Last month, the American Chemical Society held a webinar about predicting the biggest advances in chemistry. A panel of scientific editors from our own C&EN editorial team, ChemRxiv, Nature, and Science discussed the hottest trends in chemistry research in 2018. They also talked about their outlook on chemistry research for 2019.
Here’s a recap of what the science editors had to say to look out for in the New Year.
Science marketers, take note!
Hottest Trends in Chemistry – 2018
As Lauren Wolf of our Chemical & Engineering News said, “You have to look backwards to move forwards!” Before we dive into the predictions for the biggest chemistry advances of 2019, let’s revisit some of the hottest chemistry trends from 2018:
1 Most Memorable Molecules: After combing through the plethora of molecules that made headlines this year, C&EN whittled the abundance down to a few. Some of the top molecules of 2018 included the Novichok Agent, Nanosaturn, Akamptisomer, Holey graphene, and the Death-cap mushroom toxin. Which molecule do you think was chosen as the most memorable of 2018 in C&EN’s poll? View the results here at http://cenm.ag/moy18.
2 Most Exciting Publication: This year saw some remarkable improvements to existing chemical processes, as well as the emergence of new technologies. Some of the most exciting included:
a. A record-breaking microscope. This electron microscope can produce images with resolutions down to 0.39 angstroms. For comparison, conventional microscopes can only resolve images down to 0.98 angstroms! Read more about it in Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0298-5.
b. Curing of thermoset polymers in seconds. This exciting work describes a new curing strategy for polymers and composite materials. This process cuts the curing process from hours to seconds, just by using a technique called frontal polymerization! Check it out now in Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0054-x.
c. Coupling aromatics with phosphorus. These researchers have developed a process to bind two aromatic rings together using phosphorus rather than a metal. This work has a number of potential applications in the pharmaceutical industry. Learn more in Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aas8961.
d. Electron crystallography for small molecule analysis. Characterization of small organic molecules typically relies on NMR or other spectroscopic techniques. These researchers have developed a method that uses electron crystallography to produce detailed crystal structures in minutes! Read more about it in ChemRxiv, DOI: 10.26434/chemrxiv.7215332.v1.
Pro-Tip: Has your company been involved in some breakthrough research? Learn how to re-purpose peer-reviewed content here.
3 Biggest Research Trend: Among the biggest chemistry research trends, one that stuck out was cross-discipline collaboration. As Marshall Brennan from ChemRxiv said, “This was the year that people didn’t just collaborate, but the chocolate really got in the peanut butter.” Collaboration is easier than ever before, thanks to digital technology.
New Year, Hot New Research – A Look at 2019
According to the webinar panelists, researchers should pay attention to these topics:
1 Machine Learning. The advances in machine learning in chemistry, such as automated platforms and robotics, will lead to increased opportunities in solving complex research problems. But what does this mean for researchers? It’s important to note that automation in chemistry does not mean that they will be out of a job! This will, however, make their jobs more interesting. When the mundane tasks are taken care of by robots, imagine what researchers can accomplish instead!
2 Battery Technology. In 2018, startups were working on copper foams with incredible energy density, as well as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs) that act as directional charge carriers. But Brennan doesn’t think it will stop there. He said, “I think the battery tech is going to see a huge spike, especially with 3-D electrode chemistry.”
What are our advertisers doing in the space? Get caught up with Ashland and learn how their new binders lead to better batteries for electric vehicles. And read about how Johnson & Matthey is contributing to the electric-powered future with new cathode materials.
3 Microplastic Pollution. Microplastic pollution has been a concern for years. A recent study has found microplastics in human poop. This new find should serve as the catalyst needed to jumpstart research, hopefully answering questions about how humans are ingesting plastic and the consequences of the accidental ingestion.
Do you really want to know more? Well we’ve got you covered: From NatGeo, In a first, microplastics found in human poop.
Research Under the Radar
Besides the hot topics that everyone is talking about, there are other trends that are going strong despite a lack of media attention:
Energy efficiency and greenness of processes across chemistry are important but very often doesn’t get enough coverage. Claire Hansell of Nature argued a research trend that’s flying under the radar is reducing the number of solvents used and amount of energy consumed in a chemical process. Efforts to reduce solvent and energy consumption are the unsung heroes of chemistry.
Interested in going green? Read C&EN’s article highlighting Five green chemistry success stories
The rise of pesticide- and herbicide-resistant pests and weeds is a growing issue that doesn’t garner as many headlines as one would expect. The agrochemical industry is large and proprietary, which leads to decisions torn between making food safe to eat but also making the food supply sustainable. Jake Yeston of Science said he believed that these complex questions will require additional focus in the coming year.
Learn more about pesticides and other concerning chemicals in C&EN’s article Mining archived data for emerging pollutants
Flow chemistry has a number of positives: faster and safer reactions, cleaner products, and easy scale-up. Once the flow settings have been optimized, the entire process can be automated to produce hundreds or even thousands of grams of product, just by increasing the flow rate! One sector seeing a lot of adoption is the pharmaceutical industry. The industry is able to exploit flow chemistry take the discovery route and spend less time figuring out how to scale it up.
Go with the flow and read C&EN’s article to learn how Flow chemistry reaches manufacturing milestone.
To make 2019 an even more exciting year for chemistry, it’s also the International Year of the Periodic Table.
As C&EN’s editor-in-chief, Bibiana Campos Seijo, pointed out recently, our editorial team will be hard at work creating special IYPT coverage throughout the year. The C&EN Media Group is looking for partners to promote this special year in chemistry.
Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your goals around IYPT, and we can help make your campaigns successful.
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