The Royal Society of Chemistry has published its Future of the Chemical Sciences report to understand how chemistry may evolve over the next 10-20 years in light of global challenges the world faces, including deteriorating water quality from urbanization and economic activities.
The report hypothesizes that if the chemistry industry focused on solving mega-challenges chemistry would become an everyday topic of conversation for people; major films with scientific plots would inspire a new generation of chemists; and new interdisciplinary chemistry courses would be taught at universities around the world.
But we don’t have to wait two or three decades for chemistry to start solving the world’s challenges. In fact, breakthrough research is already being undertaken to solve numerous issues including inadequate wastewater treatment.
Chemistry to the rescue in treating wastewater
Recently researchers from Cornell invented a polymer called cyclodextrin that has displayed uptake of pollutants through absorption at rates vastly superior to traditional activated carbon: up to 200 times greater in some cases. This is due to the polymer having a large surface area than previous polymers providing more sites for pollutants to stick to. In addition, the newly created polymer is more resource efficient than activated carbon with the polymer easier and cheaper to regenerate.
Chemistry right now has the ability to solve mega-challenges; it just needs adequate funding.
*Robert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley). Urban Water Security argues that, with climate change and rapid urbanization, cities need to transition from supply-side to demand-side management to achieve urban water security.