject.

Industrial experience could be gained by attachment of undergraduates to relevant industries during the long vacations, except for in their final year of study.

As to the ‘alarming drop in standards of literacy’, sadly the drop in standards we are witnessing today extends beyond literacy.

Perhaps learned societies such as the Royal Society of Chemistry need to address these problems of ‘modernisation’ and try and restore British educational standards and excellence. It is not for politicians to do it.

Philip Moseley CChem, FRSC
Ewell, UK

Creighton’s overlooked role in Sers development

As a practitioner of the dark art of utilising surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (Sers), I read the recent article The Raman empire, which looked at the history of the  topic, with feelings of amusement and sadness. These emotions arose as, once again, I found myself reading a history of Sers that ignored the contributions to this field of my first boss, Alan Creighton (currently based at the University of Kent, UK). 

His role in the development of both the practical aspects of the subject and in building the theoretical framework for the mechanisms leading to Sers are too numerous to really do them justice in a short letter. 

But don’t just take my word for it; Alan has written a very concise and thorough history detailing the contributions made by the various groups and players in the Sers story.1

Simon Bloxham
Borehamwood, UK