Harry Kroto on chemistry education

"If we are not careful...[we] are going to breed a whole generation of people who don't have a good enough understanding of chemistry to make the technologies for sustainable future."

- Dr. Harry Kroto, as quoted in The New Scientist

Kroto, president of the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry and a co-discover of the Nobel-winning molecule buckminsterfullerene, was one of several people interviewed by science writer Anna Gosline in search of areas of chemistry that might inspire the next generation to work in the field. In an atmosphere of dwindling enrollment and even closures of chemistry departments in the UK, this perspective is not merely academic.

The environment is clearly a big problem for future chemists. Aside from the obvious need for bright young sparks to help discover alternatives for fossil fuels, perhaps with photovoltaics, chemists will also need to save the world by scrubbing excess greenhouse gasses from the sky and designing greener methods for making essential products. Medicine is a second important problem: smart chemistry will be used to interfere with disease pathways, perfect badly needed new antibiotics, mine natural drugs from plants, create synthetic skin for burn patients, and repair bone, nervous tissue and blood vessels. Nanotechnology is a third area set to break into everyday life.

But Kyoto sees an identity crisis: when people think of molecular biology or nanotechnology, they don't necessarily think of chemistry, even though its principles underpin them. As an example of this danger, he says: "In biology, we have gone into the genome, but understanding the DNA molecule requires an understanding of the chemical bond."

You can read the rest of Gosline's article here.