From Colin Britton

I was most interested in the editorial (Chemistry World, June 2006, p2), ’covering the usual sort of stuff’, and recognising that the topics listed, including air quality, synthetic dyes tomatoes, etc, are just some of the things that chemists get up to. 

I would like to bang the drum again, regarding public awareness of what chemists do (see Chemistry World, September 2005, p34). I am interested in work predicting corrosion in crude oil pipelines in the presence of carbon dioxide and water. This involves studies of carbonate scaling on steel surfaces. It is now possible to predict the likelihood of internal localised corrosion (pitting) as well as general or uniform corrosion.  

I doubt whether the public consider this when filling at the pumps. 

C F Britton MRSC
Kimbolton, UK


From Roger Brown

The article A Smart move for holograms (Chemistry World, May 2006, p54) contains a passing reference to ’Roche’s flu vaccine Tamiflu’. The anti-flu drugs Relenza and Tamiflu, both based on a synthetic modification of the neuraminic acid structure, are neuraminidase inhibitors which can suppress proliferation of flu viruses if taken at the first symptoms. But they are not vaccines. The distinction is important, because flu vaccines do exist but they cannot combat very new strains of flu. Neuraminidase-inhibiting drugs may be able to handle all strains.

I found the Shorter Oxford’s definition of vaccine a pretty piece of circular dictionary-speak, so instead I quote our Macquarie dictionary.

’Vaccine : (2) the modified virus of any of various other diseases [ie other than (1) smallpox] used for preventive innoculation.’

The description of Tamiflu as a vaccine has already appeared several times in Australian newspapers, but I hope not to see it again in Chemistry World.

R F C Brown MRSC
Melbourne, Australia


From Graeme Hobson

I and my colleagues (G W Winsor and J N Davies) were very interested in the recent piece about the taste of tomato fruit (Chemistry World, June 2006, p8). We collaborated over many years at the Agricultural and Food Research Council’s Glasshouse Crops Research Institute and concerned ourselves with a programme looking at the macro and micro constituents of tomato fruit.  

A string of publications resulted from our efforts. The apogee of my own career was to make the front cover of New Scientist  as a lead-in to an article entitled How the tomato lost its taste. 

Eventually I got some EEC money to look into why some cherry tomatoes were ranked tastier than others and this resulted in a paper involving glutamate. Donald Mottram at the University of Reading, UK, is probably aware of where we left the field and it is refreshing to see the subject pushed a little further and the application of more sophisticated apparatus than was available to us. 

It is good to see that the subject of tomato taste still excites interest in chefs, scientists and the general public. 

G E Hobson CChem FRSC  
Littlehampton, UK 


From Geoff Hallas

Alan Comyns’ letter about the demise of the home laboratory (Chemistry World, June 2006, p28) brought back happy memories of my own chemical ventures, at the age of 15 or so, and the actions of an inspiring teacher at school. 

At school, the class was introduced to aspects of the chemistry of nitrogen by a simple demonstration experiment whereby two boiling tubes, each containing a colourless liquid, were heated in such a way that the vapours could mix easily. This generated vast amounts of ammonium chloride and the teacher slowly disappeared in the thickening fog. There is no chance of that happening today.  

Also, there was the generation and explosion of a small amount of the nitrogen triiodide/ammonia complex. There were many more memorable examples, such as Pharaoh’s serpent, the thermite reaction, soap production and dye synthesis. 

In the sixth form, the same teacher introduced the class to organic chemistry by taking a bottle of beer out of his lab coat, pouring the contents into a flask and distilling off some of the alcohol to use in various chemical tests.

I was able to buy a small bottle of concentrated nitric acid from the local pharmacist and use this, in a spectacular way (outside), to generate a sample of plastic sulfur (and a cloud of nitric oxide). Once seen, never forgotten applies in such cases. 

I too deplore the dead hand of the present ultra-cautious culture in schools and elsewhere.  

G Hallas CChem
Huddersfield, UK 


From Derek Nonhebel

I am extremely disappointed at the dumbing down of Chemistry in Britain to Chemistry World. When I was still lecturing at Strathclyde University, UK, I found that there were many articles that could be given to students to research and give oral presentations. This was a very valuable resource.  

Alas, Chemistry World does not provide this. I also find that it is difficult for a retired chemist, who has been a member and fellow of the RSC for more than 40 years, to be kept up to date with new developments with text presented in an intelligent and thought-provoking manner. 

D Nonhebel CChem FRSC
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