Sherwood Rowland (1927-2012), Remembering Fukushima, and Your Next Career: Environmental Toxicologist

March 17, 2012 at 8:04 pm 2 comments

Green happenings from the last week or two:

  • Nobel Laureate Sherwood Rowland died March 10, 2012. (C&ENews, Mar 13, 2012, Latest News) Not very many Nobel Prizes in Chemistry have been awarded to “environmental” chemists. An exception to this rule was the prize awarded to Sherwood Rowland, Mario Molina, and Paul Crutzen in 1995. In the 1970’s they discovered how a so-called “inert” family of chemicals, chlorofluorocarbons, that were widely used in common appliances and in manufacturing, were helping to destroy the Earth’s protective ozone layer. More than 20 years would pass before the importance of their work was acknowledged by the Nobel committee.
  • Nuclear fuel in a reactor accident (Science review, 9 Mar 2012, p. 1184) The chemical composition of reactor fuel changes over time. That’s why nuclear power plants are referred to as nuclear “reactors”. Unexpected chemical changes occur during reactor accidents and, as this article describes, scientists are still learning about these changes. This issue of Science also contains other articles about the Fukushima earthquake that are worth reading: p. 1152 – Safety panel blasts nuclear safety lapses in Japan, p. 1164 – experts look at how to rebuild Japanese coastal communities so that they are more earthquake-resilient, p. 1165 – what has become of the contaminated areas around the Fukushima power plant, p. 1166 – Japanese re-examine their dependence on nuclear power.
  • Environmental concerns and more stringent laws are providing opportunities for environmental toxicologists (Nature, 15 March 2012, v. 483, p. 363, Careers). Read this article to learn what environmental toxicologists do and why the job market for people with this background might be expanding.
  • Water under pressure: A UN analysis sets out global water-management concerns ahead of Earth Summit. (Nature News, 13 Mar 2012) The Earth Summit, a UN-sponsored discussion of the most pressing concerns, will convene in Rio de Janeiro in June. According to UNESCO, the Summit needs to tackle the global water supply if a crisis is to be averted.
  • Oil-sands pollution quantified (Nature, 8 March 2012, v. 483, p. 126, Research Highlight). Chris McLinden of Environment Canada in Toronto and his colleagues used satellite observations to determine how the mining and processing of oil sands affect air quality in Alberta, Canada — home to the world’s second-largest crude-oil reserve. Research article: Geophys. Res. Lett. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2011GL050273(2012).
  • Catalytic conversion of biomass using solvents derived from lignin (Green Chemistry, P. Azadi et al., published on web 16 Mar 2012, DOI: 10.1039/C2GC35203F) Most of the mass in a tree is tied up in tow forms: cellulosic compounds and lignin. This research describes how a solvent derived from lignin provides a suitable medium for conversion of cellulosic compounds into “high value platform chemicals and transportation fuels, namely furfural, 5-hydroxymethylfurfural, levulinic acid and γ-valerolactone.”
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Entry filed under: In the News.

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