Vol 9 N° 1 [January–March 2011]

Periodic Table of Elements





In focus
2 Where would we be without chemistry?

9 Engineer shortage a threat to development, says report
9 Earthquake monitoring stations for Nepal
10 The best weapon against cancer: a healthy lifestyle
11 Experts advocate geoengineering research programme
11 Groundwater to alleviate Iraq’s water shortages
11 Ten medals in nanoscience and nanotechnologies
12 Eleven sites added to Global Geoparks Network
13 Countries sign up for Nagoya Biodiversity Compact
14 Experts call for assessment of microplastics in oceans

15 Jean-Christophe Balouet investigates an environmental crime

17 Science without borders
21 Biodiversity in a kit

In Brief
24 Diary
24 New releases

Direct link A World of Science Vol 9 N°1 (document PDF)
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Chemistry: our life, our future

When two people are attracted to each other, there is said to be chemistry between them. This romantic notion is not far from the truth, for not only are we surrounded by all things chemical, we are a chemical factory ourselves: 99% of the human body is made up of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus. These elements bind together to form a wonderful diversity of molecules that make up all the structures of our bodies and allow us to breathe, eat, move and think – in short, to live.

Like chemicals in a test-tube, the chemicals in our body respond to stimuli and undergo transformations via chemical reactions triggered by the brain. When a person is confronted with danger, the brain makes a choice: fight or flight? Chemicals are then produced to prepare the person to run away or attack. Pharmaceutical drugs work because they interact with particular chemical entities in our body to combat disease, which can be viewed as disordered chemistry of the body.

Thanks to chemistry, our world has become a more comfortable place in which to live. Our cars and homes – even our clothing – are brimming with its creativity. Our energetic future will depend on it, as will achieving the Millennium Development Goal of safe water and sanitation. If we look back, it was chemists who discovered fertilizers, thereby enabling food production to keep pace with population growth. It was chemists who revealed the defining issue of our time, climate change, after monitoring carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere for decades.

It is thus hardly surprising that the theme of the International Year of Chemistry getting under way this month should be Chemistry: our life, our future. We take up the gauntlet with a lead story that asks, ‘Where would we be without chemistry?’

Chemicals as we know them in household and other industrial products, or in laboratories, must be handled with caution, of course, given the toxicity and volatility of some compounds. In this issue, we discover how forensic science manages to trace a chemical spillage back to the source, even decades after the event.

There would be no International Year of Chemistry, had Ethiopia not submitted a resolution to the UN with the support of over 20 countries. Jointly co-ordinated and led by UNESCO and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) which is celebrating its centenary, the Year also marks the centenary of the award of the Nobel Prize to Marie Sklodowska Curie. As a tribute to her memory, the Year will wind up with the première at UNESCO headquarters in Paris of an opera celebrating her life. Meanwhile, women chemists are participating in a networking breakfast on 18 January in Australia, Egypt and elsewhere to celebrate women’s contribution to chemistry.

The Year gets under way officially at UNESCO on 27 and 28 January. Should you wish to submit an idea or organize an activity yourself, don’t forget to record the details at the official website: chemistry2011.org.

Gretchen Kalonji
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences

2 Where would we be without chemistry?

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