Bumblebee attitudes, sound theories and hope for hydrogen.

Bee attitudes

As a chemist with an interest in bumblebees I was interested to read the twoarticles on the current controversy concerning neonicotinoids.

What seems obvious but does not appear to be fully appreciated, not least by some farmers, is that if you introduce a systemic pesticide into a plant from seeds or through the soil or leaves, it is possible that it may affect non-targeted species. Bees and other non-targeted pollinating and non-pollinating insects may be affected, with implications for food supplies and the food chain. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that the effects on bees are not solely down to pesticides but to many pressures, including land use, climate change, parasites and pathogens. However, it seems likely from published research that pesticides are involved. Therefore it is disappointing to read the responses from the agrichemical companies that seek to discredit the research by suggesting it has been assessed at inappropriate levels, and that before action is taken farmers should create wild field margins to provide alternative food sources. Clearly these comments are designed to distract and delay and do nothing for the credibility of these companies. 

Presumably Syngenta, Bayer and others were required to submit studies on the possible wider effects of neonicotinoids in order to obtain approval to market them. Why is it that these studies have not been published as part of the current debate? 

In the last few days the EU has announced a two year moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids, which seems to be a sensible approach provided work can be done within this period to enable a balanced decision to be made at the end. To achieve this we need the agrichemical companies and researchers to be working together and the results to be openly published.

M Welch CChem FRSC

Warwick, UK

A sound theory 

In his article ‘Ilkley moor bar TNT’, David Jones wrote about the propagation of sound in the atmosphere. He hypothesised that an atmosphere of layered density could give rise to a parabolic deflection of sound.

Since I am not a physicist, I do not know whether the density differences in the barometric formula would lead to sufficient differences in sound velocities to account for such an effect. However, from my own experiences with sound originating from a distant (5–10km) source, I know that such phenomena are strongly weather dependent. Sound from these remote sources is heard when misty or highly humid conditions prevail. I presume that sound has a higher velocity in humid than in dry air. With humid air on the ground overlayed by dry air, this could lead to focusing of sound by a sort of refraction, similar to light in a glass fibre.

I have no idea whether this tentative explanation will stand up to scientific scrutiny.

R Hoffmann MRSC

Marburg, Germany

Hydrogen hope

In opposition to ‘False economy’, at the time of conception of the ‘hydrogen economy’ the idea was limited to the electrolysis of water. The chief investigator, John Bockris, is an electrochemist whose wild theories of cold fusion reduced his credibility, leading to abandonment of hydrogen production and to endowment of battery research. Since the electric grid puts more emphasis on batteries it makes sense to find different ways to yield hydrogen, such as photocatalysis, biomimetics and most recently hydrogen extraction from xylose (instead of ruthenium catalysis of methanol). All of these can be implemented in an on-board fuel system where electrolysis can act as a supplemental supply of hydrogen.

J Cox

Lexington, Virginia, US

Singer supplemental

I was interested to read about Konrad Singer. However, I feel that his early work as a research student under Stotherd Mitchell should not be forgotten. At Glasgow, where he was known as Konrad Schwarzwald, he worked on the photolysis of chloronitroso compounds. I became aware of this work in the 1950s when I was a PhD student under Mitchell.

J Davidson CChem FRSC

Moffat, UK