This way for all your chemistry needs

This week, the historic city of Prague is playing host to nearly 1800 chemists for the 4th EuCheMS Chemistry Congress. As you might expect, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the past over the last day and a half, but not the history that preoccupies the tourists who are sharing my hotel.

Yesterday at the opening ceremony, several of the speakers were keen to talk about their links with Prague – how they had visited before and were pleased to come back, or to highlight a longer standing connection with the city. President of Iupac Kazuyuki Tatsumi, used the opportunity to share some snaps from his previous visit back in 1982, with a familiar physical chemist stood in the picture with Tatsumi and  common mentor Rudolf Zahradnik – a young Angela Merkel. Meanwhile, Jean-Marie Lehn claims links to Prague back to 1963, and a paper co-authored with a Czech chemist. Lehn has now set up a prize, in collaboration with the French Embassy in Prague, a prize to help support Czech chemistry and young Czech researchers. This year, the winner was Michal Kolar from Charles University here in Prague for his work on halogen bonds. As part of his prize, Konar will be sponsored for a month’s study visit to France.

However, after the opening ceremony and beer on Sunday, Monday started bright and early with a full scientific programme with 12 parallel sessions. The topics that caught my attention all had a common theme – history.

One talk that stood out was in the Environmental and Radiochemistry section. This morning, Tarja Ikaheimonen of Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority compared the Fukushima accident to Chernobyl, and as someone who doesn’t remember the 1986 event, some of the facts and stats she reported were incredibly sobering. Forests are apparently very susceptible to nuclear contamination because the plants take up caesium instead of potassium and the Fukushima fallout was mainly over Japanese forests. In Finland the post-Chernobyl contamination is still 40% of the maximum, says Ikaheimonen, showing how long lasting that contamination can be. And of course, that then concentrates up the food chain. Butterflies in the forests near Fukushima are now showing morphological variability, just as in Finland’s forests

However, the Fukushima disaster, while obviously awful, was no where near as bad as Chernobyl, says Ikaheimonen. Caesium discharge in Japan was about 20-30% that of Chernobyl, and the fall out was mainly local, rather than contaminating vast portions of northern Europe, as Chernobyl has. And perhaps, just as the Chernobyl site is now an incredibly diverse nature reserve, the same could happen for the forests in Japan says Ikaheimonen. I have to say though, I don’t think I’d recommend that as a general strategy for improving environmental diversity.

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History and legacy at EuCheMS in Prague, 1.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
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