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Category → IYC2011

Celebrating Chemistry in the Year of the Rabbit

Happy Chinese New Year! Or Gong Xi Fa Chai

(if, like me, you speak Mandarin), or Gong Hey Fat Choy (if you speak Cantonese).

Credit: Shutterstock

People who are born in the Year of the Rabbit are said to be mild and generous, gracious and dignified. They are noted for their compassion and strong sense of sympathy. They are also alert and persevering, making for good work and life companions.

According to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Rabbit arrives every 12 years: 1831, 1843, 1855, 1867, 1879, 1891, 1903, 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 199, and, of course, 2011.

Chemistry Nobel Laureates who were born in the Year of the Rabbit include:

Ada E. Yonath (b. 1939)
Yonath shared the 2009 Chemistry Nobel with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz for their studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.

Alan G. MacDiarmid (1927–2007)
MacDiarmid shared the 2000 prize with Alan Heeger for their discovery and development of conductive polymers.

Sir Harold W. Kroto (b. 1939)
Kroto shared the 1996 prize with Robert F. Curl Jr. and Richard E. Smalley for their discovery of fullerenes. Continue reading →

Cocktails, Dinner, and Chemistry

Posted on behalf of senior correspondent Marc Reisch.

Leading in to the U.S. kickoff of the International Year of Chemistry last night, about 175 chemical industry movers and shakers gathered at the Philadelphia headquarters of the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF). At his remarks just before dinner, Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris got it right when he noted that lauding the benefits of chemistry to an audience including leaders in science and industry was like preaching to the converted.

And what an audience it was. Among the industry leaders present were Pierre Brondeau, CEO of FMC, Stephanie Burns, chairman of Dow Corning, and Craig Rogerson, chairman of Chemtura. Others at the dinner to welcome in the year of chemistry included Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council, and Nancy Jackson, president of ACS. Even the mayor of Philadelphia, Michael A. Nutter, made an appearance and professed his enthusiasm for chemistry, though he confessed that the effort to memorize the periodic table of elements in college pretty much ended his pre-med career path.

Earlier in the evening, guests were able to enjoy cocktails and meander about the spacious CHF building and its many science exhibits. They could also choose from among several lectures. One, by Washington Post columnist Jason Wilson, was a talk on the history of the once banned alcoholic beverage absinthe. Johns Hopkins University professor Lawrence Principe, discussed 16th and 17th century European books intended to make alchemy a respectable pursuit.

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IYC launch: All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia

The celebration begins today.

Today marks the beginning of the International Year of Chemistry (IYC), a year-long world celebration of chemistry and its contributions to improving the human condition. I’m really hoping that this celebration brings attention to the fact that chemicals are everywhere – WE are chemicals – and raises a level of public awareness to address chemophobia.

For me, of course, the IYC is a chance to celebrate the chemicals that occur naturally as the result of biochemical secondary metabolism of plants, fungi, bacteria, marine organisms, and other sources that have given us drugs that improve the length and quality of life.
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International Year of Chemistry Opening Fiesta

After Thursday’s sequence of enthusiastic speeches that repeatedly declared that chemistry can solve all the worlds ailments (health, food security, energy etc), the second day of the opening ceremonies of the International Year of Chemistry at UNESCO headquarters in Paris got a bit more concrete on how this actually might happen, with talks from academics and industry leaders on how chemistry can improve nutrition, agriculture, medicine and materials for alternative energy.

But amidst the celebratory feeling in the main auditorium, a different kind of discussion happened at the press conference yesterday that is probably epitomized by reporter questions that went alot like: “So how do you address the criticism that this is all just a self-congratulatory jamboree for the chemical industry?” or “Exactly how is chemistry going to save the world?”  The answer IYC organizers gave was not precisely specific or clear, and it landed hard in the press room. I suspect this isn’t the last time similar questions will be voiced.

The IYC is an opportunity for chemists to celebrate their discipline, but it’s also clear that organizers also want to redeem the reputation of chemistry in the minds of a public that often sees the science as a source of pollution. IYC organizers said they want to remind the public that chemistry is the source of materials many people can’t live without—headache remedies and other drugs, toothpaste, iPhones or your favourite pair of sneakers.

To do so, there have been lots of launches in the past two days.  There was the video aimed to make 16-20 year-olds think chemistry is sexy. Or the announcement of  the world’s first and largest concurrent measurement of pH and chemical content of local water supply by elementary and high school students from Buenos Aires to Bombay. NASA is here promoting it’s earth observatory images. And of course many people were enthused about January 18th’s “Women Sharing a Chemical Moment in Time” (cue Whitney Houston) where female chemists met at 8 am in time zones around the world.

So chemists, celebrate and be joyous. But judging from the questions posed by the only non-chemists here at the opening ceremonies—the media—it might behoove you to be prepared to get specific about how chemistry benefits humanity if you want the excitement to spread outside the chemistry community. And don’t forget to temper those festive chemical soliloquies with some of the risks of molecular science, at the same time as you celebrate many of the benefits.