Everyone I talk to in Joburg (which is what everyone, including government departments and newspaper reporters, calls Johannesburg) assures me that the weather is just great. Which is a little surprising, since it has rained on and off since we arrived on Sunday, sometimes showers, sometimes thunderstorms, and sometimes deluges. I am told that Joburg suffered through a stifling heat wave a few weeks ago and everyone welcomes the cooler gray weather. Well, maybe not everyone in South Africa. There is serious flooding in many parts of the country. On Monday and Tuesday, the top stories on the front page of The Star, a Johannesburg daily, have been on floods occurring throughout South Africa. The headline Tuesday read: “Flooding Toll Mounts: Fireman among those who died; many missing, evacuated.” I suspect that if there were not severe flooding in Brazil, Australia, and Sri Lanka, the flooding in South Africa would be making world headlines. The SACI/FACS meeting, however, is proceeding without interruption from the weather. Each day starts with a plenary lecture and then the conference splits into five topical areas, each of which leads off with a keynote lecture followed by two “short talks” leading up to lunch. There’s another plenary after lunch, keynotes, and short talks. That’s the general pattern, anyway. There are variations. The talks are quite varied and of uniformly high quality. The plenary lecture Tuesday morning was by Herbert Waldmann, a professor in the Department of Chemical Biology at the Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Physiology in Dortmund, Germany. Waldmann focused on biology-oriented synthesis. “Chemistry has very much developed into an interface science,” Waldmann told the audience. “It is okay for chemists to say that they will take the leading role in understanding biology and biological processes.” That understanding, ultimately, must be a chemical understanding of complete organisms, no small task. Waldmann’s talk focused on the use of natural products to provide the fundamental structural motifs upon which to build synthetic molecules that might have useful physiological functions. He presented an approach for dissecting natural product structures computationally to arrive at simple frameworks upon which to build families of molecules and some successes he and his coworkers have achieved over the past decade using this approach. A keynote lecture by Louise Lindeque, Responsible Care manager of the Chemical & Allied Industries’ Association of South Africa, focused on how Responsible Care adds value to the chemical sector globally and the role of product stewardship as a core element of Responsible Care. “The chemical sector globally has a significant environmental impact,” Lindeque said. “The impacts include pollution, use of raw materials, and emissions to land, water, and air.” Additionally, the industry must consider health impacts on chemical industry workers and the general public as a result of exposures to chemicals, as well as plant safety, Lindeque noted. Responsible Care addresses all of these aspects of the chemical industry’s relationship with its employees and the public. Only two countries in Africa—South Africa and Morocco—have chemical industry associations that implement Responsible Care, Lindeque pointed out. In South Africa, 144 companies have committed to implement Responsible Care. The challenges in Africa include increasing the number of chemical industry associations, expanding the influence of Responsible Care throughout Africa, increasing the awareness of chemical companies and government regulators in African countries about the safe management of chemicals, and prompting companies to implement product stewardship programs.

Jackson (center) with Patricia W. Gitari (left), chemistry lecturer, University of Nairobi, and Olayinka Oyetunji, chemistry professor, University of Botswana. Jackson used funds from her ACS presidential budget to support Gitari's and Oyetunji's attendance at the SACI/FACS meeting.

ACS President Nancy B. Jackson also gave a keynote lecture in the green chemistry track of the conference on “Solar Recycling of CO2 into Hydrocarbon Fuels: Sunshine to Petrol.” Jackson described an approach developed at Sandia National Laboratories for using concentrated solar energy to reduce CO2 to CO as the first step toward producing hydrocarbon fuels. The take-home message of her talk, Jackson said, was that “solar fuels encompass more than just biology.”

Author: Rudy Baum

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