Chemistry and the big questions (C) University of Leicester, UK


After the Economist questioned the value of chemistry last week, today I read with keen interest seeking chemistry in the special article in New Scientist titled ‘50 ideas to change science forever’. Although they have only released 25 ideas in the current issue, I could find at least 10 ideas which were either all chemistry or had a heavy connection to chemistry.


Here’s my list:

  1. Artificial cells: It’s the basic chemistry between the various cellular matter that will reveal how modern biology evolved. (See Chemistry World articles here, here, here)
  2. Artificial enzymes: Large efforts put in synthetic organic chemistry have made  it possible to dream about making artificial enzymes. (See Chemistry World articles here, here)
  3. 1000Genome project: It is hard to deny that all the work on genomics advances with advance in chemical sciences. (See Chemistry World articles here)
  4. Phenomes: The expression of genomes into various traits is essentially a chemical phenomenon that is not understood at all.
  5. Geoengineering: Carbon capture and storage or sunlight-reflecting sulfate will both require advancing our knowledge of chemistry especially atmospheric chemistry before we take any such drastic measures. (See Chemistry World articles here, here, and the RSC’s report on geoengineering here)
  6. Nootropics or psychostimulant drugs: This is the domain of the pharmaceutical industry and here chemistry is always at its forefront. (See Chemistry World articles here)
  7. DNA origami: It is deep understanding of molecular interactions that have helped develop this combination of science and art. (See Chemistry World articles here, here, here)
  8. Artificial photosynthesis: This search for an artificial route has brought the challenge of catalysis to a whole new level. (See Chemistry World articles here, here)
  9. Endogenous stem cells: Stem cells are a new frontier in medicine and small molecules are key to stem cells. (See Chemistry World articles here, here)
  10. A universal flu vaccine: Although strictly speaking vaccines might fall out of the purview of chemistry, one must not forget that chemistry provides a lot of support in the development of vaccines. (See Chemistry World article here)


DNA nanoboxes

DNA Origami used to build nanoboxes. © Ebbe Sloth Andersen, Aarhus University


No more proof is needed that there is still a long way ahead for chemistry before it has solved all the questions. Actually, I don’t think there might ever come a time in the near future when any of basic scientific disciplines can be mocked as ‘being over’.

Akshat Rathi

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