German Chancellor Angela Merkel received the Royal Society's King Charles II medal

I read with interest the news that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel had received the Royal Society’s King Charles II medal (Chemistry World, May 2010, p5). 

The news article goes on to say: ’Chemist Merkel is the third recipient of the award ...’. Here I unfortunately have to correct you: Angela Merkel is not a chemist, but a physicist by training. She studied physics at the University of Leipzig and holds a degree of Diplom-Physiker.  

Nevertheless, there is indeed significant overlap with chemistry. From 1978 to 1990 she worked at the Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences of the German Democratic Republic in East Berlin, where she obtained her PhD in 1986 with a thesis on theoretical studies on dissociation reactions. And finally, her husband is a chemist!  

W Koch FRSC 
Frankfurt, Germany  

Ed. Wolfram Koch is executive director of the German Chemical Society


Oh dear! Two episodes in one issue of skilful chemists effectively wearing their ’science hats’ but not their ’social hats’. And one can draw two incompatible conclusions.

1 Cyclotrimethylene trinitramine (Chemistry World, April 2010, p5) is possibly better known as RDX, a military high explosive. I’ve no doubt that this would make a good high energy-density power source, and equally no doubt that batteries containing it would sell very well in certain parts of the world. Is this an idea that should be pursued? Have the discoverers a responsibility not to pursue it? 

2 In the article on new designer drugs (Chemistry World, April 2010, p38), who are these chemists called ’we’, who claim for themselves the right to decide who shall synthesise what and, even worse, who shall buy what, use what or ingest what? 

I am entirely in favour of an education system which gives people the ability to understand, and to act on, scientific information. I am entirely in favour of knowledgeable people politely advising those who are less well-informed. But it should end there. A chemist, however prominent, has earned no right to judge how another person should live his or her life, even if that other person’s decisions appear foolish or dangerous. 

The argument, ’a mistake in classification is worth the saving of one young life’, is quite valueless. First, there can be no certain evidence that a compound, as yet not synthesised, has any measurable dangers - it might be the long-awaited harmless party drug! Second, this argument is related to the ’precautionary principle’ and can thus be used to forbid absolutely anything that people, especially young people, might wish to do. Young lives may be lost from skiing, diving, mountaineering, motorcycling, parachuting, riding, sailing, etc etc. Should we, as chemists, attempt to ban all these pastimes? How are we able to say that one method of having fun, with its associated dangers, is socially acceptable but another is not?

Please! In this case, educate, inform, then quietly tiptoe away! 

J Cannell CChem MRSC 
Northants, UK 


Many years ago I used to purchase, among others, Chemical Society Reviews. The reviews were excellent and you were kept up to date in your field as well as acquiring general knowledge in other areas of chemistry. However, an important aspect regarding the format of this journal was its size, which allowed you to slip it into your jacket pocket or handbag. The RSC publications available today are large and bulky and cannot be slipped into your pocket without damaging the soft back periodical.  

I propose that RSC publications such as Chemistry World and journals should be made readily available for e-reading devices. The e-reader could be especially designed for RSC members where the journals and magazines could be loaded into a memory unit or, perhaps like a digital camera, onto a digital card of up to 32 GB. The e-reader would need high definition with a strong sharp and clear colour format. The fonts should be large enough not to cause any eye strain. It should be slim and lightweight. There should also be internet facilities available to download scientific articles as well as other reading material from the RSC. A built-in search engine would also be useful in the e-reader. 

I am aware that you can download most of the RSC chemical publications to the computer and you can then print selected articles or pages, but the advantages of a specially designed e-reader are obvious. Many currently available e-readers such as the Kindle available from Amazon are not suitable for most RSC publications because they have no colour and lack many of the functions mentioned above. If such a multifunctional e-reader was available on the market I am certain that many other societies such as the American Chemical Society would implement the e-reader as well as other readily available formats.  

Also, an e-reader would surely increase RSC membership and would attract schoolchildren who could brush up on GCSE and A level chemistry without resorting to the computer night and day. 

I hope that I have explained the advantages of carrying a pocket e-reader without the need to carry many RSC journals, books and other chemistry publications. 

B Crammer EurChem CChem FRSC 
By email  

Reply from James Milne, editorial director, RSC Publishing:

Developing our content for electronic delivery is certainly a high priority for the RSC. The vast majority of journal readership is now online, with the number of articles downloaded each month measured by the million. Our books are also available electronically, with very strong uptake from libraries around the world. Chemistry World has been at the forefront of online delivery of magazine content through its page turning edition, which members can access via the website. These all work around established industry standard systems and software, providing both reliability and simple accessibility for users. Looking forward, it is unlikely that the RSC could invest in developing its own bespoke e-reader. However, we do look at developments as they take shape, and are currently looking at iPhone and iPad applications. One thing we are sure about is that content delivery will evolve significantly over the next few years, and the RSC plans to be a leader in the field embracing these technologies. 


Sir James Black (Chemistry World, May 2010, p5), who shared the 1988 Nobel prize for physiology or medicine for his discovery of adrenergic beta-blocking drugs and histamine H2 -receptor antagonists, could only have made those discoveries by working closely with medicinal chemists.  

Black joined Smith, Kline and French Laboratories in 1964 as the new head of pharmacology. Graham Durant FRSC (1934-2009) started working with him to design and synthesise compounds that would block those putative histamine receptors at which the known antihistamine drugs did not act (subsequently classified as histamine H2 receptors). The sixth compound that Durant made was a guanidine derivative of histamine, N - a -guanylhistamine, but it did not show any interesting activity. Four years later, however, after the chemistry effort had been considerably expanded and some 200 compounds had been carefully crafted but had tested negatively, this guanidine was retested under refined test conditions; it was then found to be a weak antagonist (actually a partial agonist) at the putative histamine H2 receptor. This compound therefore served as the lead structure, which subsequently led to burimamide (the first antagonist that was used to define histamine H2 receptors and shown to be effective in man) and, ultimately, to the drug Tagamet (cimetidine), which was synthesised under Durant’s supervision and revolutionised the treatment of peptic ulcer disease.  

For his outstanding contributions to this discovery, Durant was awarded the RSC Boots Medallion in medicinal chemistry in 1983. As a co-inventor of cimetidine he was inducted in 1990 into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

R Gannelin FRSC
Department of Chemistry, University College London, UK


The article about light emitting diodes (Chemistry World, April 2010, p42) was a very well written account. The author introduced readers to Shuji Nakamura, who ’cracked the puzzle’ and was able to produce a blue LED in 1992 thus enabling white light LEDs.  

However, it should have been mentioned that in 2006 Nakamura was awarded the second Millennium Technology prize by the Technology Academy Finland. In 2004, the first of these awards was presented to Tim Berners-Lee for his development of the world wide web. For those interested, see the award website is

G Sundholm FRSC 
Helsinki, Finland 


On the UN Environment Programme website the world’s chemists are implicitly portrayed as being a cause of harm to children. 

The UNEP Earth Day link flags up its theme for this year: ’Protect our children and our future’. 

Some of the Earth Day messages could be interpreted as industry bashing, and there is a perceived hint of unfair bias in some of the messaging. For example, the UNEP earth day link highlights the following:

’Protecting children from harmful chemical exposure since world war II, approximately 80,000 new synthetic chemicals have been manufactured and released into the environment, with 1500 new chemicals being introduced each year.’

The implication wrongly portrayed by UNEP is that manmade chemicals and the 1500 substances developed by chemists each year are somehow all harmful to children. 

UNEP unfairly ignores the overwhelmingly positive benefits to children of, for example, paediatric health medicines and other 

chemicals that make such a vast contribution to the enhancement of health, safety and the environment for all.

May I bring to the attention of the RSC, UNEP’s emotive and damaging decrial of the chemical industry.

C Prusakowski MRSC 
By email  

Ed: RSC chief executive Richard Pike has written to the executive director of UNEP, who is also UN Under-Secretary General, to convey the chemistry community’s strong objection to the unsupportable and misleading claims made by the organisation’s web statement -  Earth Day’s 35th Anniversary: Protect our children and our future .

In the letter, Pike writes, ’The accusatory nature of the text, coupled with the emotive heading, implies a general disregard by the international chemistry community for health, safety and environmental protocols, and a failure to recognise the extraordinary benefit, in enhancing quality of life and saving lives, that this sector has provided the world.’


The Gordon F Kirkbright bursary award is a prestigious annual award that enables a promising student or non-tenured young scientist of any nation to attend a recognised scientific meeting or visit a place of learning.

The fund for this bursary was established in 1985 as a memorial to Gordon Kirkbright in recognition of his contributions to analytical spectroscopy and to science in general. Although the fund is administered by the Association of British Spectroscopists (ABS) Trust, the award is not restricted to spectroscopists. 

Applications are invited for the 2011 Gordon Kirkbright Bursary. 

For further information contact John Chalmers (

The closing date for entries is 31 December 2010.

J Chalmers 
By email


Recent articles in Chemistry World have given the impression that geological disposal of all forms of radioactive waste is the only method for the treatment of nuclear waste (Chemistry World, January 2010, p13). It is a pity that such articles have paid little heed to chemical routes that may significantly lower the radiotoxic loading of nuclear waste. Clearly, geological disposal is an important engineering challenge but chemistry has an important role to play. 

Partitioning of radionuclides of minor actinides from inactive compounds is favoured by the EU, the US, France, Japan and the UK beginning to take this approach more seriously. The main long term radionuclides remaining after the PUREX Process, which removes the fissile nuclei of plutonium and uranium, involve americium and curium. Thus separation of americium(III) and curium(III) from the raffinate from the Purex Process would significantly reduce the radiotoxic load of the waste. Such a reduction would mean that the amount of highly active material confined to geological disposal would be greatly reduced. The Americans have the intention of reducing the load to as low a value as possible since the expense for the partitioning would be more than off-set by the reduction of the costs for geological disposal. Europe and other countries could soon follow this approach. 

Through the Euratom scheme, the EU has funded research into partitioning and transmutation, which involves turning the long-lived radioisotope into ones with much shorter half-lives using high energy neutrons. British groups such as the group at the University of Reading have been extensively involved in applying molecular design of heterocyclic reagents for the separation of americium from the inactive lanthanides, which are forty times more abundant in the waste stream than americium and curium together. Such a separation was regarded as being very difficult but substantial progress has been made within several projects funded within several European Framework Projects. Molecules prepared at Reading have been tested at European Nuclear Institutions and some heterocycles are proving to be able to carry out repeatedly the required separations even under intense radiochemical irradiation. It is interesting that the British EPSRC now regards the treatment and storage of nuclear waste as a priority target for research but care should be taken to consider partitioning (and transmutation) as part of a strategy for reprocessing nuclear waste (Chemistry World, May 2010, p5). 

M J Hudson CChem FRSC, Laurence Harwood, CSci CChem FRSC, and Frank Lewis MRSC 
Reading, UK


Like Pickard (Chemistry World, May 2010, p40), I am disappointed that the BBC did not find a Chemist to present the series but I am not amazed that a physicist, Al-Khalili, ’made an excellent job of it’. After all, chemistry is a physical science. The Royal Society of Chemistry (not of chemical sciences!) has a duty to re-asses the ’chemical sciences’ enterprise, which has blurred the entity of chemistry (thereby perhaps confusing A-level students, their advisors and their parents) in order to save and promote chemistry before it is far too late. 

PGN Moseley CChem, FRSC 
Surrey, UK