The New Chemistry

Nina Hall (editor)

Cambridge University Press 2000
A book review by Danny Yee © 2002
The New Chemistry provides an overview of modern chemistry and its applications, with seventeen review articles by specialists. Though commissioned for this volume, these take different approaches and are pitched at different levels: some are quite broadly accessible, while others assume the reader has studied chemistry at university (I found my physics and biology background helped a lot). Apart from multiple explanations of semiconduction, there is little repetition and an immense range of material is covered. The result is a fascinating picture of the science underpinning much modern technology.

The first five articles involve a fair bit of physics. "The Search for New Elements" looks at the synthesis of elements beyond uranium. "Bonding and the Theory of Atoms and Molecules" touches on a mix of theory: chemical bonds, reaction dynamics, simulation of liquids, and mathematical chemistry. "Chemistry in a New Light" and "Novel Energy Sources for Reactions" look at new tools for controlling reactions: lasers, electrosynthesis, microwaves, and ultrasound. And "What, Why and When is a Metal?" explains how the well-known criteria for distinguishing metals and insulators don't always work; this is one of the more accessible chapters, with a good selection of colour illustrations and historical "boxes".

The more "pure chemistry" chapters were the ones I had the most trouble following. These include "The Clothing of Metal Ions: Coordination Chemistry at the Turn of the Millenium", "Surface Chemistry", and "New Roads to Molecular Complexity". Other chapters connect more with biology. "Medicines from Nature" illustrates the search for new medicines through a case study of Erythromycin biosynthesis. "From Pharms to Farms" has two parts, one surveying major drugs and fragrances and the other pesticides. And "The Inorganic Chemistry of Life" is an unusual abstract overview of life from the point of view of an inorganic chemist.

A range of chapters are oriented towards engineering applications; these will be of particular interest to those following new computing technologies. "Supramolecular Chemistry" is an accessible look at the building of structures, at the chemical approach to nanotechnology. "Advanced Materials" focuses on applications to electronics — alternatives to silicon, packaging materials, liquid crystals, plastic batteries, and more — while "Molecular Electronics" focuses on actual circuits, on conductors and switches and molecular computing. "Electrochemical and Photoelectrochemical Energy Conversion" looks in detail at a range of traditional and experimental battery and fuel cell systems, and more briefly at photoelectrochemical cells and photochemical waste disposal.

"Chemistry Far from Equilibrium: Thermodynamics, Order and Chaos" is the most mathematical chapter, presenting some dynamical theory with a few examples. And a final chapter "Chemistry in Society" outlines the contributions of chemistry back to the Industrial Revolution, and urges better research both to avoid environmental problems and to correct popular misconceptions.

January 2002

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%T The New Chemistry
%E Hall, Nina
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 2000
%O hardcover, index
%G ISBN 0521452244
%P xi,491pp