2011, International Year of Chemistry
The International Year of Chemistry was officially launched at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris to celebrate the contributions of this discipline to humanity’s wellbeing and also to strengthen the dialogue between the field of chemistry and society. Its contributions are essential in the areas of sustainable development, public health, food, energy, water, transportation and technology. This year will also include an homage to Marie Curie, on the occasion of the centenary of her Nobel Prize for Chemistry. In France, celebrations and events will be held throughout the year including exhibitions, conferences, forums, open house days in laboratories and live experiences.
Pushed by Ethiopia, UNESCO declared 2011 the International Year of Chemistry, with the motto, “Chemistry: our life, our future.” The science of matter, chemistry is everywhere. Any known matter—gas, liquids, solids and plasma—is formed by different chemical elements or compounds of elements. According to Bokova, Director General of UNESCO: “Chemistry, it’s life. It is the link between all other sciences, especially when seeking to understand the building blocks of matter, energy and the components of life itself.”
Chemistry in France is booming, with more than 80 billion euros (114 billion USD) in annual sales and 3 billion euros (4.2 billion USD) invested in research and development. In this field, France is the second largest European producer and the fifth internationally. With 60% of sales to foreign countries, France is also the third largest exporter of chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Investments in terms of chemistry are reaching 15% of all industrial investments, and spending on research accounts for 21% of those made by the French industry.
If there is one area where chemistry occupies a special place, it is the field of public health. French chemists are inventing new drugs and creating the tools of tomorrow for an early diagnosis and manufacturing customized implants and prosthetics. At the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), scientists are at the forefront of innovation. Researchers at the Institute of Materials Science at Mulhouse, supported by the Alsace region, are working with surgeons from Besançon to make bandages for internal use, which would prevent infections during abdominal operations. A team of researchers from Grenoble has also developed and patented the first “bio-battery” implant, powered by the human body, and connected to pacemakers or insulin pumps.
It is also thanks to the chemistry that the food industry can guarantee the safety of its products and can better satisfy consumer demands. In the automotive industry, chemistry helps make cars lighter and less polluting, and in the construction industry it increases options for improving thermal insulation of buildings. Even in the field of sustainable development, chemistry is essential for the development of solar energy and photovoltaic, for controlling climate change, wood energy, biogas, biomass, or clearance of water and soil.
The Year of Chemistry also marks the centenary of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911 awarded to the French physicist Marie Curie, for her discovery of radium and polonium. A legendary figure, Marie Curie was the first woman to have twice received the prestigious award, which she shared in 1903 with her husband, Pierre Curie. She is also the first female recipient of the Davy Medal (1903), a scientific distinction awarded annually by the Royal Society of London, which aims to reward scientists for outstanding work in the field of chemistry.