If you're going to San Francisco


Time flies and we are already halfway through the summer. July was busy and our special issue themed around chemistry and art seemed to go down very well with our audiences. 

From the August issue, it is worth highlighting the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war. I’d also like to mention our profile feature of Martyn Poliakoff (see Chemistry World, August 2014, p40; coming soon online) whom we also acknowledge on the cover. I’ve met him personally on several occassions and he’s a charming character. Nowadays he is the foreign secretary and vice president of the Royal Society, a YouTube personality through the Periodic table of videos series and is still research-active at the university of Nottingham, UK, where his work on green chemistry continues to be equally fascinating. 

August is guaranteed to be a busy month too. As ever, we’ll be attending the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) fall meeting in San Francisco, US. I’ve been to San Francisco once before but this second trip has prompted me to look a bit more in depth into its history. A crucial moment was, of course, the gold rush – when thousands of prospectors migrated there under the promise of fabulous riches. Its population grew staggeringly fast in that time, going from a mere 1000 in 1848 to 25,000 by the end of 1849. A number of industries thrived as a consequence, with entrepreneurs seeking to capitalise on the wealth that gold generated. The banking industry was one of them, with Wells Fargo being founded in 1852. 

Gold mining also caused significant environmental harm, destroying some of California’s most important water sources, clearing the landscape of huge areas of forest (caused by miners producing charcoal to fuel machinery) and contaminating the water with mercury. The culprit was the hydraulic mining technique commonly used to extract gold at the time. Water cannons directed powerful streams of water at gravel beds, with the resulting slurry passing over sluices, where the gold mechanically settled to the bottom and was collected. Gold was also recovered by chemical reaction with liquid mercury to form gold–mercury amalgam. Loss of mercury in the amalgamation and re-purification processes resulted in millions of cubic metres of highly contaminated sediments being dumped into the Sacramento river and San Francisco Bay. It seems appropriate that in a setting with such a historical relationship between chemistry and the environment, global stewardship is the theme for the meeting, focusing on ‘global aspects of the chemical enterprise related to sustainability of world resources, including green chemistry'.

So see you in San Francisco this August at booth #701. And if the quote attributed to Mark Twain is anything to go by (‘The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco’) bring a jumper!   


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