From David Leaback, RSC historical group
Five years ago, at the Royal Institution launch of Simon Garfield’s book on Perkin’s ’Mauve’, the author told me that he thought Perkin’s grave was no longer at Harrow. I was surprised at that because I had visited it sporadically for over 30 years - partly to see that it was still there but also to remove the occasional self-seeded sapling with damaging potentials. I then made a special visit, and found the 93 year old grave without difficulty. The stonework was in remarkably good condition, and the inscriptions for all four Perkins buried there were clearly legible.
In your January 2005 edition, Eric Sie’s letter (p30) described the Perkin gravestone as ’completely overgrown and in a poor state of repair’. I promptly visited the site again. I took roughly five minutes to remove the low lying ivy from the grave’s front gravel, and found the 98 year-old stonework much as it was five years earlier. I did notice however, that all the gravestones thereabouts had acquired a thin green algal coating.
Even more noticeable was that the grave was no longer secluded but, having recently been denuded of its tree and other protection, it is now exposed not only to wind and weather, but also to a large, humming, pneumatic drill-shaking busy building development of luxury homes. Whatever may now be done for the Perkin grave, it is difficult to see how it will fare in its new exposed environment.
My every sympathy is with the preservation sentiments for Perkin memorials expressed by Sie. Indeed I struggled very hard, but in vain, to get some Perkin buildings preserved in Greenford and East London (see Chemistry in Britain, 1976, December p396), and have initiated memorial plaques relating to him there and in Oxford Street, London. However, I have come to realise how overwhelmingly enforceable the commercial imperatives can prove in such matters. I have long concluded that the best, most lasting memorials to such as Perkin, are those lodged in the minds of the coming generation - especially if they inspire the young to do great things for both chemical science and social benefit.
There is no easy answer to a non CO2 producing, mass energy production route. However biomass should not be dismissed as quickly as Prof. Ryan seems to do (Chemistry World, February 2005, p24).
Biomass is probably the best near term solution for energy generation. Chlorophyll is the most efficient method we have of capturing the sun’s energy and biomass is CO2 neutral. The CO2 released by the burning of one year’s harvest is recaptured by next year’s crop. Fermentation to produce ethanol or methanol is the best route to utilising the biomass energy; liquid fuels are the most efficient and convenient energy storage media.
In contrast, the benefits of the hydrogen economy are usually vastly overstated. Hydrogen is difficult to store in gaseous or liquid form and although the burning of it produces no CO2 the production of the hydrogen will, unless fission (or fusion energy) is used. The waste treatment of spent fissile fuel has major problems and fusion energy is still an ’if’ rather than a ’when’.
Wave, wind and solar energy can not be serious contenders for major energy generation. In all cases the energy is in a very dilute form that requires large area collection devices and their intermittent nature requires large energy storage systems.
Fuel cells offer the prospect of removing the Carnot cycle restrictions but despite the large amount of research they are still relatively inefficient and expensive. When the full cycle efficiency is considered, including the production of the fuel (hydrogen, methanol etc) the advantages in efficiency and reduced CO2 generation are minimal.
Unfortunately no government is taking global warming seriously. Until they do the funding for CO2 neutral energy generation will remain restricted.
B Culpin CChem MRSCChorley, UK
As the corresponding author of the paper addressed in the article Radioactive discharge measurement (Chemistry World, January 2005, p23), could I draw your attention to a major error in the final paragraph?
It states that ’Nevertheless, discharge rates could be reduced by using larger resin disks...’
This will be the first time an analytical method could be charged with reducing Sellafield’s discharges!
I would like to make it clear that it is the detection limits of the method that could be reduced by using larger resin disks.
J PatesLancaster, UK
I read Eric Sie’s letter about William Perkin’s grave with interest (Chemistry World, January 2005, p30).
Should anyone be considering work on restoring the grave, could I suggest that they contact an organisation called The Council for Care of Churches (Church House, Great Smith Street, London, UK, SW1P 3NZ) first for advice as to how to best go about this. For example, when removing ivy from a memorial, it should be killed first, otherwise the underlying stone can be damaged.
It is also worth noting that the family is primarily responsible for the grave’s upkeep and, obviously, anyone planning to do something must ask the parson’s permissions first. And finally the problem with overgrowth is that it grows back. So whoever clears the overgrowth would have to return to check the state of the grave on an annual basis.
J F Johnston CChem MRSCLondon, UK
Editor’s note: Chemistry World has been contacted by an independent organisation interested in helping to restore Perkin’s grave.
It may be interesting to your readers to know how this came about. During the war there was an intensive exchange of information between Britain and the United States on scientific and technological developments important for the conflict. To facilitate this, a British Central Scientific Office (BCSO) was established in Washington staffed by scientists from a variety of disciplines, chemistry included, from universities, government establishments etc. Their primary function was to report on the progress of American developments and transmit them to the relevant research units in the UK. I was director of BCSO for a number of years during which we also cooperated with scientists attached to several of the Commonwealth embassies.
As the end of the war approached we received more and more enquiries from British departments and agencies concerning American developments relevant to their impending post-war interests. I was also asked to arrange prestige visits to the US of some eminent British personalities, including Fleming to talk about the discovery of penicillin and also J M Keynes. For practical reasons I had been appointed as scientific councillor at the British Embassy, in addition to my functions at BCSO.
In the early peace period, the Foreign Office seemed to have little use for science attach?s, however, the then ambassador at our embassy in Stockholm, Lord Hankey, was convinced that one would be useful and a scientist was appointed to the embassy.
A King FRSCLondon, UK
The editorial by Karen Harries-Rees in the November 2004 issue quotes a House of Commons committee: ’the Research Assessment Exercise has been detrimental to the provision of science and engineering in the UK’. The difficulty is that funding of university departments is based on REA ratings of research activity. Apparently departments that provide excellent education without impressive research may receive low funding and in some cases be obliged to close.
The United States has numerous institutions of higher education that emphasise undergraduate education but have a low profile in research. Many of them are liberal arts colleges, often privately funded; others are sponsored by states. For example, in California we have 23 campuses of California State University as well as Occidental College, Pomona College, Whittier College and others. Data show that students who receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from one of these undergraduate institutions undertake graduate study to the PhD as often as those who did undergraduate work at a research university and often continue into strong careers as scientists.
Britain should consider recognition and funding of some universities as institutions primarily for education.
J F Bunnet MRSCSanta Cruz, US
As a retired, but over 50 year member, may I congratulate you on Chemistry World magazine. It is today the most readable and interesting publication in its long history and I have to be careful that my wife, a non-chemist, does not grab it and read it before me. Please keep up the good work.
The subject of university chemical departments closing is of current interest. Your magazine naturally reflects a definite change away from the academic chemistry I experienced in the late 1940s and 1950s. Chemistry is much more closely intertwined with other sciences today. The structure of its teaching therefore should change taking into consideration primarily the development of scientific knowledge and not any natural and human wish to hold to the past in terms of structures and bodies.
I have just completed reading the book Scurvy (S R Bown) and this clearly reflected the incorrect impact of ’politics’ on scientific investigation. The result being many unnecessary deaths over a period of three centuries. Let’s make sure the protesters recognise the need for progress of science in total. That will be progress for chemistry.
J P Slater CChem FRSCSydney, Australia
Your correspondent Joe Lee (Chemistry World, January 2005, p31) asked why the word ’chemotherapy’ has acquired an absurd pronunciation having a long first ’e’.
I believe that the general public might associate the prefix ’chemo-’ (rather than ’cheemo’) with ’chemicals’, in other words something to be avoided. A parallel case is the dropping of the ’N’ in NMR, at least in the medical profession. I am sure patients are happier receiving diagnostic treatment that does not have the word ’nuclear’ in its title.
M Brownsword CChem MRSCWest Hagbourne, UK