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My unique chapter in Chemistry of the Elements


Building up my information for Chemistry of the Elements
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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Now no one would ever claim, and I certainly wouldn’t claim, that I knew how every chemical was made, what it was useful for, what it cost, where the minerals came from and so forth; there was a learning curve.

So I started in a simple-minded way. I went to Chemical and Engineering News, which is the house magazine of the American Chemical Society and a wonderful weekly magazine. And every year they have summaries of productions of chemicals and summaries of firms. Out of these... you’ve got many of the firms would be making organic dyestuffs for example, or some pharmaceutical compound, which are very important, but they’re not inorganic chemistry.

So out of this list I got, I think, 484 companies, which were making inorganic chemicals. And I wrote to each of them and asked, what do you make, how do you make it, what’s it used for? And as you can imagine I got a lot of replies, company brochures, some fascinating stuff, I learned a tremendous amount from it, much of it was not relevant to what I wanted.

But it did mean that each time I was talking about a particular element and its particular compounds, I had a sound background of reality from the industry as to where these things came from. So that was important and I wanted some of the production figures and how it changed in time, for example, to come out, so that was one aspect.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: Chemistry of the Elements, Chemical and Engineering News, American Chemical Society

Duration: 1 minute, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011