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Better Looking, better loving, better living

Dr John Emsley

Better Looking, better loving, better living: what do these three things have in common? Well, according to eminent science writer Dr John Emsley: chemistry, chemistry, chemistry!

On Thursday 22 January 2009, SCI Science Communication Award winner Dr Emsley took a packed lecture theatre of chemistry enthusiasts at the University of Bristol, on a fascinating journey through the ways in which chemistry has, and could continue, to improve our lives. Dr Emsley talked about how people are helped to look better, live longer and healthier and are relieved of suffering, by synthetic chemicals. He described the chemicals that make up cosmetics; from hair-growth treatment and hair dyes, to medicines, such as anti-arthritic drugs and contraceptives. Chemistry also impacts on aspects of our lives that you wouldn’t expect. Where would our love lives be if it weren’t for shower gel or deodorant? He also gave examples of potential future health treatments grown out of new chemical technologies. One example he gave was nano-sized hydroxyapatite, which could be used to repair cavities in teeth. Adding this to toothpastes could represent a radical change to dental care. In addition to health and cosmetics, new advances in the development of new materials, such as solar cells and light emitting diodes, will continue to have an impact on our lives now and in the future as energy generation becomes an increasing problem.

Dr Emsley talked about how the chemicals we use in our day-to-day lives are relatively safe. He blamed media sensationalism of events, such as serious incidents of drug side-effects, which may only affect very small numbers of people, for a generally negative perception of chemicals in the general public. Despite the all-too-common perception that all chemicals are dangerous and pollute our planet, chemistry has introduced new medicines, materials, and beauty products, that we all use daily and take for granted. Although chemicals are not always perfect, they have improved our lives no end. As Dr Emsley said: ‘Chemistry can work wonders, not miracles.’

Laura Croft,
University of Bristol,
Honorary Recorder 
Bristol and South West Regional Group

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