Chemical-free is a myth says Chief Scientist; Dow CEO says business can save the world

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Today at the Centenary Chemistry Congress

Chemical-free is a myth, says Chief Scientist

It’s a sad era for chemistry when you can buy chemical-free water, in a chemical-free plastic bottle, to wash down your chemical-free pills, from your chemical-free pharmacist,” says Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel.

More below.


  • Eliminating chemical weapons, His Excellency Mr Ahmet ÜzümcüDirector-General, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (2013 Nobel Peace Prize winner)
  • Using carbs to fight superbugs—Wisconsin chemist Laura Kiessling on how we can use the carbohydrates that coat every living cell in the fight against antibiotic resistant superbugs
  • Sir Martyn Poliakoff (University of Nottingham) is in the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s smallest periodic table (carved into a hair from his head). He’s a star of the YouTube series The Periodic Table of Videos. And in his day job he’s working to use CO2, water and other supercritical fluids to replace toxic solvents in applications such as dry cleaning.

And from last night

Business can solve today’s intractable challenges says Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, but Australia is falling behind..

More below.

Chemical-free is a myth, says Chief Scientist

Nothing has been chemical-free since the Big Bang, says Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel. And an Australia without the products created by chemists would be a nightmare.

  • The Sydney Harbour Bridge would rust
  • Vegemite would never have been invented
  • Our brilliant plastic banknotes would be paper
  • There’d be no Aerogard
  • No Speedos
  • No wine in casks, no white tiles on the Opera House, no zinc cream on Shane Warne’s nose, and no Haigh’s chocolate frogs.

Speaking at the RACI Centennial Chemistry Congress in Melbourne today Dr Finkel reminded delegates of some of the ways that chemists are improving lives, including: CSIRO’s paints for Boeing jetliners; cleaning up drug manufacture; identifying enzymes that allow certain worms to chomp through plastic; and turning bottles into fuels.

Dr Finkel presented a formula for impact, for chemists to continue to tackle and solve the big societal issues.


Business can solve today’s intractable challenges says Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, but Australia is falling behind

Business can help make the world a better place by driving the solutions to problems like climate change, food security and rising energy demand.

“I firmly believe that the companies who will lead the 21st century will be the ones that invent solutions to these mounting global challenges,” said Andrew Liveris, speaking last night at the RACI Centenary Chemistry Congress.

For Dow that’s meant developing a paint that removes toxic formaldehyde from the air, innovative packaging technologies that reduce food waste, and new methods of desalination that allow us to put more of the planet’s water to use.

Last year the company was awarded 754 US patents – eight times the number they were getting a decade ago.

“More and more companies are seeing that we can do well by doing good,” Andrew said.

But we also need governments to set smart regulatory and policy frameworks that enable innovation to flourish, and that’s not happening enough in Australia he said.

According to the World Economic Forum, Australia ranks 25th in the world when it comes to “business capacity for innovation”. And we’re also falling behind in our competitiveness in teaching young people maths and science.

Andrew says our quality of life will go backwards “if all we are is a farm, a hotel and a quarry”.

Speech and audio available at


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