Chemistry, one way direction?

sentiero“How harmful overspecialization is. It cuts knowledge at a million points and leaves it bleeding.” said Hari Seldon, my favourite fictional character.  In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, he developed “Psychohistory”  which combines history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people. What we would call today a real multidisciplinary approach!

We are still far from the too optimistic (and quite naive) sentence of Dirac: “The fundamental laws necessary for the mathematical treatment of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known, and the difficulty lies only in the fact that application of these laws leads to equations that are too complex to be solved.” However we should seriously consider that in many aspect of science, in particular chemistry, fundamental research should focus more on new properties and applications, rather than new reactions.

Many chemists, foresee a return to the research of fundamental chemistry in some decades, when humanity will need chemical building blocks and energy from different source than Oil. This will be probably a pioneer era for chemistry, but it doesn’t mean that today chemistry is confined to a role of “technical support” of other sciences. I strongly believe that a real border between Physics-Chemistry-Biology doesn’t exist, and that more applicative reasearch can lead to fundamental discoveries.

As chemist, I should go out more often from  my comfort-zone of expertise. Don’t be scared of  not understanding. Go to other scientists. To biologists, physicists, engineers, physician, astronomers, geologists and ask: “What are you working on? What are your problems? May I help you?“.  Even further! Chemistry is the most multidisciplinare and ecumenical science, let’s goo to historians, literates, artists and ask the same questions. We could be really surprised!

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6 comments

  1. I understand your frustration since I was facing almost the same issue. My activity is the technical basis of many others but nobody seems to be aware of it. Being a small department inside a big structure, we are quite invisible in comparison with other departments. It is not easy to raise your voice and create synergies in such a situation. However, if you don’t make the first step, nobody will do it for you! So we decided to “wake people up” with simple actions to reach them:

    – We attend other departments’ conferences/seminars/presentations/meetings. We discuss, we ask oriented questions. We let people know that we are working on the same topics and we are ready and eager to work with them.

    – We create a monthly newsletter sent to the whole company to show that we exist. It includes the latest essential news in our activity and the topics we are working on. We underline the news and topics that could impact other departments in order to create interactions with them.

    – We organise “evangelisation” breakfasts! Yes, breakfasts with pastries, coffee, tea and orange juice. For the moment, it’s a live copy of the newsletter with Q&A but we plan to do it differently. Work in progress!

    The results: we receive positive feedbacks and we work with two more departments now!

    I hope our experience will help you!

    1. It’s really interesting, Thank you very much!
      May I ask you in which department do you work and what is the area of interest of your company?
      If you prefer, you can answer me in private by e-mail.

      1. I work in the private sector. My job has nothing to do with research, even if I occasionally work for big pharmaceutical groups and health associations. I just landed on your blog yesterday thanks to Twitter suggestions.

  2. Anyway, if you plan to “reach people” with “simple actions”, I would be very happy to read your positive results on your blog.

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