Making the heritage of chemistry visible: the EuCheMS Historical Landmarks
Neither Latin nor Greek are anymore at the core of a common education curriculum for decades now, and there’s very little place for ancient history or archaeology in the learning programmes across Europe. Yet, even at the dawn of the 21st century, flocks of young secondary school students flood Rome or Athens every year. And when they are sent to another European city, there’s always a historical or artistic component in the schedule, be it a church, a castle or another kind of building with historical significance, a museum, a guided tour of a site of history and culture. This is furthermore continued by the plentiful of travel guides and blogs that build on this tradition to acquire some cultural background. It reinforces the appreciation of our cultural heritage later in life, through leisure or holiday journeys. Sometimes these guides contain a short note about a famous savant or a reputed scientist who spent part or whole of his life, or the important scientific discovery that was made in a specific setting, without forgetting the appreciative descriptions of the very few science museums that showcase scientific instruments or technology of the past. Lately there has been a special effort across Europe to share its rich and varied industrial past by preserving outstanding factories and plants, and opening it to the wider public.
But beyond these few examples, it seems as if chemistry and science in general are not an integrant part of our cultural heritage.
But beyond these few examples, it seems as if chemistry and science in general are not an integrant part of our cultural heritage. One can wonder why this is so – and if, in reality, it was always this way. More urgently, as the European Association for Chemistry and Molecular Sciences, we need to convince ourselves of the cultural value of chemistry and how it is conveyed to the general public. The cultural value of chemistry lies both in the tangible and the intangible, and is related to emotion, fears and hopes. Let’s linger on the first duality, between the tangible and the intangible first. There is no doubt that chemical sciences and technology have shaped our modern world, for the better and for the worse… and sadly most of the profane will think about the worse first, in our era of environmental awareness, while chemistry advocates will detail the long list of discoveries and inventions that have improved significantly everyday life in our society. The intangible part sadly often overlooked when not simply ignored. Chemistry has built an understanding of matter and materials, and provided an interpretation to changes that occur in these; it has given human beings a way to “see” and know more about the world that surrounds us, and it has equipped humanity with tools to operate in a world in which his faraway ancestors were only surviving. No surprise then that when chemistry is mentioned, it relates to emotions and expectations.
The EuCheMS Landmark Programme will reinforce the sense of belonging of European chemists and remind them that as far as the history of chemistry goes, people and ideas alike have circulated, been shared and shaped through meetings and communication.
But how can we translate this heritage, this imprint of chemistry, into our society and mentality? How can we tell stories that capture the human adventure of scientific endeavour, that of chemical inquiry and achievements?
EuCheMS decided to set up a Historical Landmarks Programme. This builds on a practice that has been around for centuries: there are indeed many touristic signs marking the very places where important intellectual developments or events happened, among those only a few chemical sites are identified and publicized. Many European countries have such plaques that also include literary, political or artistic episodes. Several countries, like the UK, Germany, Hungary and Poland, even have a programme, run by national chemical societies. Because of that national background, it happens that the European dimension of the chemical sciences has been overlooked. The EuCheMS Landmark Programme will reinforce the sense of belonging of European chemists and remind them that as far as the history of chemistry goes, people and ideas alike have circulated, been shared and shaped through meetings and communication. It will also bring to the general public some sense of how chemistry is part of the general cultural heritage and history of every European citizen, especially as there is a requirement that the plaques are accompanied with communication materials providing information on the discoveries and breakthroughs celebrated, and the impact they had. Indeed, with the technical means now being available, one can put this content online and have the “scientific tourist” access it when on site. This will answer to the challenge of bringing the invisible and intangible heritage of chemistry to the light in a way that will hopefully connect with the reality of European citizens.
The call for nomination of European Historical Landmarks was launched last month, and is accessible on the webpage http://www.euchems.eu/awards/euchems-historical-landmarks/ as well as the guidelines. It will be open until April 30, 2018.
Brigitte Van Tiggelen
Chair of EuCheMS Working Party on History of Chemistry
Prof. Röthlisberger receives EuCheMS Lecture Award
Professor Ursula Röthlisberger received the EuCheMS Lecture Award 2015 from EuCheMS President, Prof. David Cole Hamilton, at the 11th European Conference on Theoretical and Computational Chemistry, Barcelona, Spain, on 7 September 2017.
In her lecture, Prof. Röthlisberger described how linking Density Functional Theory (DFT) calculations with molecular mechanics, genetic algorithms or artificial intelligence allows computers to search huge areas of computational space and find new biomimetic systems as well as enzyme mechanisms and dyes for solar cells.
European Chemistry Gold Medal – Call for nominations
In its tradition of rewarding excellence, a new EuCheMS award, the European Chemistry Gold Medal, will reward the exceptional achievements of one scientist working in the field of chemistry. The first call for nominations for this award is open until the end of 2017 and we would like to invite you to nominate excellent chemists, who will receive this medal for excellence, as well as the unique opportunity of giving the opening lecture at the 7th EuCheMS Chemistry Congress in Liverpool, 26 – 30th August, 2018. Nominations will be reviewed by the International Award Committee for the European Chemistry Gold Medal comprising Markku Leskelä, University of Helsinki; Lesley J. Yellowlees, University of Edinburgh; Herman Overkleeft, Leiden University; Veronica Vaida, University of Colorado Boulder; and Renato Zenobi, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich. Complete guidelines and nomination system are online at http://www.euchems.eu/awards/european-chemistry-gold-medal/.
EuCheMS Lecture Award – Call for nominations
The EuCheMS Lecture Award has recently been reshaped and now, every year, the major achievements of one junior scientist working in chemistry in a country with a EuCheMS Member Organisation will be rewarded. The call for nominations for this award is online and we would like to invite you to submit your proposals before 31 December 2017. The review of nominations will be done by the International Award Committee for the EuCheMS Lecture Award, which includes Barbara Ruth, Technische Universität Darmstadt; Sabine Flitsch, University of Manchester; Gaetano Guerra, University of Salerno; Stefan Vogel, University of Southern Denmark; and Manuel Yánez, University of Madrid. The winner will receive a statuette and the opportunity to give a lecture at the next European Chemistry Congress (ECC) or at a conference of an EuCheMS Professional Network.The call for nominations for this award is now open and submissions can be made online until 31 December 2017 at http://www.euchems.eu/awards/lecture-award/.
Sílvia Osuna – Division of Organic Chemistry Young Investigator Award 2017
The Division of Organic Chemistry Young Investigator Award 2017 was presented to Dr Sílvia Osuna (Institut de Química Computacional i Catàlisi (IQCC), University of Girona, Spain) at the 20th European Symposium on Organic Chemistry (ESOC 2017), 2- 6 July 2017, Cologne, Germany. The award was sponsored by the European Journal of Organic Chemistry.
Dr. Sílvia Osuna was born in Castelló d’Empúries (Spain) in 1983. She received her PhD in 2010 from the University of Girona (UdG) at the Institut de Química Computacional (IQC) under the supervision of Prof. Miquel Solà and Prof. Marcel Swart. She worked in the computational study of the chemical reactivity of carbon-based compounds, such as (metallo)fullerenes and carbon nanotubes. In October 2010, she moved to the group of Prof. Houk at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) thanks to the IOF Marie Curie fellowship (2010-2012 UCLA, 2012-2013 UdG). Since then, Dr. Osuna has worked in computational design of enzymes of medical and pharmaceutical interest. In December 2013, she rejoined the Institute of Computational Chemistry and Catalysis (IQCC) at the University of Girona with a postdoctoral Juan de la Cierva grant. Since January 2016, she is a Ramon y Cajal researcher at the same institution, and has started the CompBioLab group (https://silviaosuna.wordpress.com) thanks to her European projects: Career Integration Grant (DIREVENZYME, 2013-CIG-630978), as well as a European Research Council project – Starting Grant (ERC-2015-STG-679001, NetMoDEzyme). Sílvia has a total of 54 research publications, and two book chapters. Her publications accumulate more than 1160 citations (ISI, July 2017), providing an H index of 22. She has been recently awarded the Young Researcher award by the Royal Spanish Society of Chemistry (RSEQ 20116), and the Research award by the Fundación Princesa de Girona (FPdGi 2016- Science category).
Her research is focused on the study of biochemical processes related to enzyme catalysis, and the development of a computational protocol for the design of new enzymes of pharmaceutical interest. In addition to that, she also explores the chemical reactivity and properties of fullerenes, and carbon-related materials from a computational perspective.
Chair of Division of Organic Chemistry