From Peter Plesch
I wish to challenge Ted Nield’s Comment piece (Chemistry World, March 2007, p38). As chair of the Association of British Science Writers, he should know better than to lump together science and technology.
Science is about finding and developing ideas about Nature in the widest sense, and increasing knowledge and understanding of its workings. Technology is about making things, wellbeing, and money. These two domains of human activity are essentially bound together and need each other. Neither is more worthy than the other, but they are different activities, as everyone who practises either of them must know.
I also disagree strongly with Nield about the public understanding of science, which is neither discredited nor old fashioned as he pretends, but is ever more important if democracy is to have a chance of continuing.
P H Plesch CChem FRSC
Keele University, UK
From Anthony Milward
Ted Nield rightly points to the duplicity, to say nothing of the ineffectiveness of the government inspired Public understanding of science (Pus), and now Public engagement with science and technology (Pest) initiatives in achieving informed debate on any of the currently important issues confronting society.
Governments increasingly rely on catch phrases to put across the current wisdom, and this is particularly insidious in the fields of science and technology, the two frequently being confused. This helps to disguise the government’s desire to starve fundamental research of funding and channel resources towards goal oriented projects of commercial value.
Most non-scientists are only really comfortable in areas where opinion (informed of course) is king. Their comfort zone ends where knowledge is defined and built on a self consistent structure of experimentally verifiable models. As Nield implies, they would not be grateful if expected to retrain to encompass such discipline.
It is difficult to be an apologist for Pest or Pus. Despite living in a time when there was never greater access to technical information, I can see no way, in the current cultural environment, that Joe Public will tool itself up to the challenges of Pest. This is particularly dangerous in view of the enormous resources being put into the campaign to bring down carbon emissions on the debatable belief that atmospheric carbon dioxide level is the main driver of climate change rather than the result of it.
A F Milward CChem MRSC
From J D R Thomas
In the letter entitled Every breath we take Albert Moulder wonders how much carbon dioxide human beings produce just by breathing, and queries whether the world now has so many people that we are slowly killing it off (Chemistry World, April 2007, p36). We raised this matter 10 years ago by assessing that around 1 kg per day of carbon dioxide is produced by the breathing of each human being (J D R Thomas, Science and Technology of Environmental Protection, 1998, 5, 16).
Such breathing by a billion human beings produces carbon dioxide equivalent in amount to the output of several fossil fuel power stations.
Regarding human activities and the increasing demand for enhanced living standards, society ought to place far more emphasis on limiting world population for controlling carbon dioxide emissions. There is also a positive need for conserving world resources of fossil fuels.
J D R Thomas CChem FRSC
From Mike Blandamer
Chemistry World readers may be interested to know that I have placed all of my lecture notes from the University of Leicester, UK, on a free public website hosted on the university web pages. To do this, I teamed up with Joao Carlos Reis of the University of Lisbon, Portugal.
I created the website, A student notebook for topics in thermodynamics, after retiring three years ago, having been a chemistry academic for over 30 years. Access to over 350 topics is free and each topic can be downloaded and printed.
None of the material is copyrighted; users are only asked to acknowledge the source.
The site receives over 500 hits a week and in one three-month period in the past year received over 40,000 hits from students in 65 countries.
M Blandamer CChem FRSC
From Graham Warrellow
I’d like to make Chemistry World readers aware of the UCB Awards for Excellence in Postgraduate Chemistry [UCB is a UK biopharmaceutical company]. These awards have been created by UCB to recognise, encourage and support students undertaking academic research.
We are inviting applications for the inaugural awards, which are open to final year and penultimate year postgraduate students in the fields of organic synthesis, medicinal chemistry, biological chemistry and natural product synthesis, and is to be held at our Cambridge research site on 6 September 2007.
Applicants will need to submit a one-page abstract of their research. Successful candidates will then be asked to deliver a short presentation (20-25 minutes) or a poster to an audience of UCB and external scientists. A panel of senior UCB scientists will award €1000 (ca £680) for the best presentation and €500 for the best poster. The deadline for the submission of abstracts is 29 June 2007. For more information please contact us via chemistryaward2007@UCB-group.com
UCB, Slough, UK
From Kiran Kamtekar
I’ve always found Chemistry World a very useful reference guide. However, my collection is starting to become quite space-consuming. As we move further into the 21st century I was wondering whether there were any plans to make Chemistry World available in electronic format - preferably as an alternative to receiving it in paper-form. This would make it far easier to archive back issues and prevent waste. I realise that lots of people will still want simply to have Chemistry World arrive in the post but I think the option to download issues in pdf format would be popular too.
K Kamtekar MRSC
Ed: You can read daily science, business and policy news on the Chemistry World website, which also hosts an e-edition of the magazine. Feature articles can be downloaded as pdf documents.
From Robert Moore
The drug Lipitor is described in a news item as an ’obesity blockbuster’ (Chemistry World, March 2007, p16). Until recently, I have been prescribed Lipitor for lowering my blood cholesterol. Perhaps that could explain that in spite of overeating, over drinking and under exercising, I still haven’t put on weight!
R E Moore, CChem MRSC
Rustenburg, South Africa
From John Lynes
I understand that the great granddaddy of all foul-smelling chemicals is isovaleraldehyde (Chemistry World, April 2007, p40), so much so that humans cannot tolerate the odour and have to evacuate the contaminated area. Attempts at cleaning are futile and it can take up to three years for the odour to dissipate. I’ve often thought what a useful tool it would be to flush out terrorists.
J Lynes MRSC
From Julian Overnell
The editorial in the April issue of Chemistry World (p2) dismissed the television documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, as a ’discredited television programme’. In fact it contained a real gem: the mechanism whereby increased sunspot activity can cause warming of the earth.
The ’Maunder Minimum’ of sunspot activity (1645-1715) corresponded to the coldest part of the little ice age (see: J A Eddy, Scientific American, May 1977, 80). Good correlations between solar activity and climate have been published, eg E Friis-Christensen and K Lassen, Science, 1991, 254, 698 and K Lassen and E Friis-Christensen, Journal of Atmospheric and Terrestrial Physics, 1995, 57, 835.
What has hitherto been missing was the mechanistic connection between solar activity and climate.
If the greenhouse-gases-explain-it-all adherents cannot explain where all the carbon dioxide went to during the little ice age and how it all came back again afterwards, then they should try putting solar activity into their models. We can’t alter the sun’s activity, but we desperately need to know the magnitude of the effect of its changes on our climate. It may be better to commit large resources to prepare for climate change, rather than trying to hold back the tide.
J Overnell CChem MRSC
From Peter Dryburgh
The editorial concerning climate states that the recent television programme, The Great Global Warming Swindle, gave succour to climate change sceptics. Since the specific aim of the programme was to offer an explanation of why the climate was changing, your assertion is misleading.
The word heresy has fallen out of fashion - the new equivalent seems to be climate-change denial. I have no doubt that any mention of nudity to Hans Anderson’s fictional emperor would nowadays be referred to as clothing denial.
P M Dryburgh CChem FRSC
From John Davis
As good professionals we should surely accept the overwhelming evidence provided by other professionals, the climatologists, who seem convinced that (a) it is real and (b) that the recent, historically unprecedented rate of temperature rise is due largely to mankind’s addiction to fossil fuels.
Indeed it would be odd if it were not so. Injecting huge quantities of CO2, water vapour and other combustion products into the atmosphere - and this now occurring increasingly at high altitude with only a slow rate of removal - would be bound to have an impact.
What is crucial now is for chemists to use their knowledge (CO2 as a feedstock etc) to help reduce the problem now rather than leave future generations to try to deal with it. Meanwhile, as the editorial notes, the recent biased TV programme must not be allowed to give encouragement to the ’head in the sand’ brigade (anyone for the Flat Earth Society?)
J B Davis FRSC (also a member of the Royal Meteorological Society)
From John Newbery
I read with interest the letter from William Butler about the reinstatement of Chemistry as a study programme at Mid Kent College, UK (Chemistry World, April 2007, p37). Science at the University of Greenwich is also based in the Medway area and we are continuing in the tradition started by Woolwich Polytechnic of offering chemistry and chemistry-related programmes in both full time and part time modes.
We are currently having a ?1.5 million laboratory upgrade of our chemistry teaching areas and have also been given an extra ?120,000 (per annum) from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to support chemistry teaching. We will be very happy to offer to those graduates of the Mid-Kent College HND programme a route through to an honours degree as we are the only institution in Kent that still teaches chemistry to degree level.
J Newbery CChem FRSC
Head of the School of Science, University of Greenwich, UK
From George Gamlen
How sad it is to see that The Times devoted more space to the obituary of Al Cotton, ’the pre-eminent inorganic chemist’ than Chemistry World did (April 2007, p7).
G Gamlen CChem FRSC
From Dhrubo Jyoti Sen
The title Chemistry World suggests to me that the news items should be from all corners of the globe. The appointments section should cover all the probable positions from different organisations of the world but currently centres on the UK.
Second, the editorial board of Chemistry World should contain people from around the world.
D J Sen CChem MRSC
Ed: CW is taking an increasingly international perspective of the chemical sciences - this issue boasts reports from India, China, Germany and the US, along with science done in labs around the globe - and our international advisory board represents many different countries. Since our readership is largely based in the UK, the appointments section reflects that - however, our forthcoming launch of Chemistry World: China (see Editorial) marks the first of what we hope will become a series of international editions and collaborations.
From Jeremy Hodge
I was interested to read that the warriors and horses of China’s terracotta army contain pollens with different compositions (see Chemistry World website). I thought that the amount of pollen from different types of plants and trees varies with the time of year as well as geographical location. Perhaps the horse that was analysed was made in the spring, and the warrior in the summer?
J Hodge CChem FRSC
Ed: According to the authors of the study, although there might be seasonal variation in pollens in the uppermost layer of the soil, they analysed pollen compositions deep in the soil used to make the terracotta. This soil would have formed over many years, erasing any seasonal variation.
From Peter Kirk
I have read that it is the practice for some market gardeners to grow fruit and vegetables under glass, in an enriched CO2 atmosphere, to produce better yields and to extend the growing season. This spring I notice that the daffodils and hyacinths in my back garden appear to be taller than they were in previous years. It seems that Le Chatelier may be coming to our aid.
P G Kirk CChem FRSC