Chemistry has a lot of smart researchers, but no names or faces that the Average Joe would recognize. The field needs a hero but, as Chembark points out, what chemist has the time to be a spokesperson? Research in the lab is notoriously time-consuming.
Not to mention – dare I say – chemists can be kind of socially awkward.
Chemistry used to be cool all on its own (below), but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. What we need now to snag public interest is an advocate who can integrate chemistry with something else that people like.
Here are some options for modern Chemistry Advocates:
A few years ago, some Harvard folks put out an absolutely gorgeous 3D animation that made the molecular goings-on inside a cell seem positively magical. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you are seriously missing out.)
Chemistry needs something like this too. Imagine a 3D false-color rendering of a Suzuki reaction starring a glimmering palladium atom feverishly tugging pairs of aryl chlorides and boronic acids together. Or perhaps an olefin metathesis looking like a frenzied square dance… but with much more glitz and glam. We could watch as colorful molecular orbitals shifted around, or see a molecule stretch and bend under IR irradiation.
And who better to make such an animation than James Cameron? He knows how to take something that isn’t inherently super earth shattering (e.g., Avatar plot), and turn it into a wildly successful hit using stunning visual imagery. So what do you say, Jim? Don’t forget a fantastically dramatic soundtrack.
“The decomposition pathway must be more energetically favorable than the desired reaction!” just isn’t as striking as “We need to get this patient into surgery now or he’s not going to make it!” For this reason, a chemistry lab drama on TV just wouldn’t have the success of a medical drama.
But how about a Project Runway-style reality TV show in which contestants vie to design and carry out the ideal total synthesis? Tim Gunn and his encouraging “make it work” attitude would be absolutely crucial to this plan. And Phil Baran could play host/judge instead of Heidi Klum.
Somehow she makes really unattractive attire seem cutting edge. Perhaps she could do this with a lab coat and safety glasses?
Side note: we do already have the “Lab Romance” spin-off of “Bad Romance”… not sure if that’s helping our cause or not.
Sigh… I hate to say this one, but we need the young people interested in chemistry/science. Justin is almost old enough to start college. He’s already gotten most preteen/teen boys wearing his haircut. Just think what could happen if he decides to major in chemistry.
So those are my ideas. 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry; we should really try to get someone famous/talented on our side over the next 12 months.