Chemists Wishes

In the August 7, 2000 issue of Chem. Eng. News, pp 64-65, Dr. Stephen J. Lippard, the head of the chemistry department at MIT wrote about what he calls “The Quiet Revolution in Chemistry”.  He perceives that creative chemists are beginning to envision how chemistry can fundamentally solve a set of challenges to enhance our lives.  Of course, they have always done that, but with advanced knowledge they will be able to do it better (and faster?).  Medical programs across US universities are embracing chemistry to advance healthcare.

Most of these challenges exist at interfaces which makes this discussion suitable for the Surfactant Virtual Library.  It also recalls the old motto of the DuPont Company: “Better Things For Better Living Through Chemistry”. Later “Through Chemistry” was dropped, since it was thought to be offensive for certain environmental groups, although the better living through chemistry continues. For example, water-based paints were developed that substantially eliminated the need to evaporate solvents. Then aluminum siding substantially eliminated the need to paint wood every 3-5 years. Vinyl siding and decking lasts even longer. It all can be cleaned easily with a little surfactant spray.

Chemists WishesMany chemical reactions are difficult to do, especially the more selective ones. Much research is needed to get better at doing chemical reactions. Once this is achieved the chemistry can become even more useful in making life even less cumbersome.

Ambitious chemists would like to design (by computer) optimum, self-correcting,  (non-fouling) catalysts for any transformation they can think of, particularly stereo-chemical ones. They would like to break certain specific chemical bonds with a pulse of electro-magnetic energy, especially those “previously considered to be inert”.

Of course, ideally chemical reactions would not need solvents. Some could be accomplished on a nano-scale. Self-assembly and complex crystallization could lead to novel compositions and fundamental particles in never before seen combinations.  These particles could be used reversibly or irreversibly for sensors, analyses, drug delivery or any other place where a need pops up.

Dr. Lippard makes no attempt to identify potential applications. He is confident that his undergrads and colleagues can do that on his own. Nevertheless, the challenge to connect these bright chemists with the application problem solvers should not be under-estimated. Help is underway: the Internet is rapidly becoming an ideal media for idea exchanges. Let us hear from you.

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