Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Chemistry: 21st Century Science for the Global Economy

By Paul Mulvaney

It’s time for public recognition of the fact that, in a country where almost all of the 92 natural elements can be found, chemistry offers Australia sustainable economic prosperity.

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In sharp contrast to other major science disciplines such as physics, mathematics and biology, chemistry is the only “fundamental” science that has a specific industry attached to it. Chemistry as a discipline has been a significant contributor to the wealth, prosperity and health of the human species. Over the past 5000 years it is chemistry, more than any other discipline, that has made our global civilisation possible. Chemical discoveries led to technological revolutions in our past – from Stone Age to Bronze Age to Iron Age, and hence to steel, plastics, petroleum, silicon, DNA and, most recently, graphene.

Early civilisations learned how to extract simple metals and to process them, which provided an initial military advantage and eventually long-term economic superiority. Likewise, the civilisations that developed gunpowder gained ascendancy in many areas around the globe.

New materials such as cement, mortar and concrete, glass and plastic have led in turn to increased urbanisation and to larger, longer-lasting buildings. The industrial revolution was enabled by rapid improvements in understanding the thermo­dynamics of fossil fuel combustion, and this led to global power shifts to countries that were able to implement these innovations on an industrial scale.

The long history of chemistry often leads people to underestimate its current...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.