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    Making the shortlistScience Communication Competition 2012

  • Chemistry worldsCienCe CommuniCation Competition 2012

    Communication lies at the very heart of human culture, indeed life. It is the means by which we create and interact, enquire and understand. It shapes our identities, forming the bonds of families, cultures and nations. Science, of course, would die without communication. Robert Winston recently said If you cannot communicate science, it may as well have not been carried out. I could not agree more. What good is knowledge if it is not put to use, if it cannot be built upon? Its existence is philosophical, like the sound of a tree falling unobserved. But this refers to more than communication between

    scientists. It refers to communication beyond our own, in-the-know communities to society at large, to show the relevance, prevalence and usefulness of science. Communicating science to the public is vital because science surrounds us. Science cannot be separated from society each supports and improves the other. Unfortunately, science journalism is often outside the

    mainstream, appearing further down the news agenda than we would otherwise like it to be. And not every scientist is an excellent communicator. The consequence of this is alienation. In the most recent Public Attitudes to Science survey, just over half of those who took part said they hear and see too little information about


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    science. The research also highlighted the challenge of public engagement with science. The majority of people surveyed said they did not feel informed about science, and scientific research and developments. This is the role that science communicators must fulfil.The entries to the Chemistry World Science

    Communication Competition have been excellent, and a joy to read. The breadth of topics and the variety of styles reflect the diversity of science itself. Each tells its story in a different way, showing how science excites, intrigues and illuminates; how it asks and answers. Crucially, enthusiasm and passion are clear throughout, but never at the cost of the science. My congratulations to the finalists you are all talented

    writers and the pieces presented here are excellent examples of effective, engaging science communication.

    Lesley YellowleesPresident of the Royal Society of Chemistry

    in association with ChemCareers

  • www.chemistryworld.org | Science Communication Competition 2012 | Chemistry World | 1

    Chemistry worldsCienCe CommuniCation Competition 2012

    evident in an increasing demand for products due to a growing world population. If the use of solvent continues like this, even greater environmental impacts than we are seeing now will occur.

    Restricting chemistry research to theoretical work for fear of harming the environment is not a feasible option. In computational chemistry an infinite amount of computer power is required to model real world systems, so assumptions are made as a result. These assumptions will lead to models that wont fully describe the world around us and, with regards to theoretical methods, advances in our understanding of chemistry are often made by trying to rationalise experimental results. Since we cant change our method of research, we will have to change our attitude to using solvents.

    By seriously considering how we use solvents and,where possible, using no solvent we can limit the environmental impact that they will have. Currently there is the categorisation of solvents, with greener solvents being more favoured but, as highlighted previously, hazardous solvents cannot always be avoided. This means we have to look beyond our current methods and consider developing better ways to use solvents. It isnt much of a stretch to consider solventcapture as an option given the current focus on CO2 capture. We can also consider methods of recycling solvents that will ideally lead to no net solvent waste. Even if the cost of advancement inhibits us, we should take it upon ourselves to consider the effect that our research will have on our environment as a priority. Finding the answer to the worlds problems will mean nothing if there is no sustainable world to live in. We have to make the conservation of solvents an active decision, if not for our own sake, for the sake of others and the future of chemistry. Sandra Atkinson

    Solvent use in chemistry is very important but the implications are frequently overlooked. Within the study of chemistry, the attempts made to understand and rationalise the world around us include research and investigation of relevant chemical reactions and systems. This often involves aqueous or nonaqueous conditions and solvents. The negative impact of solvents in these reactions can be potentially harmful to the environment and wildlife but reactions involving harmful solvents cannot always be avoided. For some reactions there are no alternative methods and the use of solvents can be a necessary steppingstone toward greener chemistry methods. Solvents have also played an important role in some of the great advances in the 20th century. These include their use in chromatography as an analytical technique (as used in the discovery of the structure of insulin), and in consumer items such as the disposable lithium battery.

    In recent years there has been a greater focus on greener chemistry due to climate change and the energy crisis. The global cost of fuel has risen and governments have proposed reaching lower targets for CO2 emissions in response to climate change. However, whether you think climate change is due to human influences or not, there is a general consensus that we must conserve our diminishing natural resources. As these resources are depleted, alternatives will only become more important. Global political decisions have driven governments to invest more money and resources in science, in particular research, to find sustainable alternatives. The need for a solution means that chemistry will play an important role. This leads to a dichotomy: we will need to do chemistry in order to save the environment, but in doing so could hurt the environment further.

    Scientific publications over recent years show an increased focus on more environmentally friendly chemistry. Often this involves reporting a synthesis of a compound with less harmful solvent (or more water) or a new method of synthesis with a greater atom economy, with less waste as unwanted byproducts. Some of the research being conducted presently focuses on greener chemistry as possible solutions to the energy crisis. Examples include developments towards hydrogen storage for hydrogenpowered cars (with water as a byproduct) and the development of electric powered cars as replacements for gasoline. On the other hand, there are experiments conducted by researchers with the main

    focus on synthesis and structure to further their chemistry understanding. Often the results of these experiments hypothesise potential practical applications but, in most cases, wont ever eventuate as they are not an advance or an improvement on current alternatives.

    The solvent used in these types of experiments can be considered as doing more harm than good. Solvents are used and wasted by the bucketload in some syntheses with much of it being tipped down the drain. However solvent is necessary for these reactions to occur, especially in industrial manufacture of commercial products. The concerning part here is that the scale of solvent use around the world will only continue to grow. This will be

    Solvent use (and abuse)

  • 2 | Chemistry World | Science Communication Competition 2012 | www.chemistryworld.org

    Chemistry worldsCienCe CommuniCation Competition 2012

    Diagnostics on paper

    Paper microfluidics Paper has been long used as a platform for chemical analysis. Traditionally, the acidity or alkalinity of an aqueous fluid can be measured using pH papers. The change of colour of these papers corresponds to a certain pH value. Comparing the colour of the paper after soaking in an aqueous solution with a reference colour scheme provided, the pH of the aqueous solution can be determined. Although it has limited accuracy when compared to benchtop pH meters, determination of pH through pH papers is simple, lightweight, disposable and electricity-free. What if we can incorporate all those ideal properties into an analytical device for diagnostics?

    The concept of paper microfluidics was pioneered by George Whitesides at Harvard University, US. Paper is an ideal platform for diagnostics because it is inexpensive, abundant, lightweight, disposable and compatible with most biological assays. The ability of paper to draw up aqueous liquid (wicking)

    In some parts of Africa, the healthcare situation is still dire. Diseases such as malaria and AIDS are major killers. The lack of cheap and accessible diagnostic tools impedes healthcare decisions that could potentially save lives. Early diagnosis of infectious diseases is critical in order for doctors to perform the proper course of action. However, modern clinical diagnostics are expensive. Moreover, they require trained personnel to operate and interpret the analyses. Aside from the medical viewpoint, the lack of reliable power supplies and infrastructure further complicate the healthcare problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set out important criteria for diagnostic technologies: affordable, sensitive, specific, accessible, high throughput and robust. Innovative technologies to miniaturise diagnostics, to make devices from low-cost materials and to do analysis using minimal sample with minimal footprint should make cheap diagnostics possible.

    Microfluidic approachResearch efforts have been focused on