Peter Atkins on the ethical considerations of science

5 Feb 2014

Prof Peter Atkins, of Lincoln College, Oxford, will be presenting our Public Evening Lecture on 19 Feb, 'War and Peace: Chemistry's Contribution'.

What sparked your interest in chemistry?
Too long ago to recall; I suspect it was just the right mix of the qualitative and the quantitative.

And in chemistry related to warfare?
I have long regarded science as a way of bringing people together across cultural boundaries. Then, when I was chairman of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) Committee on Chemistry Education we considered ethical issues, which brought me into contact with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which led to arranging a conference in Oxford to discuss them.

What, if any, do you think are the challenges facing chemists working in this area?
To reconcile their consciences with their labours.

You have written an impressive number of books. What made you start to be an author?
The urge to communicate, to spread and share the insights that science brings to our understanding of the world. Also, writing helps one to clarify one's own understanding.

What has been the highlight of your career?
Getting to Oxford. Also, being involved in IUPAC's effort to spread good practice in chemical education throughout the world by establishing the Committee on Chemistry Education.

Would you have done anything differently?
Almost everything! Hindsight provides a remarkable viewpoint.

What would someone at the start of the career need to do to achieve what you have?
Work hard, even obsessively; read widely, not just in science; stay in touch with young minds.

If you had not pursued a career in chemistry, what would you have done?
Become an architect.

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