Chemistry for a better future does it need repositioning
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A Perspective on Asia. CHEMISTRY FOR A BETTER FUTURE: DOES IT NEED REPOSITIONING?. Goverdhan Mehta Department of Organic Chemistry Indian Institute of Science Bangalore, INDIA. Structure of the presentation “Obeisance”- A celebration of chemistry

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Chemistry for a better future does it need repositioning l.jpg

A Perspective on Asia


Goverdhan Mehta

Department of Organic Chemistry

Indian Institute of Science

Bangalore, INDIA

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  • Structure of the presentation

  • “Obeisance”- A celebration of chemistry

  • Scoping Chemistry – challenges& responses

  • Asymmetric world - basic paradigms

  • Silver lining- chemistry in Asia

  • Looking ahead…….

“tour de force” of Chemical scenario

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Dedicated to Amedeo Carlo Avogadro

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Chemistry stirs extreme emotions….

If you are obliged to neglect anything, let it be your chemistry. It is the least useful and the least amusing to a country gentleman of all the ordinary branches of science.

-Thomas Jefferson

I feel sorry for people who don’t know anything about chemistry. They are missing an important source of happiness.

- Linus Pauling

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Chemistry- a tryst with destiny

Chemists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost maniacal impulse to seek their pleasures amongst smoke and vapour, soot and flames, poisons and poverty, yet amongst all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that I would rather die than change places with the King of Persia.

- Johann Joachim Becher

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A Science of mixing substances

Chemistry is in Everything


Everything is in Chemistry

An amazing science of familiar things

From grand mother’s recipes to…….. Sherlock Holmes detective work to witchcraftand even magic!

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Chemistry is in Everything


Everything is in Chemistry

Chemistry is a “utility science”

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Chemistry is in Everything


Everything is in Chemistry

Chemistry is a “Core Science”

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Chemistry is in Everything


Everything is in Chemistry

Chemistry is an “Integrative Science”

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Chemistry is in Everything


Everything is in Chemistry one of the broadest branches of science,

if for no other reason that, when we think about it, everything is chemistry. -Luciano Caglioti

Chemistry is a “Synergy Science”

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Chemistry is in Everything


Everything is in Chemistry

A dynamic branch of science; constantly evolving

Chemistry is a “Synergy Science”

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Chemistry has changed life…….

Let it be acknowledged, whoever we are, wherever we live, whatever we do, chemistry is omni present, improving our life and our world.

“…..chemistry is the window given to mankind

to glimpse into its material essence” *

A very proud record and brighter future ahead…..

*S. Shaik, Angew Chem. 2003

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energy and environment

  • Chemistry – an ever expanding canvas…

  • Materials to medicines

  • Nanotechnology to sustainable energy

  • Climate researchtogenetic modifications

  • Growing and unmatched interdisciplinarity

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… matter how the world evolves in the 21st century, chemistry will always be at the centre of human wellbeing, economic development and sustainability of our planet.


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Is chemistry at the cross roads?

  • Is our identity at stake? Do we tend to define ourselves narrowly despite the vast expanse of the discipline?

  • Generally, chemists seem content in living from publication to publication; missing the big picture?

  • Should chemistry be repositioned with respect to other sciences? Do we need to cosmeticize our discipline to amplify its intellectual appeal?

‘All science is either physics or stamp collecting’- Rutherford

Chemists are often accused of ‘intellectual conservatism’

Science that promotes ‘intellectual polygamy and promiscuity’

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Is chemistry at the cross roads?

  • How to strengthen dynamic synergy between our perpetual quest for new structures with functions?

  • Are risk factors, the bête noire of chemistry, being overplayed?

    Despite risks, acceptance of nuclear energy is resurfacing

  • How can chemistry retune/redeem societal esteem commensurate with its contributions? Do we need to communicate better?

    Is it only an image problem?

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A Confounding Paradox

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Cynicism about chemistry is highest among the OECD countries which account for <85% of scientific literature, <90% R & D and <85% of IPR

Strange correlation between the prosperity of society and disdain for chemistry

Curiously, in the pooranddeveloping nations chemistry does not evoke negative responses; it is still viewed as a science for human good

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Image of which account for <85% of scientific literature, <90% R & D and <85% of IPR


Scientific competitiveness and economic wealth

D. A. King, Nature, 430, 311, 2004

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How to champion the cause of chemistry? which account for <85% of scientific literature, <90% R & D and <85% of IPR

  • Revisit its intellectual landscape - promote chemistry as a science for human wellbeing and sustainable future.

  • Need icons - a la Feynman for modern physics, Watson or Monod for modern biology or Medawar/ Pauling for science.

  • Interdisciplinarity vs identity. How much space to yield? Are there lessons from nanoscience and genomics?

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How to champion the cause of chemistry? which account for <85% of scientific literature, <90% R & D and <85% of IPR

  • Harness the full potential of the exceptional interface between chemistry and industry. (Liebig’s model)

  • Project it as a discipline that equips one with multiple skills, well suited for a range of promising careers.

  • Chemistry - as a bridge to span the increasing chasm between science and society

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I think so which account for <85% of scientific literature, <90% R & D and <85% of IPR


What is the way forward

Catch the bull by the horns !

Is Chemistry in the retreat?

  • Many portends :

  • Departments are being shut down; rechristened or merged in desperation for survival – era of ‘prefixes’

  • Many research councils and funding agencies removing the word chemistry as a section

  • Falling stature of chemistry – seeking shelter

  • Lack of interest among young – mirroring the trend in science

  • Near absence of a cohesive and influential voice for the chemistry community and ‘statesman chemists’

Let us reach out to society and project our discipline as the fundamental science in the quest for sustainability in the 21st century

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Great opportunities…… which account for <85% of scientific literature, <90% R & D and <85% of IPR

Connecting to UN ‘Millennium Development Goals’

eg. hunger, health, education, environment

Linkages with Global Change Research Programs

eg. climate change, energy issues

Looking Beyond discovery :

addressing human needs and concerns

Grasping the international dimension

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ASIA which account for <85% of scientific literature, <90% R & D and <85% of IPR

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UNDERSTANDING A RESURGENT ASIA which account for <85% of scientific literature, <90% R & D and <85% of IPR

  • A dominant geographic entity, covering nearly one-third (43,608,000 sq km) of the Earth’s land mass.

  • Home to 61% (3.7 bn) of world’s population.

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Changing perception of Asia – from pity to.…… which account for <85% of scientific literature, <90% R & D and <85% of IPR


  • Culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse.

  • Civilizational strengths dating back to around 5000 B.C.

  • Tradition of learning and scholarship.

  • Ravaged in the recent past by colonization and conflicts.

  • Galloping population and emerging markets.

  • Resilient people – adept at facing the core challenges

A young continent with vibrant, ambitious population - raring to go

(cf. 54% of India’s population is below the age of 30)

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How does one look at chemistry from the perspective of a geographic entity?

Not in a disciplinary sense but from the perspective of people, culture, practice, perception, opportunities and prospects.

Chemistry in Asia

Science is becoming a world system

Internationalization of Chemistry – a reality

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A basic paradigm……… geographic entity?

World is asymmetric, not only in socio-economic arena but more so in S & T capacities

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Growing inequalities geographic entity?

Knowledge Divide

A troubled world

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Galloping Consumption geographic entity?

Depleting resources

A stressed planet

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A basic paradigm geographic entity?

  • Asymmetry among Asian and OECD countries

  • Asymmetry between Asian countries

  • Asymmetry within the Asian countries

World is asymmetric …………

- Chemistry and Asia are no exceptions

GDP varies from $500 - 28,000 p.a

Universities per country <5 - >300

Chemistry Ph. D’s p.a 0 - >1000

Chemistry publications p.a <5 – >3000

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Notwithstanding the asymmetries, geographic entity?

chemistry is heading for a

boom time in Asia

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Natural products and traditional medicine

  • ‘Ayurveda’ in India, Chinese system among many others prevalent in Asia - are being reinvented now for human wellbeing

  • Neutraceuticals and Cosmeceuticals : $.60 bn herbal market.


a potent antimalarial drug, isolated from Quighaosu

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Indian Wootz Steel (18 geographic entity?th century, Persia)

bronze (2600-1800 BC, India)

bronze (6th to 8th century, Burma)

iron (320-335 AD, India)

bronze (211-206 BC, Quin dynasty, China)


Materials processing

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Porcelain vase from the Ming period, China: Use of cobalt oxide to produce blue pattterns




Indigo dye (inset), extracted from Indigofera tinctoria, derives its name from India – the oldest center of indigo dying.



Dyes and pigments

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Chemistry in Asia oxide to produce blue pattterns

Where does it stand?

Where is it heading?

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From silver lining………to golden edge oxide to produce blue pattterns

Chemistry does not yet have a serious image problem in Asia- though there are some legitimate concerns of civil society and environmenalists

While chemistry may not be the first career choice among the young Asians, it is certainly not the last

Job opportunities for chemists are getting brighter

Investments in the chemical industry are flowing both

in the manufacturing and R & D sectors as more and more countries become TRIPS compliant

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Asia: the Changing Landscape of Chemistry oxide to produce blue pattterns

  • Chemistry continues to draw students at both graduate and undergraduate level

  • Signs of incremental improvement in the quality of training and research

  • It is projected that by 2012 Asia will produce more Ph.D’s in Chemistry than US or Europe!

  • Increasing capacity to retain knowledge intensive capita - reversing the ‘brain drain’

  • Job opportunities with very competitive compensation

  • Emergence of a new breed of entrepreneurs

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Human oxide to produce blue pattterns






Many new initiatives…………

  • New institutions - focus on Universities

  • (Re)building research infrastructure

  • Innovations in chemistry curricula

  • Web enabled teaching-virtual experiments

  • Incentives for faculty and students

Prime driver……

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Chemistry in Asia- Positive signals and increasing visibility

  • Research contributions in cutting edge areas

  • Many world class institutions-drawing attention

  • Emergence of new leadership

  • More speakers at leading Conferences/Symp.

  • Regular hosting of major international events

  • Signs of a spread-new countries in the arena

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Asia-increasing share of chemical literature visibility

In 2004 contributions from Asia accounted for >30% of the Chemistry literature……

China 12%

Japan 11.8%

India 2.6%

S. Korea 2.4%

Source: CAS

Population – 61%

There are first time contributions from many

countries in leading Chemistry Journals

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Relative Position in Chemistry visibility

(based on Chemical abstracts)

In the chemistry world eleven four players from Asia

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Contributions to world Science visibility1990-2004

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Material Science visibility

Contributions in Material Science 1990-2004

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Chemicals accounts for ~15% of global trade in manufactured goods (cf. 10% in automotive sector)

Powerful interface of chemistry with industry

World trade in chemicals in 2000 was $1500 billion;

projected to be over $2000 billion in 2006

Geographic distribution of trade:

EU 31%

USA 30%

Asia 27%

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Chemical Industry – Emerging Asian Scenario goods (

  • Major supply of bulk chemicals

  • Manufacturing of fine chemicals and intermediates

  • Phenomenal rise in contract research

  • Establishment of major R & D Centers by MNCs

  • What are the drivers for such moves?

  • Abundant human resources,

  • Core competence of Asians in process research,

  • Cost cutting,

  • Environmental concerns, ‘REACH’ has not yet reached

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Chemical Industry – Emerging Asian Scenario goods (

  • What are the benefits?

  • Economic growth and employment

  • Helps ‘locals’ to move up the value chain

  • Development of entrepreneurship

  • Draws innovators

  • What are the concerns?

  • Environmental pollution– air , water

  • Hazards –Bhopal gas leak (1984), Harbin (2005)

  • Growth of indigenous R & D

  • IPR issues

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Pivotal role of chemistry in sustainable development?

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Lessons from the “Miracle of Rhine” goods (

Following the ‘Basel disaster’ of 1986, a concerted, cross country effort with chemical industry participation and policy interventions has cleaned-up the river; no more heavy metal contamination and even the salamander fish is back

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Pharmaceuticals - A sunrise sector in Asia goods (

Globally, pharmaceutical industry is worth >500 billion,

propelled by a string of innovative blockbusters

Generics market is touching 50 billion

Asian countries have found a niche in generics primarily due to special flair for innovations in process research

But is that enough?

Particularly in the TRIPS compliant competitive regime!

Blockbuster basket from Asia is rather empty

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  • Core competence in process research has brought down the price of the anti-AIDS cocktail by a factor of 20 for the needy in the developing nations.

  • An international NGO has set up facilities in Hyderabad to make available life saving drugs at affordable price to the needy.

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2005 sales ~ $13 billion goods (


Norway court chips away

at Pfizer's Lipitor patents

Aug. 30: A Norway court sided with Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. (500359.BY) in the Indian drug company's effort to sell a cheaper, generic version of Pfizer Inc.'s (PFE) blockbuster Lipitor cholesterol-loweringpillthere.


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Pharmaceuticals goods (- Opportunities and threats

Challenges of competition and innovation

  • Global R & D spending in 2001 was $ 31 billion, typically pharma giants spend 10-16% of turn over ; Asia ~2%

  • Introduction of a new drug costs $800 million; 70% of the costs goes into clinical trials; time span of 7-10 years

  • Current focus on generics. But, how long?

  • Outsourcing and contract research are rapidly growing

  • Pharma giants are establishing R & D and manufacturing facilities in Asia posing a challenge to local companies

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Where should Asian emphasis be ? goods (

  • Sustainable Chemistry –

    Green manufacturing, process research

  • Natural Products –

    leads and scaffoldsfor diversity, chemogenomics

  • Pharmaceuticals-

    from generics to NMEs, high-end custom synthesis

  • Catalysis – energy, environment

    H2, CO, CO2, CH4

  • Nanoscience and technology

    Sensors, devices

  • Pragmatic partnerships with MNC’s

    Beyond custom synthesis and contract research

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Globalization goods ( ‘glocalization’ symbiosis

Capacity to transform indigenous knowledge based technologies and local innovations

on a global platform

Integration of the present needs (contract research and manufacturing) with the long term vision of knowledge creators (IPR holders)

“Brain drain” to “Brain gain”- from migration of people to moving jobs and tasks

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Watch out! goods (

Let notthe present be a short joy ride for Asia on the ‘globalization bus’

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Chemistry networks and organizations goods (

  • An Asian umbrella body- Federation of Asian Chemical Societies (FACS) with ~30 national members.

  • Holds a biennial ACC, the 11th scheduled in South Korea

  • A range of networking projects - from Green Chemistry to

    Chemical Education to Medicinal Chemistry

  • Network on the Chemistry of Natural Products

  • The Asian-Pacific Chemical Education network

  • Asian network on Green Chemistry

  • Asia- Link project in Medicinal Chemistry (EU)

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Chemistry networks and organizations goods (

Almost all countries have a professional society

Chemical Society of Japan (>125 yrs)

Indian Chemical Society (>80 yrs)

Chinese Chemical Society (>70yrs)

Many of them publish journals - some but not all

are covered by CA and other databases

Bulletin of the Chemical Society of Japan

Journal of the Indian Chemical Society

Journal of the Korean Chemical Society

Iranian Journal of Chemistry

Impact factors range from 0.00 to <2.00

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Need for forging new partnerships goods (

  • Collaborative efforts in Chemistry between Asian Countries are inadequate and usually driven either for accessing facility or as part of political agenda.

  • Collaboration between Asian countries and developed countries are mostly student or natural resource centric or part of ‘aid programs’.

    Create a new niche……….

    New partnerships should be knowledge centric,

    equitable and genuinely two way

My plea - retune the mind set in time,

commit to spirit of internationalism

in promoting chemistry

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There is an emerging consensus that goods (

the 21stcentury will be an Asian Century

If so, Chemistry is destined to play a major role in improving the quality of life, preserving the environment and ensuring food and energy security on a sustainable basis.

Let chemistry flourish every where for the wellbeing of our planet and all humankind.

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Thank you goods (