Readers provide an update on a band keratopathy project, share their love… and then there’s fireworks

The art of love

Chemistry World cover February 2024

Chemistry World cover February 2024

Source: © Royal Society of Chemistry

The cover of the February 2024 issue of Chemistry World for ‘The chemistry of love’ is a delight! The depictions of the various interactions are amusing, various and insightful. ‘Let me count the ways!’ The only fault is of the images cut off at the edges.

I have searched the issue for acknowledgement of the artist. Please let us know the name – and let us see the full image!

Leslie Glasser
Denmark, Australia

Editor’s note: Thank you for this lovely feedback. The artist’s name is Victoria Tentler-Krylov.

The image on the cover is in fact the full image and intentionally bleeds off the edges to emphasise the breadth of the scene. But while we have no more of this image to share, you can see much more of Tentler-Krylov’s work at

Band keratopathy update

Since my ‘appeal for help’ letter was published the response, and subsequent progress, has been truly remarkable. Band keratopathy is a chronic eye disease that affects millions worldwide. It is the result of calcium phosphate deposits gradually building up on the cornea. The present surgical treatment requires the mechanical scraping away of the crystalline deposits followed by an acid wash with ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. Even with opiate eye drops, the post operative pain is agonising and prolonged (a minimum of two weeks). I sought the development of a humane eye drop-based treatment based on established oil industry scale dissolver and inhibitor technology.

Within seven days of publication, Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, professor of formulation science at the University of Reading, UK, and director of the Physicochemical, Ex Vivo and Invertebrate Tests and Analysis Centre (PEVITAC), had made contact and Alfonso Sabater of the University of Miami, US, a pioneering ophthalmologist, also expressed a strong interest.

A longstanding contact, Kostas Demadis, a professor at the University of Crete, who has expertise in crystal growth inhibition, also joined the embryonic research team. His contribution could be in the chemistry underlying the pathological crystal growth process and the potential chemical approaches to mitigate it. Fiona Meldrum, professor at the University of Leeds, UK, has also come onboard. She has relevant expertise in materials chemistry, crystallisation, biomineralisation, bio-inspired crystal growth, calcium carbonate and microscopy.

At the end of January, a masters student began a band keratopathy-related research project under the joint supervision of professor Khutoryanskiy and his coworker Roman Moiseev, a qualified ophthalmologist, lecturer in pharmaceutics at the University of Reading, and business development officer at PEVITAC.

Taken altogether, these are exciting and promising developments. Is this topic of interest to big, or little, pharma?

Nevin Stewart FRSC
Guildford, UK

The great fireworks debate

I was unhappy to read Michael Baldwin’s letter about fireworks. While some areas of human endeavor might be over regulated it is hard to argue against many of the regulations that govern explosives.

It is easy to view the past through rose tinted spectacles. Having an academic interest in the recycling of unwanted pyrotechnics (mainly marine distress flares) I know that the dissection of fireworks is an activity during which accidents can occur and an explosives licence is required to do it legally. In Hawaii in 2011 an accident killed five men who were dismantling fireworks while using a method that I would describe as ill-advised.

During the assembly of fireworks and other items that use energetic materials it is possible both to have an accident and also to create an item which will behave in unexpected and horrible ways.

I knew a man (he died in the 2010s) who as a teenager operated an illegal firework factory. He stole gunpowder (blackpowder) in the form of howitzer charges in the late 1940s. He spent one summer holiday working out how to get the loudest firecracker for the smallest amount of blackpowder before operating his factory over several other summer holidays.

Emulating Henry Ford, he had a production line manned by other boys making bangers, paying them with product instead of money. He then took the bangers to school and sold them. What he did was illegal – the more interesting question is perhaps ‘how many laws did he violate’.

In his case I suspect that his shrewd choice to design the banger to give the loudest bang for the smallest blackpowder charge would have made them a bit safer, but I would still not recommend emulating this man.

Mark Foreman
Gothenburg, Sweden

It seems that all too frequently we hear from those who seek to curtail activities on the supposed basis of health and safety and, more recently, effects on the climate. The views of Professor Khutoryanskiy are a case in point.

His suggestion that ‘the accessibility of fireworks to the general public has become nearly limitless’ is plainly wrong, with age restrictions, limits on explosive content and type, and far fewer retail outlets when compared with the past. Injuries are also much reduced.

In the case of particulate and gaseous emissions, the point is that fireworks are discharged outdoors, where emissions are transient and quickly dispersed. Anyone with a respiratory illness can simply avoid firework displays, just as they would any dusty process such as harvesting crops. Furthermore, given that the explosive content of fireworks is measured in tens of grams at most, the sporadic carbon dioxide emissions must be miniscule by comparison to the combustion processes used in heating and transport.

No doubt it would be possible to assemble some sort of evidence of harm to health from fireworks, especially on the principle that you find what you look for, but that is to ignore peoples’ pleasure and entertainment from fireworks.

Also, I suggest that a fascination with the chemical reactions involved has been at the root of many chemists’ early interest in chemistry. It certainly was with me. Anyone that has attended a schools’ lecture on fireworks, for example by the Reverend Ronald Lancaster FRSC, must have been struck by the enthusiasm of the young audience. In my view, denying such activity on tenuous health and safety grounds is bound to have a negative effect on attracting new entrants into a profession that sorely needs them.

Keith Benjamin MRSC
Thatcham, UK

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