Chemical terrorism a stark reality; periodic table on a hair; how water and CO2 can replace toxic solvents; wood waste into green chemistry; and more

Conferences, Media releases, RACI Centenary Chemistry Congress

Tuesday, 25 July 2017, at the RACI Centenary Chemistry Congress, Melbourne Convention Centre

Nobel Peace Prize winner on eliminating chemical weapons

While the threat of countries using chemical weapons has diminished, “chemical terrorism is no longer a theoretical proposition or even imminent threat, but a stark reality,” according to His Excellency Mr Ahmet Üzümcü.

Winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, Mr Üzümcü is the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In 2013, the OPCW along with the United Nations and 30 partner countries participated in an operation to remove all the chemical weapons declared by the Syrian Arab Republic.

Since then, the OPCW has remained engaged in Syria through an ongoing fact-finding mission to establish whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria.

They’re also keeping a close eye on North Korea, one of only four countries who haven’t yet joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty outlawing the production, stockpiling or use of chemical weapons. The treaty came into force 20 years ago.

Limited availability for interviews – talk is at 2.30pm.

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.

“Our cells [and all cells on Earth] decorate themselves with a beautiful coat of carbohydrates,” she says.

“They serve as a kind of ID code on the cell’s surface.”

But bacteria use different sugars on their cell surface than we do, and some carbohydrate-binding proteins can very selectively recognise these sugars on the surface of those microbes.

The smallest periodic table

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.

Confusing insects so they can’t mate, and other green chemistry tricks

Frances Arnold (Caltech) is using ‘directed evolution’, which uses chemical engineering to create useful biological systems such as highly reactive enzymes or microorganisms that convert biomass to alternative fuels, and pheromones that replace insecticides. She holds 50 patents and has started two companies.

Invented in York, made in Tassie

The world needs good solvents for everything from cleaning the house, to making drugs, and miracle materials like graphene.

York University’s James Clark has invented a new solvent that’s now being made in Tasmania using wood waste.

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.

Nothing has been chemical-free since the Big Bang he says. 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 on Monday 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.


If you’d like to attend the conference, media passes are available—contact Suzannah Lyons on to register.

We’ll be tweeting news and interesting content from the Congress from @RACI_HQ and using #RACI100.

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