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Chemical Solutions

Chemistry column for IYC2011

Expert Q&A on alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria

By Prof Alastair Hay, Professor of Environmental Toxicology, University of Leeds

An expert on the effects of exposure to chemical warfare agents and the field investigation of alleged chemical warfare incidents answers questions on the Syrian chemical weapons attack.

Q: What are the alleged chemical arsenals that Assad possesses? And the rebels?
A: “We do not know for certain. All the information is based on leaked intelligence assessments. The US, UK and France all claim that some samples they have tested from victims exposed in earlier alleged attacks indicate use of the nerve agent sarin.”

Q: What does the evidence from Syria suggest?

Women in Chemistry: Then and Now

By Jenny Bennett

Women have come a long way in chemistry since Marie Curie won her Nobel Prize 100 years ago.

Earthworms Indicate Soil Toxicity


Scientists can examine the tissue of earthworms and observe the effects of pollution.

By Jenny Bennett

Earthworms ingest soil contaminants and absorb them through the skin, making them an ideal indicator of soil toxicity.

The contamination of soil with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is of much concern due to the possible harmful effects these substances can have on human health. PAHs are lipophilic materials; this means they mix more easily with oil than water. Because of these properties, PAHs in the environment are found predominantly in soil, sediment and oily substances rather than in water or in air. In addition to their presence in fossil fuels they are also formed by incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels such as wood, coal, diesel, fat, tobacco and incense.

Australian Chemists Make an Impact

By Jenny Bennett

Australians have featured prominently in lists identifying the most cited chemists of the past decade.

2011 is the International Year of Chemistry (IYC 2011). It marks a worldwide celebration of the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humankind. The year also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize awarded to Madame Marie Curie, and is a fitting opportunity to celebrate the contributions of women to science.

Toxic Legacy of Volcanic Ash

By Jenny Bennett

Toxic trace elements deposited by volcanic ash can persist in the environment for decades, with implications for water purity.

Explosive volcanic eruptions cause considerable environmental repercussions that affect many of the Earth’s cycles, particularly the water cycle. For example, they can induce climatic effects associated with the injection of sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere on a truly global scale (AS, March 2011, pp.21–23). Other consequences include changes in the evaporation of water from the Earth’s surface due to ashfall deposits, and the input of key micronutrients such as iron into the ocean.