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Number: 2003-022-1-020

Title: Chemistry's contributions to humanity - A feasibility study

Task Group
: Edwin P. Przybylowicz

Members: Peter Atkins, Edwin D. Becker, Edward Chandross, David Evans, Wolfram Koch, Uday Maitra, Nicole Moreau,
Teruto Ohta, Kip Powell, and Leiv K. Sydnes

Completion Date: 2005 - project completed

To evaluate the feasibility of developing a website that chronicles historical innovations in chemistry that have contributed to the improvement of human life. This site could serve as a source of information and education that would enhance interest in and public appreciation of the enormous contributions that chemistry has made over the past 150 years to the betterment of mankind.

The worldwide chemical enterprise suffers from a tarnished public image. Chemicals are associated in the public press, radio and television with bad things happening to the environment, to communities and to people. Often the word that is used to convey the notion that whatever it is that is creating a problem "has a chemical in it." To those in the field of chemistry these notions are as ridiculous as they are frustrating. They are not logical; nevertheless, they are widely used and repeatedly used by the uninformed.

Public perception undoubtedly has influence on other activities ranging from legislation governing the use of chemicals to the perception by young people of the field of chemistry as a career option. Much effort by industry and chemical organizations is directed toward a better public understanding and to dispel some of the misconceptions associated with chemistry.

Much work has been done in the past and continues today to educate the public about chemistry and its value to society and to bring balanced understanding about the benefits and risks of chemicals. We believe that an international effort led by IUPAC could provide an authoritative source of information on the ways in which chemistry and the industries based on the chemical sciences contribute to a better life.

We envision a website based on major innovations in chemical science over the past century and a half that occurred in many countries. The format would be attractive and provide easy access for students in science, for science teachers, for members of the chemical enterprise, for policymakers, and for reference by the general public.

The website might contain an encyclopedia of major chemical accomplishments that have contributed to the betterment of the human condition. It could include a detailed information base of chemical innovations and developments. Through the design of "access templates", it would permit viewing this information through a variety of types of queries. The access templates would be user-friendly and facilitate inquiries, for example, on the evolution of innovations in engineering plastics, or antibiotics, in which the user would be led through a series of connected developments in applied chemistry. Another example of an access template might lead the user through a series of innovations that had major impact on portable energy, or plant protection chemistry.

In short, the website would provide a flexible, "living" macro- and micropedia that could grow and develop in sophistication as needs developed and changed. It would provide an interactive, multimedia presentation illustrating innovations over the past 150 years that have provided life-improving breakthroughs in: energy, transportation, environment, food and agriculture, health and medicine, information and communications, manufacturing processes, as well as the tools to study the world around us at the molecular level. A structured website would allow the viewer to delve into a given subject in sufficient depth to learn about the chemistry involved, or to look at an overview of the many life-improving products resulting from chemical research. It would offer an attractive enhancement to general science studies and courses in chemistry, as well as an interesting and informative source for the general public. The website resulting from this project would help to strengthen the essential bridge between the chemical enterprise and the public, a linkage that is important for both communities for continued growth and development.

This is a very ambitious project - one that will take years to complete and require substantial resources. The immediate focus of the current proposal is a comprehensive analysis of the feasibility and potential value of the overall project.

The task group has identified and compiled a list of books, pamphlets and websites, that contain information on the theme of chemical contributions to society > see list (updated 24 Sep 2004)

This listing is by no means complete; the task group is soliciting help from all members and the community at large to augment this list or critique it from the standpoint of what is included.

The nature of what is available on that list, albeit limited, falls into two categories: (a) historical and (b) current.
The historical information about past innovations and their contributions to society is largely covered by museums (Nobel, Chemical Heritage Foundation and chemical societies such as the Royal Society of Chemistry) and only alludes to the societal value indirectly. Another historical dimension in the present literature comes from anniversary celebrations or similar events that recognize past accomplishments of chemistry in a given country, i.e. Japan, Canada, Australia. These are in monographs or pamphlets. The information that relates to current chemistry is more along the lines of public understanding of chemistry, much of which has been stimulated by the Responsible Care program of the ICCA and its member organizations. There are a variety of websites and materials that attempt to show how the products of chemistry surround us in all aspects of our lives. Presumably, the message is how helpful chemistry is to today's living.

(As of in 2005) Most of these websites are in the early phases of being used, so there is no valuation of their usefulness or how frequently they are accessed. CEFIC has sent out survey information looking for responses on how useful people have found their site. It is not known how long these websites will survive.

project completed

Last update: 5 Jaunary 2006

<project announcement published in Chem. Int. Nov 2003>

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Page last modified 5 January 2006.
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