Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

The big picture

The ‘front half’ of this week’s Nature is packed full of chemistry – there’s a News & Views by Tom Muir on a recent JACS paper from David Liu’s group, Emma Marris wrote a short News piece on the controversy surrounding two recent syntheses of hexacyclinol, and Phil Ball wrote a News Feature on the big questions facing chemistry (or in his own words: “are there still major chemical questions to crack?”)

In 2005, Science published a special issue that featured 125 ‘big questions’ that scientists hope to solve in the next 25 years – some of the chemical questions included ‘How far can we push chemical self-assembly?,’ ‘What is the structure of water?,’ and ‘Are there limits to rational chemical synthesis?’. Phil adds a few more questions to the list, including ‘How do we design molecules with specific functions and dynamics?’ and ‘What is the chemical basis of thought and memory?’.

Let’s say you had a lab of 20 highly competent graduate students and post-docs and was just awarded a large grant (how about one million dollars per year for five years – wouldn’t that be nice…) What problem(s) would you work on? Would you tackle a basic/fundamental problem or use chemistry to explore an interesting biological system, make new materials/devices, develop new therapeutic agents, or something other application?


Joshua Finkelstein (Associate Editor, Nature)


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    Uncle Al said:

    One of the joys of organic synthesis is bending powerful rules. The ease of synthesis and stability of [1.1.1]propellane was astonishing compared to [1.1.2]propellane. Tetra-t-butyltetrahedrane reversibly to tetra-t-butylcyclobutadiene is delightful.

    An undistorted tetrahedral carbon atom with four identical substituents can be chiral. Make the substituents homochiral and obtain point group T, not Th or Td. Assign systematic nomenclature. CIP R,S won’t work. M,P; /_\,/\ (Greek upper- or lowercase) won’t work. One can weasel out by demanding conformers and playing footnotes therefrom, or not,

    C_27H_28 [6.6]chiralane is utterly rigid with that perfectly symmetric asymmetric point group Tcarbon as its core. It is one of the very few (perhaps a dozen out of ~70 million) organics with a nonplanar graph by Kuratowski’s theorem.

    1.04 H/C and no unsaturation! How is that for a synthetic target? Calculated [alpha]D= optical rotation of 691.8 degrees (Jochen Autschbach private communcication). That is quite large for a round hydrocarbon with only unstrained single bonds.

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    Michael Chisnall said:

    I’m still surprised that there isn’t more work being done on Ric Pashley’s claim that degassed water has different solubility properties. This relates to one of the questions on Science’s list and may be related to recent homeopathy claims by Ennis etc.