From Ron Denney 

It was a great pleasure to read the article on Research Triangle Park (RTP) in North Carolina, US (Chemistry World, September 2006, p62). 

I was fortunate enough to see the Research Triangle in its early days when it was struggling for success. At the time (1965-1967), I was a post-doc at Duke University. By then any brain drain from North Carolina had been reversed because there were at least five other British post docs also researching in chemistry at Duke University alone and we were well aware of others at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Most of us returned to the UK in 1966 and 1967, bringing back new skills and knowledge. Had chemical and pharmaceutical research companies developed at RTP at earlier dates it is highly likely that more UK post docs would have stayed.  

Any country or region seeking to develop a research park should study how it was achieved at RTP. It required confidence, enthusiasm and long-term planning. I greatly enjoyed and benefited from my two years at Duke and on my periodic return visits have seen the RTP expanding progressively over the years. It is a great success story.

R C Denney
Sevenoaks, UK


From John Rees  

The news item on the recent report from the Committee on radioactive waste management (CoRWM) notes that the earliest a repository for higher activity wastes could be constructed, filled and closed is about 100 years (Chemistry World, September 2006, p8, 36).  

CoRWM found that such a programme would gain public confidence only if it could be delayed at any stage, for example, if it were felt at the earliest point of closure that more needed to be done to demonstrate long-term safety. 

CoRWM concludes that retaining public support is so important that a project timescale of up to a few hundred years may be necessary.  

Should the UK embark on a project lasting for one or more centuries when the pace of technical change is so great? Geological disposal is likely to have been superseded by the year 2100 by a technology that cannot be predicted today.

The main conclusion one can draw from this is that the dilemma surrounding the long-term management of radioactive wastes has still to be solved. 

Oxford, UK


From David Bradley

Using balance of risk arguments it may be possible to persuade a sceptical public to accept a repository for short-lived nuclear waste in their back yard. After all, radioactivity is a fact of our natural environment and the chemistry of radioisotopes is fairly well known.  

I am not persuaded, however, nor do I think will be the public, that wastes containing significant quantities of plutonium can ever be ’disposed of’ in the same way (Chemistry World, September 2006, p8, 36). Plutonium was not known in nature before 1943 and little is known about its environmental chemistry particularly in circumstances where the element is mixed with other radiation-affected material. 

The UK Committee on radioactive waste management seems to have missed the point that intermediate level waste (ILW) cannot be treated as a single entity. For decades, the various ILW waste streams have been separately recovered, the material conditioned and the product placed in relatively robust interim storage. To accept disposal now for this material could misdirect research away from the fundamentals of radiation chemistry and jeopardise acceptance of the disposal option for any radioactive material.  

The public has been consulted on this issue although I doubt the value of consultation without understanding. The government must makes up its mind on ’new build’ without the encumbrance of the ’not in my back yard’ brigade. 

I trust that the UK meeting, on long-term nuclear waste management, will enable truly scientific consideration of all the facts and demonstrate that the nuclear industry, warts and all, is not a lost cause.  

D Bradley CChem FRSC
Liverpool, UK


From Peter Nelson

A feature of the debate between creationists and evolutionists (Chemistry World, September 2006, p2) is that both sides are so certain that they are right.  

While there is no doubt that evolution takes place on a small scale, the evidence for it having taken place on a large scale (eg for reptiles changing into birds and mammals) is more evenly balanced. Thus, while evolution accounts for the sequence of fossils in many rocks, there are relatively few fossils of species that could be transitional. Again, we know from genetics how mutations can occur, but the number of base pairs in the DNA of a cell does not always reflect evolutionary development (eg amphibians have a higher number than reptiles and reptiles than birds). The DNA of chimpanzees and humans differ by only 1-2 per cent, but this corresponds to as many as 3-6 x 107 base pairs per haploid cell. More humility is surely needed on both sides. 

P G Nelson MRSC
Hull, UK


From Keith Corrie

The statement that ’thriving religious belief should not worry us’ is appalling (Chemistry World, September 2006, p2). The current instabilities in the world clearly demonstrate the effects of continuing belief in the supernatural. Chemistry World should be a bastion of empirical thinking and decry any increase in the disastrous pastime called religion.

As Baron D’Holbach says, ’The ignorance of nature gave birth to gods; knowledge of nature is destined to destroy them.’ 

K D Corrie MRSC


From Colin Cook

John Cannell asks what caused the blue lines that appeared after he put a plate repaired with Araldite in the dishwasher (Chemistry World, August 2006, p32).  

This is, of course, the famous indophenol reaction, in which an amine reacts with a phenol under alkaline oxidising conditions to give a blue colour. The amine is the hardener for the epoxy, and cannot have been completely used up in the reaction. The phenol derives from the epoxy resin, which is based on bisphenol-A, and must have contained an impurity, since the active site is opposite the hydroxyl group, which in bisphenol-A is occupied. The alkali and oxidising agent derive from the dishwasher powder.  

Cannell’s discovery is interesting, as indophenols are usually fugitive, and being on the red side of blue, his compound might even have commercial significance. Phthalocyanines are also blue and very stable, but are on the green side. 

C Cook CChem MRSC  
Basildon, UK


From Ken Jones

Roger Brown’s letter stated that the anti-flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza are based on the synthetic modification of the neuraminic acid structure (Chemistry World, July 2006, p22). This immediately stirred a long distant memory, hopefully accurate, that may be of interest to historians. 

About 50 years ago, I was lab assistant to a brilliantly imaginative synthetic organic chemist in what was then ICI’s Pharmaceutical Division in Blackley, Manchester.  

The task in hand was to dice manually about 200 kg of bovine maxillary glands, with a target of obtaining about 1.5g of what was termed at the time ’acetyl neuraminic acid’. It appeared that this chemical had remarkable properties and was able to prevent the onset of flu in humans if taken orally, clearly a major target for any pharmaceutical company. The chemical structure of acetyl neuraminic acid was unknown at the time, but had been partially resolved by X-ray diffraction (later understood to be by Dorothy Hodgkin at Oxford University). 

In those pre-chromatography days, mainly wet chemical analysis was de rigueur. Although the molecular structure was not elucidated from this work, when eventually the structure was revealed (from X-ray diffraction data), I understood the hypothesised structure was within a cat’s whisker of the correct configuration.  

It is gratifying to learn that although it has taken some 50 years for commercially successful products based on this entity to emerge, the ultimate objective targeted so long ago has today been achieved. 

K Jones


From Tom Inch

In February 2002 the entire issue of Pure and Applied Chemistry  (2002, 74, 187) was given to a report by Pearson and Magee providing a detailed evaluation of chemical weapon destruction technologies. This report was the output of an international team and was intended to provide guidance to all those responsible for destroying chemical weapons. It describes the chemistry underlying the technologies as well as the scope of the problems. 

It is perhaps unfortunate that this important reference was not given in the article on disposing of chemical weapons (Chemistry World, September 2006, p38).  

T D Inch CChem FRSC