Chemistry leaders expect longer lives, less pollution in the future

December 06, 1999

Chemical & Engineering News Publishes "Millennium Musings"

Optimism and excitement are front and center in the minds of leaders from all segments of the international chemical enterprise - academia, industry and government - when reflecting on the role they expect chemistry to have in the progress of society during the coming millennium. Their thoughts are captured in a special issue of the weekly newsmagazine Chemical & Engineering News, published Dec. 6.

The premier source of news in the world of chemistry, Chemical & Engineering News is published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Sprinkled throughout the magazine's "Millennium Special Report: Chemistry In The Service Of Humanity," are "Millennial Musings" of 73 leaders in the world of chemistry: Nobel laureates, scions of industry, professors, researchers and technical experts. Their thoughts are as wide-ranging as the role of chemistry in our lives.

Many expect advances in medicinal chemistry to make once impossible dreams reality. Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, looks forward to development of "supramolecular systems that can carry drugs to the precise points in the body where they are needed." Ronald Breslow, professor of chemistry at Columbia University and a past president of the American Chemical Society, says that "living to age 120 will not be unusual."

Daryle Busch, professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas and president-elect of the Society, anticipates that "the manipulation of molecular interactions will begin to look like an engineering field." The fruits of this technological leap could include chemical computers that "operate a billion times faster than a silicon-based computer," says Jim Leng, chief executive officer of LaPorte.

Some chemists relish the challenge of unresolved mysteries. "One of the most important unsolved scientific problems that chemistry should play a central role in is the origin of life," says Shohei Inoue, president of the Chemical Society of Japan and professor of chemistry at the Science University of Tokyo. Nobel Laureate Jerome Karle of the Naval Research Laboratory looks forward to basic research revolving around "calculations in theoretical chemistry, largely related to applications of quantum mechanics."

Other chemists focus on how their field can help limit the environmental impact of Earth's human population. Sir John Meurig Thomas, professor of chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, looks forward to "the hydrogen-burning fuel cell ... that convert[s] chemical energy directly to electricity, doing so silently, at low temperature, and without production of nitrogen oxides." Gordon Thomson, chair of the Chemical Institute of Canada, says recycling will take off as it becomes "economically advantageous to produce new raw materials from used materials rather than from expensive new resources such as oil shales or biologicals diverted from food production."

And for some, the main concern remains the people who will carry on their work. To Alan Shaw, chief operating officer of Archimica Fine Chemicals, the greatest challenge is "how to attract intelligent minds."
A nonprofit organization with a membership of nearly 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. ( )

American Chemical Society

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