Readers reminsce about the launch of Chemistry World 20 years ago, and ponder the problems of decarbonisation, PFAS and fireworks

The first Chemistry World

Congratulations to the staff of Chemistry World on the 20th anniversary of the magazine.

I worked on Chemistry World during its first seven years. Producing the first issue was fraught with difficulties which were all overcome, enabling the launch to take place on time.

Chemistry World would have a broader vision and appeal than its predecessor, Chemistry in Britain, and also a new location – moving from London to Cambridge. Most of the previous staff took redundancy, and so staff in Cambridge picked things up.

The new magazine was also to be produced using new desktop publishing software that was unfamiliar to everyone. We refused, however, to accept defeat and after training courses on the software and long hours spent writing, sourcing pictures and so on, we produced the first issue – how we did it will always be a mystery to me! I still treasure my Chemistry World mug which I received to commemorate the launch – probably worth a fortune now!

Going further back, I remember the launch of Chemistry in Britain when I was a student back in 1965. It was launched when the Chemical Society and the Royal Institute of Chemistry merged their two monthly publications, Proceedings of the Chemical Society and the Journal of the Royal Institute of Chemistry as a ‘taster’ of the two societies working together, prior to their merger (along with the Society for Analytical Chemistry and the Faraday Society).

The last 20 years have seen many developments of the magazine under a series of editors who have all contributed to the present Chemistry World, which has evolved from a simple members’ magazine to a chemistry information resource available in formats unheard of back in 1965, and even in 2004.

All the best to Chemistry World for the future.

Hamish Kidd
Milton, Cambridge

Many congratulations on your 20th anniversary. In January 2004 I had the privilege, as publisher, of writing the inaugural editorial of your first issue. The launch was exciting and daunting: a new team, new design, new approach, and a new – and incredibly supportive – editorial board, led by Les Ebdon. But would members approve?

The launch and subsequent success of the magazine, going on to win best monthly business magazine in the UK at the publishing industry awards, was hugely satisfying and a career highlight for me, but it was wholly due to a dedicated crew of journalists and production staff.

Even though I’m not a chemist, Chemistry World continues to show me why the chemical sciences matter, and how they and RSC members help to shape the world for the better. I look forward to learning more in the years ahead.

Thank you to those team members, past and present, who have made this possible.

Phil Abrahams
Via email

Decarbonising decisions

Paul Monks (chief scientific advisor, department of energy security and net zero) writes an excellent summary of what may be required technically to decarbonise our economy. Perhaps his role precludes comment on two key issues: the first (and perhaps more difficult to achieve than the technical matters he ably discusses) is the absolute need for political agreement on how to go forward, agreement which needs to be cross-party and crucially long-term. That does not mean that any policy agreed tomorrow should be set in stone, but it does mean that transition should not suffer the winds of political change on a five-year or shorter term basis.

Monks does not shy away from the truly vast numbers involved in reaching net zero – energy in hundreds of terawatt hours and feedstocks in the millions of tons epitomise the second issue (also political in the long term): the need to produce less carbon dioxide. For example, rather than try and make up the shortfall in liquid (fossil-based) aviation fuel, perhaps flying less should be encouraged.

Chemistry may help with some of the problems, but most of the solutions lie with politicians who will have to make difficult decisions and with those of us who will have to sacrifice some of our affluent lifestyles.

Peter Baker CChem FRSC
Prestwood, UK

Nothing new

The suggestion that PFAS is ‘a new pollution problem’ is seriously misleading. The concerns about perfluoroalkylated substances were first identified about 25 years ago, as a moment’s searching in any standard source will reveal. For example, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid was identified in 1998 by its manufacturers and by the US Environmental Protection Agency as being of concern in respect of its presence in the environment and in human tissues.

My concern is the very fact that 25 years have elapsed since; why is it only recently that the regulatory authorities around the world have been able to impose strong restrictions on PFAS? The pace of regulatory action is alarmingly slow. It was easily predictable and well-established in the early 2000s that without serious controls the PFAS would spread around the globe, via water.

The article closes ‘Time to get started’. In reality, the start happened a long time ago, but the end of regulatory action of sufficient strength seems still too far away.

Peter Fisk MRSC
Herne Bay, Kent

No chemists without fireworks

Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy’s letter about fireworks filled me with despair. I was enticed into a career in chemistry by the magic of fireworks. Looking back to the 1950s, when mercurous chloride was used in blue fires, and arsenic sulfides were also used, there have been great improvements in the eco-softness of many firework ingredients.

In my childhood we could buy fireworks ad lib. We could dissect them to see how they worked, and we could buy basic ingredients from friendly pharmacists, enabling us to make our own, guided by textbooks from the library. I am convinced that the inspiration of the pyrotechnics industry was an effective recruiting sergeant for many of the current members of the RSC.

The pyrotechnics industry in the UK has withered to almost nothing, not helped by intrusive safety regulations. As chemists, surely we should be advocates of the fireworks industry. There are some problems with fireworks, but to a community of chemists, their advantages are overwhelming.

Michael Baldwin FRSC
Via email

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