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December 6, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 49

Overusing WMD

Thank you for publishing Michael Heylin’s “Hindsights” on weapons of mass destruction (C&EN, Oct. 11, page 36). It is a shame that you have to run a disclaimer at the bottom of the page, but if I remember correctly, a previous article brought forth at least one protest from a less enlightened member of ACS.

To me, the concept of WMDs—the lumping together of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons as a single class—is absurd, for the reasons given by Heylin. Nevertheless, WMD is used endlessly by all the media. I view it as a means by which politicians are trying to scare people for their own purposes. Having a lot of time, I have sent e-mails to various editors and columnists on this subject but have never received a response. C&EN is the only media I have seen or heard that has told it like it is.

Isaiah Von
McLean, Va.

Chemistry roadblock

I recently read about new interstate highway routes that would come through State College, Pa., and make University Park a research center to be noted (C&EN, Sept. 13, page 16). I was not familiar with these new routes, so when I had a chance to visit the area a few weeks later, I was eager to see where they would run.

Imagine my surprise when I learned from the local paper and general conversation that the highway is sadly delayed because of a chemistry-related situation: The route goes through “pyrites,” which, when dug up and reburied, are a hazard. I would like to know more about the chemistry of this situation: How can reburied rocks become a chemical hazard? I am surprised that this was not addressed in your original article.

Dorothy Bell

Silver circle events

At times I have urged the American Chemical Society to schedule special luncheons during national meetings for registrants over the age of 65. I have in mind luncheons served in appropriate hotel rooms, paid for by participants. But no such luncheon has yet been scheduled.

The professional situation of retired chemists differs from that of middle-aged or younger chemists. We do not feel ourselves to be in competition for career advancement. Our scientific interests have changed, too. No longer are we current with every advance in our fields. Our interests tend to be broader and have turned in many cases toward biographical or historical studies.

Also, our lives are touched by the grim reality that many of our contemporaries are dead. Some chemist friends whose company I used to enjoy at ACS national meetings are no longer living. Others have chronic diseases that make travel uncomfortable. The gray-haired chemists whom I might meet at a “Plus 65 Luncheon” are not quite like old friends, but they do share with me certain outlooks that make them good conversational partners.

ACS should encourage retired chemist participation in national meetings. In conversations with chemists in-career, we can offer historical perspective—interesting in some cases, exceedingly valuable in others. Also, the experience and perhaps the wisdom of older chemists in regard to interactions among people may be very helpful.

Joseph F. Bunnett
Santa Cruz, Calif.

A true innovation

The editorial “Innovation Day” by Arnold Thackray, president of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, was inspiring and educating (C&EN, Sept. 13, page 3). One point is to be noted: The world is a comedy to those who, like William Henry Perkin, are creative. As was said in the article, we live in an information age. There is no gainsaying the fact that high-tech industries would grow three times faster if they drew on the talents of young scientists, such as those Innovation Day is trying to focus on. The concept of Innovation Day is not only revolutionary but implies a connotation of excellence. I am categorically of the opinion that it will set the pace across the chemical industry in rewarding research and creativity.

Makinde Kehinde
Lagos, Nigeria

Forgotten discoveries

“Work in the 1970s on proline-catalyzed intramolecular aldol addition reactions by synthetic organic chemists Zoltan G. Hajos and David R. Parrish of the chemical research department at Hoffmann-La Roche, Nutley, N.J., ‘inspired us to look more closely at parallels between small-molecule catalysts and enzymes,’ Barbas says” (C&EN, Feb. 25, 2002, page 33).

Sic itur ad astra, the old Roman saying, is still valid. But by now the above C&EN quote is forgotten. Who did it first and why? I am referring, of course, to A. Maureen Rouhi’s recent report on organocatalysis (C&EN, Sept. 6, page 41).

True, our discovery was an isolated use, but it was the first use, and we knew what we uncovered. We knew and we said so in our paper [J. Org. Chem., 39, 1615 (1974)]. We said that our process is a catalytic process, and we said it is the simplest model of a biological system where (S)-(–)-proline plays the role of an enzyme.

Nobody else did this for another 30 years. People don’t read original publications any longer. They read the reference articles whose contents depend upon the taste of their authors

Zoltan G. Hajos
Budapest, Hungary


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