Chemistry Talks

President’s column

Conference on the Future of Europe 

Do you know that the Conference on the Future of Europe has been launched recently? This concerns a joint initiative of the European Council, European Parliament, and European Commission to stimulate citizens to participate in shaping Europe’s future ( It is an opportunity for everyone to speak up and express what they think is important for Europe. You can directly bring in your own ideas through a digital platform and this is combined with a series of debates with panels of EU citizens on national and European levels. Nine key topics have been chosen including climate change, health, social justice, and migration. The outcome will be used by the Council, Parliament, and Commission to draft new policy that is in line with the recommendations made by the Conference.   

I do like the initiative, however, predefining topics can also be dangerous. Most strikingly, research and innovation, or science in general, have not been identified as priority topics by the Conference. Why not? The current pandemic, the climate crisis (the recent IPCC report has shown that the situation is more alarming than we perhaps imagined), and the waste problem – to name a few global challenges – will require significant investments in research and innovation in different scientific areas, thereby unlocking the immense potential of Europe’s researchers. Their contributions are needed to realize fundamental sustainable and digital transitions and at the same time keep Europe operating at the forefront of science in the highly competitive international arena.   

The ERC Scientific Council, a strong promotor of high-quality research across the European Union, has already made a strong plea to scientists, funders and organisations involved in developing research policy to engage in the Conference and bring across the crucial role of research and innovation. On behalf of EuChemS, I would like to reiterate that request to all European chemists to ensure that research and innovation in chemistry and related fields will keep its crucial role in addressing the global challenges: propose ideas via the online platform, try to become involved in organising events or citizens panels and do emphasise the relevance of science. It is of the highest importance that Europe continues to recognise and stimulate the value of science, and the role of chemists and chemistry research in particular. By spring 2022, the Conference is expected to report on the conclusions, and I am confident that thanks to your contributions, research and innovation will remain an integral part of the future European agenda.  

Floris Rutjes 
EuChemS President  

Interview with Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim

Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim is probably one of the best-known German science communicators. This chemist with a Ph.D. reaches 1.3 million subscribers with her YouTube channel maiLab. She is also a television presenter (with her own show starting in autumn) and bestselling author. She has received many awards, including the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany as well as the GDCh Prize for Journalists and Writers.  

To mark the occasion, Dr. Christian Remenyi of Nachrichten aus der Chemie and Dr. Vera Koester of ChemistryViews met with her to talk about her ambitions, responsibility, and the prevalence of hate speech.  

Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim imagines science communication to be like an onion: “Original scientific literature is on the inside and Instagram or TikTok, for example, on the outside. You have to pick people up somewhere and then draw them further into the onion. That is why every layer of the onion has its place, and all of them are needed.”  

Her aim is for what she does to not only be well-received by the lay public, but also that scientists who, when they see her content, will say it’s good. That is why she is particularly pleased to receive the GDCh award. “It means a lot to me personally to receive this appreciation from the chemistry community.”  

It is a great challenge to build this bridge between science and science communication. Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim says in the interview that the majority of her job consists of learning, and she says: “I think that’s cool!”  

Read or watch the full interview in ChemistryViews: 

Paradigm shift in organic chemistry 

Matthias Bickelhaupt ©Friso Spoelstra

A paradigm in organic chemistry that has been in use since 1931 has turned out to be wrong, Amsterdam scientists found. It is not carbon s-p hybridisation, but steric repulsion that causes the variation of e.g. C-H bond lengths. ‘This discovery has been in the making for about twenty years.’ 

It is actually part of the standard rules in (physical) organic chemistry textbooks: the bond length between two atoms becomes shorter if you increase the s-character of one of the two atoms. So, the distance between atoms decreases in the hybridisation trend sp3-sp2-sp, like the C-H bond in ethane, ethene and ethyne. 

‘Before our discovery, it was actually never investigated whether this phenomenon really works that way with quantitative quantum chemical methods,’ says Matthias Bickelhaupt, Professor of theoretical chemistry at Free University (VU) Amsterdam. ‘Yes, the hybridisation rule seems plausible, and you can often observe corresponding correlations. But whether s-p hybridisation is the reason for bond length trends has never been proven quantum mechanically.’ 

Bickelhaupt’s team used a quantitative molecular orbital theory (MO) in combination with an energy decomposition analysis. This forms a model that both reveals the mechanisms and causal relationships and quantifies the associated effects. ‘This enables us to determine both qualitatively and quantitatively how important certain effects are.’ 

So, what are the details concerning steric repulsion? ‘The C-H bond overlap does indeed reach its optimum at shorter distances when you go from sp3 to sp. Interestingly, however, that optimum lies at very short distances, roughly at about 0.7 Å and thus far below the C-H equilibrium distances of 1.07 to 1.10 Å. Around that final bond length, a totally different mechanism dominates, namely the steric repulsion (Pauli-repulsion) between the substituents (H-, CH3-, H2C= or HC≡) around the carbon atom of the C-H bond in question. This steric repulsion is a manifestation of the so-called Pauli repulsion between electrons of equal spin,’ Bickelhaupt explains, ‘and it clearly decreases when you go from 4, to 3 to 2 substituents around the carbon atoms in ethane, ethene and ethyne respectively.’ 

Want to read more details about the implications and the research that led up to this paper? Then please visit the original article at 

A visual representation of the steric effect on bond lengths ©the videomatic