International Year of Chemistry – bumper Nature issue

Well, 2011 brings us the International Year of Chemistry and Nature has kicked things off with an issue bursting at the seams with chemistry news, opinions, features, research letters – even the Futures science fiction on the back page!

The issue starts off with an editorial on ‘Chemistry’s understated majesty‘. The editorial starts off with an Adam Sandler joke, but don’t let that put you off; it goes on to discuss the International Year of Chemistry and how chemistry and chemists should seize every opportunity this year to “to bring to light [its] hidden contributions to science and society at large […] when chemistry is good, it is very, very good. It deserves its celebration.” Amen to that!

The chemistry continues with a rather personal column from David Nichols, whose work on “drugs to improve memory and cognition in patients who have schizophrenia” has been used by people less concerned by ethics to make so-called ‘legal high’ drugs.

There are two news Features: one by Richard Van Noorden on the problems facing the commercialisation of the nanoforms of carbon (fullerenes, carbon nanotubes and graphene). The other is by Katharine Sanderson (former blogger at this parish) on green chemistry.

And now come the opinions. George Whitesides and John Deutch take a long hard look at the state of chemistry, as it is “at the end of a century of expansion”. They don’t pull many punches: “chemistry must be braver in its research choices and in how it organizes them”, for example. Fortunately, Whitesides and Deutch offer some “real-world solutions”: Rewrite the social contract; Do away with the old disciplinary structures; Focus on chemistry’s strengths; Teach students, rather than use them.

Next up, ten leading chemists share their priorities for the future and which scientists have inspired them. Can you guess who Kit Cummins and Martyn Poliakoff take inspiration from? Or Laura Kiessling and Paul Alivisatos?

(Hmm, this is turning into a much longer blogpost than I envisioned, but it really is a great issue!)

The chemical bond is one of the few (only?) things that is common to all branches of chemistry, so surprise that something so fundamental is so often debated should be tempered by the knowledge that, with so many people interested in it, it’s bound to be prodded and poked endlessly. Science writer Philip Ball (who recently wrote about Pauling’s classic The Nature of the Chemical Bond) looks ‘Beyond the bond’: what is a chemical bond? This is also the focus of the latest Nature podcast.

Following on from Phil Ball’s retrospective look at Pauling’s book, there’s another retrospective review in this issue, and it’s of a book whose title might remind you of a certain blog. No prizes for guessing, it’s Boyle‘s The Sceptical Chymist! The 1661 book is put in context by Lawrence Principe, and it may surprise you to learn that Boyle does not usher in modern chemistry and slate alchemy. Slightly more up to date, there’s also a review of Lauren Redniss’ Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout by Giovanni Frazzetto.

The original research takes in the supramolecular (a 12-porphyrin nanoring built by Vernier templating), the organic (sensing the anomeric effect in a solvent-free environment) and the biochemical (taxadiene synthase structure and evolution of modular architecture in terpene biosynthesis)

And finally…the Futures article raises a glass to ‘The last laboratory’.

Phew. Glad you stuck with me this far, rather than just going to the page that collects them all IYC2011 content from across the Nature journals together. I should note that some of the content is behind the Nature paywall, but I’m pretty sure the editorial and news Features are freely available.

It’s a fantastic collection of articles and a great start to IYC2011!


Neil Withers (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)