Sunday, July 23, 2006

INNATE QUALITIES DIE HARD

In an age where 'environmental actvism' is not some maverick, flashy phrase but a humdrum essentiality, green chemistry is the need of the day. But after all, why didn't the word enter the vocabulary of chemists and chemical engineers earlier, since Rachel Carson had alerted us to environmental damage from chemicals way back in 1962? The reason has more to do with the methodology of teaching chemistry, than attitude. Jack Warner, who along with Paul Anastas is one of the pioneers of this field (or rather, paradigm), gives his opinion on this:

"So if green chemistry is such a blindingly obvious idea, "why in 2004 are people acting like it's a revolutionary concept?" asks Warner of the University of Massachusetts.

The answer is simply that toxicity and environmental impact have never been taught as part of the innate set of qualities — such as boiling point — that all chemicals have. "If I stood in front of a chemistry class and held a glass of water up and asked, 'What are the characteristics of this material?' no one is going to answer, 'It's not toxic,' " Warner says."


Which proves again how important education is.

Incidentally, Anastas' and Williamson's readable text on green chemistry is one that I remember issuing out of the Pune British Library a few years back. One of the important developments elucidated in this book, now widely researched, is the use of liquid CO2 as a solvent for reactions. Finally, we have an alternative use for all that greenhouse CO2. Isn't it?

2 Comments:

Blogger Hirak said...

I am reminded of Thomas Midgely Jr who I read about in Bill Bryson's entertaining "Short History of Nearly Everything". Midgely was an engineer who dabbled in Chemistry and invented Tetraethyl Lead and also CFC's.

From the book,
"His [Midgely's] death was memorably unusual. After becoming crippled with polio, Midgely invented a contraption involving a series of motorized pulleys that autmatically raised or turned him in bed. In 1944, he became entangled in the cords as the machine went into action and was strangled."

9:04 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Yes, I remember! And also Claire Patterson who was plagued in his determination of the earth's age from lead measurements, because of all this extra lead.

A morbid legacy and a grotesque death indeed!

9:24 AM  

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