This special anniversary issue of the Canadian Chemical News (L’Actualité chimique canadienne, ACCN) is a celebration not only of the 150th anniversary of confederation but the 100th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition. That these two milestones align in such an auspicious manner reminds us of how closely intertwined chemistry and chemical engineering have been to Canada’s economic and social development ever since the nation’s birth on July 1, 1867.
Just a few years earlier — in 1858 — James Miller Williams struck oil while digging a water well in southern Ontario, ushering in the Age of Petroleum. Commonly called “black gold,” it was the cherry on top of Canada’s bounty of wood, water, fish and minerals. As the 19th century evolved into the 20th, chemistry and chemical engineering flourished, pushing innovation in the booming oil and gas sector, automobile and petrochemical industries. Canadian innovation even helped save the Allies in the 1940s when Polymer Corp. was founded in Sarnia, Ont. to make synthetic rubber for the Second World War military effort.
Other notable accomplishments in Canadian chemistry receive their due in this issue. These include the country’s eight winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry as well as the game-changing innovations nurtured within our post-secondary institutions, such as University of Toronto’s Geoffrey Ozin’s breakthroughs in nanochemistry and l’Université de Montréal’s James Wuest’s advancements in modular molecular design. ACCN also presents some of the remarkable achievements of our female chemists. These include Parisa Ariya, who is advancing studies into atmospheric chemistry and climate change, as well as Françoise Winnik, an expert in amphiphilic materials and their self-assembly for the synthesis and characterization of stimuli-responsive polymers.
As the 20th century merged with the 21st, a new environmental challenge came to the fore — climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which is also implicated in local health effects such as the inhalation of fine particulate matter. This is chemistry’s and chemical engineering’s next great challenge: finding innovative ways to mitigate the impacts of current and past actions while developing alternative and sustainable forms of energy to replace oil and gas. This, of course, is green chemistry and ACCN discusses its birth and evolution.
ACCN also presents an essay on Responsible Care, one of the country’s greatest international achievements. Developed by the Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association (now called the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada) Responsible Care raised the bar for best practices in manufacturing, environmental safety and industrial disaster preparedness. It could be said that the greening of chemistry is, in and of itself, Responsible Care. Another auspicious alignment — one to carry us into the 22nd century.
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