From John Haigh

It is excellent to be reminded that chemistry graduates have a good grounding for a range of careers, but the salaries listed in your article confirm the sad story that some of us in education have been bemoaning for years (Chemistry World, October 2006, p68).  

If graduates go into the front line of science (witness the forensic scientist and the pharmaceutical researcher) they earn significantly less than the journal editor and the science attach?. That’s why we are short of front-line scientists. 

J Haigh CChem MRSC
Sheffield UK


From David Dunn

Faith is that which enables a belief to be held when there is no evidence for that belief. Religion is based on faith; it must be since no objective evidence to support religious belief can be produced. This is completely opposite to science which is based on observation, postulation of laws and the use of these laws to predict future outcomes. 

Personally, I fail to see how these diametrically opposite positions can be held at the same time and feel that the suggestion that they can is not tenable (Chemistry World, September 2006, p2). 

D Dunn CChem FRSC
Sheffield, UK


From David Taylor

One of the major problems of science is that the existence of the universe appears to depend on the exact values of certain natural constants (Chemistry World, October 2006, p34).  

Two theories have been advanced to explain this. One is that there are uncountable separate universes with different values of these constants, and that we live in the one we do because it is the one that is possible for us. The alternative theory is that the constants are the way they are, because that is how a creator god chose them to be.  

If one applies Occam’s razor, one of the foundations of modern science, one is perhaps led to choose the second of these alternatives.  

D A H Taylor MRSC 


From Alan Comyns

The RSC could make the Cultural Campus of Burlington House more useful if it were to open its library to members of the other five societies, and invite the other societies to do likewise.  

I am a member of the RSC, and have occasionally used the library of the Geological Society. As an amateur archaeologist I would find the library of the Society of Antiquaries of London most useful. I was a botanist in my youth and would find much of interest in the Linnean Society. As for astronomy, who knows? There is a lot of chemical astronomy nowadays; cross-fertilisation via the libraries might accelerate its development. 

Once access to the libraries had been made communal the societies might start to collaborate in other ways - joint meetings? Parties? Culture has no limits. 

A Comyns
Chester, UK

Nigel Lees, manager, library & archival services, RSC, replies:  

All the society libraries informally cooperate and allow limited access to other society members. It is always up to the discretion of the librarian to decide what level of access they allow: some might let other members borrow a book, others will not. All, as far as I am aware, will let other members into the library to do research. 

The usual procedure would be a formal request from the member’s librarian for their researcher to use the facilities of another society library. In this age of electronic journals and databases we would have to be aware that licensing agreements may restrict other researchers using this material. 

If the councils of all the respective society libraries want closer, more formal, ties we would have to decide what we could let other members use and what would be restricted to the host society members only. For example, the RSC virtual library would be used by RSC members only.


From Monica Wilde

I have always put a piece of coal in a bowl of water full of lettuce. This seems to crispen the lettuce. Why? 

M Wilde 
By email


From Brian Wood

I enjoyed the discussion on Iupac nomenclature (Chemistry World, September 2006, p28). As a microbial biochemist I have special problems here. 

I teach students on an MSc course on food biotechnology. Most of the students are from overseas, and I am aware that many of the ’trivial’ names are anglo- or eurocentric. Thus I can reasonably argue that the formal names are less centred on a particular culture. However, using ethanoic acid leaves me with a problem when it comes to dealing with the acetic acid bacteria, because ethanoic acid bacteria are not found in most textbooks. 

I am not sure about the Iupac status of the traditional names for the biologically significant amino acids, but the abbreviations used for them in describing protein structures are too valuable to abandon.  

The mere thought of substituting systematic names for citric, lactic, tartaric etc acids in lectures makes me want to lie down in a darkened room. 

B J B Wood CChem FRSC
Glasgow, Scotland


From Chris Rhodes

The RSC Policy Bulletin  article entitled Growing energy  (Issue 4, autumn 2006, p5) notes the commitment to biofuels by the US and UK.  

To replace even 5 per cent of the fuel consumed annually in the UK with bioethanol would require turning over around 6300 square kilometres of arable land for the purpose, or 10 per cent of the total arable area of the UK, which would conflict with food production.  

The article talks about converting waste products from existing agriculture to ethanol, for example wheat straw. This sounds like a perfect solution. In fact, it would at best provide the equivalent of just 6.5 per cent of the total fuel currently used. At first sight, the figure seems rather feeble, and so it is. There is no way we can produce enough ethanol to match our current level of fuel use, either using biomass waste or without compromising food production. On the other hand, if we move to systems of energy efficiency: living in localised communities, which would cut fuel demand by 90 per cent, then 6.5 per cent of that remaining 10 per cent begins to look significant.  

I am reassured that survival is possible for the UK in terms of intrinsic fuel supplies, but only given a paradigm shift in the way we live our lives. 

Details of calculations on energy provision can be found on the Energy Balance website.

C Rhodes CChem FRSC
Reading, UK

Jeff Hardy, Environment, energy & sustainability forum, RSC, replies:  

The RSC agrees that energy efficiency is critical in enabling the UK to meet carbon emission reduction targets and to cut fuel demand. This was one of several key messages in the RSC response to the DTI energy review. 

However, if the UK is to meet the imminent targets of the renewable transport fuel obligation (5.75 per cent by 2010 and perhaps 10 per cent by 2015) without significant imports of biofuels and with minimum competition for arable land then biofuels must be produced from agricultural and forestry waste. Significant research challenges remain before biofuels from this route are economically competitive.