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Top emerging technologies in chemistry: IUPAC’s 10 choices for 2021

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
October 17, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 38


I don’t think there are any rules against starting an editorial with a question, so here it goes: What is the top emerging technology in your field? Or in other words: What is the innovation in your area of work or research that could go beyond gradually accelerating progress­ to fundamentally improving the world?

OK, so that was two questions, but essentially on the same theme—namely, the most forward-looking innovations with the potential to reshape the chemical sciences and beyond.

I ask these questions because on Oct. 18, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) announced its top 10 emerging technologies in chemistry for 2021. The first edition was announced in 2019 to coincide with IUPAC’s 100th anniversary.

I’m aware that some readers don’t like these kinds of “best of” compilations, but this is an interesting one, and I recommend reading it. If nothing else, skimming it reveals hot areas of research and could help guide the students and early-career scientists among us who are deciding what research path to follow. “With the Top Ten Emerging Technologies in Chemistry, IUPAC provides a fresh look at technologies that are already creating new opportunities and opening new avenues for research and industry,” IUPAC vice president Javier García Martínez says in a press release. (García Martínez is a member of C&EN’s advisory board.)

More importantly, this kind of short list helps the public understand how the chemical sciences can contribute to the well-being of society, a healthier planet, and a more sustainable future for all.

As García Martínez says in the release, “In the last months, we have witnessed how vital chemistry is in facing and overcoming our most pressing challenges. Moving forward, these threats will only be more complex and unpredictable.”

The top 10 emerging technologies in chemistry are also aligned with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, according to a report on IUPAC’s 2020 edition of the short list. There is no doubt that many of these innovations will be part of the “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity . . . to be implemented by all countries and stakeholders” envisioned by the UN.

To create this year’s short list, IUPAC selected a panel of judges made up of international experts covering different areas within the chemical sciences. The judges reviewed numerous nominations from members of the community and selected the following as the top 10 emerging technologies in chemistry for 2021 (in alphabetical order):

Artificial humic matter from biomass
Blockchain technology
Chemiluminescence for biological use
Chemical synthesis of RNA and DNA
Semisynthetic life
Single-cell metabolomics
Sonochemical coatings
Sustainable production of ammonia
Targeted protein degradation

If you answered my opening question, is your choice on this list? If not, please let us know or consider nominating your disruptive technology for the 2022 edition of the top 10 emerging technologies in chemistry. Nominations are now open at

The Top Ten Emerging Technologies in Chemistry 2021 is now available on the IUPAC website and will also be published in the October issue of Chemistry International as an open-access feature.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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