Highlights From 2010

This week’s is the last issue of C&EN for 2010 as we do not publish an issue on the last Monday of the year. That another year has passed—my seventh as editor-in-chief of C&EN—is more than a little bit frightening!

As has been the case for many years, in this issue the three main departments of the magazine take stock of what has occurred in the chemistry enterprise during the past 12 months. Although it does not fit well into any of those three departments, one of the most significant events of 2010 was the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig and the resulting massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

C&EN printed at least 15 stories that touched on one aspect of the spill or another in 2010, including the June 14 cover story. At this point, the oil spill—the largest in U.S. history—does not appear to have been the environmental disaster many feared it would be. However, we will be analyzing the spill’s environmental impacts for years to come, and it remains a cautionary tale about humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels.

The cover story of this week’s issue is the “Chemical Year in Review.” This feature has evolved significantly in recent years. For more than a decade, the feature was compiled and written by Deputy Assistant Managing Editor Stu Borman as a straight narrative that briefly examined many significant developments that had occurred over the previous year.

In 2008, we moved to the current format, in which C&EN’s science and technology team selects a dozen or so major achievements to highlight in vignettes written by members of the team. Senior Correspondent Steve Ritter edits the vignettes, and Ritter works with Design Director Rob Bryson and C&EN Online Visual Designer Tchad Blair to create the layout in the print edition and the increasingly rich online version of the feature. Blair has a bounty of material to work with. By my count, there are 17 online-only visuals associated with the feature, six of which are animations or videos that complement and amplify the scientific concepts being presented.

As Ritter writes, “Our choices … are necessarily subjective and not intended to be comprehensive. Indeed, these discoveries represent only a few examples of the many ways in which chemists are pushing the boundaries of what we know and what we are capable of doing.”

All of the advances highlighted represent exciting fundamental research. C&EN often suggests how such fundamental research might translate into practical applications such as new materials, drugs, or technologies. A new feature in this year’s review of 2010 is “C&EN Revisits 2000,” in which C&EN reporters examine the fate of six of the research advances profiled in the “Chemistry Highlights” of 2000.

As you might expect, it’s a mixed bag. Some of the discoveries have been translated into successful new products. Others have languished, interesting chemical novelties that, for a variety of reasons, haven’t found a commercial niche.

In the former category, for example, Borman found that the work of Yen Choo, Aaron Klug, and coworkers on “zinc fingers”—zinc-coordinated protein-based DNA binding agents—has been developed into a successful product, CompoZr, marketed by Sigma-Aldrich. In the latter category, Senior Editor Bethany Halford found that self-assembling 3-D electronics developed in George M. Whitesides’ lab at Harvard University, while resulting in visually arresting structures, have yet to reach their full potential.

Also in this week’s issue is the annual chemical business “Year in Review” by Senior Correspondent Marc Reisch and Senior Editor Alex Tullo. The subhead of the story says it all: “After the Great Recession, chemical firms welcome the new normal.” Senior Correspondent Dave Hanson wrote this week’s “Government & Policy Insights,” in which he examines what Congress did and, more to the point, did not accomplish in 2010.

I hope all of C&EN’s readers have a joyous holiday season and a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

Thanks for reading.

Author: Rudy Baum

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1 Comment

  1. People are not so much addicted to fossil fuels as they are to the benefits that fossil fuels bring, whether it be the energy to transport one across continents or simply meeting the expectation that there will be light from flipping on a switch.

    In any case, if you wanted to do something for humanity, you could reduce your use of fossil fuels all on your own. I would suggest cutting out air travel, the use of artificial heating and cooling and eating foods not produced locally.