Celebrating Chemistry

Solutions: International Year of Chemistry panel mulls 21st-century challenges.

February 7, 2011 - Washington, DC

From Chemical & Engineering News, February 7, 2011, p. 7

By Marc S. Reisch

About 300 intrepid souls braved Philadelphia’s ice and cold on February 1 to celebrate the U.S. kickoff of the International Year of Chemistry (IYC). The gathering, which took place just five days after the inaugural world celebration in Paris (C&EN, Jan. 31, p. 8), featured a panel of industry and academic leaders in a discussion of how chemistry can help solve pressing social and economic problems.

“We’re doing everything we can think of to draw attention to chemistry—its science, its history, its creativity, its technologies, its contributions to the common good, its limitations, its challenges,” said Thomas R. Tritton, president of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, which hosted the Philadelphia panel.

Underwriters for the U.S. event included the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Chemistry Council, and the National Academies. The United Nations designated 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry to recognize the science for its essential contributions to knowledge, environmental protection, and economic development. . . .

Daniel G. Nocera, professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led a panel discussion, which focused on energy, human health, food, and water. Speakers included DuPont CEO Ellen J. Kullman, Dow CEO Andrew N. Liveris, former National Science Foundation director Rita R. Colwell, Vertex Pharmaceuticals founder Joshua S. Boger, and Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology Director Janet G. Hering.

Carbon-neutral energy resources—biofuels, wind, and nuclear—are inadequate to meet the doubling of world energy demand that is expected over the next 40 years, Nocera said. But the sun provides more than enough energy to power civilization if the molecular sciences can find a way to harness it to produce fuel, for example, an inexpensive way to use sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, he added.

Dow’s Liveris sees an opportunity for the chemical industry to help meet increases in global energy demand. “We need to use the might of chemistry,” he said. Kullman of DuPont focused her remarks on feeding a growing world population. To solve the world’s most intractable problems, including food production, “all the sciences need to come together,” she said.

Link to C&EN (Subscription required)

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