First EuChemS Historical Landmark awarded to the Ytterby mine
In 2018, EuChemS decided to establish a new Historical Landmarks Programme to identify chemical sites that have been relevant in defining the cultural makeup and history of Europe. These European sites that have played a central role in the science of chemistry, either at a European level or regional level would be identified with commemorative plaques.
The Ytterby mine was awarded the 2018 EuChemS Historical Landmarks Award at the European level following the recommendations of the Landmark Selection Committee and the decision of the EuChemS Executive Board. The Ytterby mine fulfils all the criteria to be awarded such a landmark. Ytterby mine is famous for being the source of nine new elements – identified in the period from 1802 to 1872 – seven of which were to be named after the ore and the area. These elements include yttrium (Y), erbium (Er), terbium (Tb), ytterbium (Yb), holmium (Ho), thulium (Tm), and gadolinium (Gd). The two additional elements are tantal (Ta) and scandium (Sc). Many of these elements are today vital constituents in modern electronics.
It is of special relevance that precisely this year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Periodic Table. The mine has also a special part to play in the story of the table, as, soon after its discovery, it drew many scientists from Sweden, as well as from across the Nordic countries, and from further afield in Europe, thus contributing to the development of the Periodic Table as we know it today.
The ceremony which took place on Saturday 27th April was preceded by a symposium on the history of the mine and its discoveries as well as the pivotal role it played in the history of chemistry in Europe. The Symposium took place in Kronängsskolan, in Vaxholm and was attended by over 100 people, not only chemists but also from the general public. Helena Grennberg, President of the Swedish Chemical Society, gave a welcome address, and Brigitte Van Tiggelen, chair of the EuChemS Working Party on the History of Chemistry had a presentation on the Historical landmarks programme and the Ytterby mine.
Later, participants took a boat to arrive to the island of Resarö, where the quarry is located. There, in a short ceremony after speeches from myself as President of EuChemS and Malin Forsbrand, Municipality Chairman, the plaque was unveiled and placed at the entrance of the mine. Finally, and before returning to Vaxholm, visits to the mine were organised in small groups.
All in all, it was a great event, it fulfilled our expectations and it had the right balance of chemistry and reach out to the general public.
I would like to finish by thanking all those that made the event such a success.
EuChemS at the IUPAC event
EuChemS was actively present at a week-long event this month in Paris which combined the 47th IUPAC Congress, the IUPAC General Assembly, and the celebrations of its 100-year anniversary.
A EuChemS exhibition stand enabled participants to come and talk to our team, better understand the goals and activities of EuChemS and to find out more about upcoming events and projects. On display was the EuChemS Periodic Table depicting element scarcity, which sparked discussions and debates over the meaning of our use of elements in our smartphones and everyday technologies. We were also pleased to see some Nobel prize winners visit the booth, who were later invited by our young chemists’ network, the EYCN, for interviews.
During the congress, Presidents and representatives of Chemical Societies from across the globe signed a Joint Framework Agreement on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Pilar Goya, EuChemS President, signed the document on behalf of the European Chemical Society. The agreement, in recognition of the role the chemical sciences can play in addressing global challenges, aims to encourage and commit chemical societies around the world to cooperate in identifying solutions, locally and globally, using the SDGs as a guide, to such challenges. Solving such complex and multidimensional issues requires collaboration and joint effort between governments, industry, academia and non-governmental organisations.
The agreement will in turn be open to further signatories. If you are a representative of a European chemical society that has not yet signed the agreement and wish to do so, please contact: secretariat[at]euchems.eu. The agreement will also be available for signing at the upcoming EuChemS General Assembly in October in Bucharest, Romania. In the meantime, you are invited to read more about it here.
EuChemS Secretary General
5 Things About Chemistry
If you are talking about school teaching, of course there are many more than five things that need to be taught. However, I list five overarching themes that are so important that they should be included in any chemistry course:
- Why chemistry is such an important subject. Everything around is made of chemicals – most of them coming from the chemical industry, but some from natural sources. Chemistry is responsible for feeding the world (without agricultural chemicals we would only be able to feed about 5 billion people), chemistry is responsible for clean water, energy production, materials for buildings and clothes, all of the electronic gadgets we have, for all the medicines we take – everything!
- Climate change. Global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the release of CO2 into the atmosphere as well as by methane from increased agriculture. It will cause devastating changes to parts of the planet. Chemistry will provide solutions to the further development of clean renewable energy, whether it be through chemical conversion of solar energy, new batteries for energy storage, materials for the blades and generators in windmills and for solar cells, etc.
- Circular Economy. We need to transition from a linear economy where we make things, use them and throw them away to a circular economy where we repair, reuse, and recycle as much as possible. Chemistry will be very heavily involved in the process of recycling.
- Conservation of resources. Everything in the world is made from only 90 building blocks, the 90 naturally occurring elements. Some of these are in danger of being dispersed in such a way that they are not readily available. We must cherish these elements if we are to continue to enjoy the full diversity of our wonderful planet and have an ever-improving lifestyle. This means that we must do all of the things listed in 2) and 3) above, but we must also try to replace the use of endangered elements with earth abundant ones. In addition, we must turn away from fossil fuels as feedstocks for chemical production to using bio-derived resources, but these must not compete for land with growing food. Lignin, cellulose and other wastes must be converted into the chemicals we need for our lives. Human waste contains large amounts of elements, especially phosphorus. We must recycle these elements rather than disposing of them into the sea.
- Chemistry must be used to develop new drugs which can tackle such things as antimicrobial resistant organisms, diseases linked to ageing such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, some cancers and obesity.
What this tells us is that there are huge challenges facing the world. Tackling most of them will very heavily involve chemistry and they must be done in a way that does not create waste or pollution – by applying the principles of ‘Green Chemistry’.
Far from being a science that is dying because everything has been done, chemistry is vibrant and alive.
It holds the keys to a sustainable future but so much new research is required to ensure that we can do that cleanly and effectively.
The United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals provide a blueprint of what is required to get to the sustainable planet we must have. Chemistry will provide the methodology by which we can get there.
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