More on Hispanic and Latino chemists
The recent editorial “Notable Hispanic and Latino chemists” (C&EN, Sept. 20, 2021, page 3) is certainly timely, not only in historical context as highlighted through some leading chemists but also because the influence of Hispanic and Latin chemistry has largely been overlooked.
One could add a few remarks that unveil the past and present of Latino chemists as researchers and educators. Vanadium (once called erythronium by Andrés Manuel del Río) is not the only element discovered by Hispanic scientists. Wolfram (chemical element 74), even if the alternative name tungsten pervades chemical literature, was isolated by Juan José and Fausto Elhuyar from wolframite in 1783.
And Antonio de Ulloa is credited with the discovery of platinum (as detailed in biographical notes: J. Chem. Educ. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.6b01007). Like del Río, this Spanish-born naval officer and scientist developed his career in the New World. Ulloa was a fellow of the Royal Society of London and became the first Spanish governor of Louisiana.
It is also clear that chemistry flourished as a discipline in Latin American countries since the late 18th century, often hosting European scientists as refugees. I would quote as a paradigmatic example Priestley Medalist Ernest Eliel, a father of modern organic stereochemistry, who after a tortuous journey escaping from the Nazi regime moved to Cuba, where he earned a BS degree in chemistry. Eliel was fluent in Spanish and collaborated extensively with Latino colleagues.
Many talented Hispanic scientists still face enormous hurdles and challenges before finding the right niche to disclose their skills, knowledge, resilience, and above all, empathy. To the benefit of young colleagues in particular, these sorts of complex, difficult, yet rewarding careers are well illustrated by Rigoberto Hernandez in a recent viewpoint (J. Phys. Chem. C 2021, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcc.1c06074).
I was excited to read about the recyclable ring-opening polymers based on a 1,3-dioxolane framework in C&EN’s Aug. 30, 2021, issue (page 9). This brought back memories of polytetrahydrofuran I accidentally made about 2 decades ago. I used THF (tetrahydrofuran) as a solvent to make a pentacoordinated phosphorus compound in professor Robert R. Holmes’s lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The next day, the whole reaction mixture had turned to a very viscous material. It was reproducible. Pouring it onto an aluminum foil and allowing it to dry gave a nice, hard, plastic sheet. I assumed that so much material could have formed only from the solvent. Checking the literature showed that such a polymer was well known, and even a 1982 book was there with Poly(tetrahydrofuran) as the title! It will be interesting to see whether this recyclability extends to THF derivatives also or if the second oxygen of 1,3-dioxolane is a must.