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Starring: Molecule

Chemistry has rich past. The transformation of one substance to another fascinated our ancestors since prehistoric times, and the XX century with its antibiotics, plastics and organic electronics has become a moment of triumph of chemistry. What is the future waiting for chemistry? A story about where modern chemists look to, told Valentin Ananikov, who is  the head of lab at  Zelinsky RAS Institute for Organic Chemistry.

Valentin_Ananikov
Valentin Ananikov

Valentin Pavlovich, judging by the scope and productivity of your laboratory one can make a conclusion it works as a small institution. Tell me, how do you manage to bring together all these activities?

That's a good question. At present we have now 6 topics that seem very different and unrelated to each other to uninitiated persons. I’m occasionally asked, "Why do you have so many subjects? Why are they so different? Is it not easier to concentrate at one thing only? "In fact, everything that we do has some general direction. We are trying to understand how chemical reactions take place. Well, you, by the way, what you think about chemistry?

It was one of the least favorite subjects in school…

The honest answer is the most correct in that situation! Chemistry is not an easy thing. Approximately 90% of students do not like it because they cannot understand it. Not only in itself it is difficult to understand, it is taught in an unfriendly manner either.

Chemistry is unique because common man is not able to learn it on its own, unlike mathematics, Russian and foreign languages, literature, and even biology.

This is due to the fact that on the one hand chemistry - an exact science, and it operates molecules, bonds, geometry, energy. On the other hand, the perception is through chemical formulas - these mnemonic images that give a simplified representation, not always accurately convey real natural processes. Chemical formulas, of course, are indispensable, or we cannot represent any of the reaction. However, the more you learn the chemistry, the more you realize that the pictures are abstraction.

And the key question is now - in fact, not only on paper, what are chemical reactions? Science is almost near to the answer to this question, it seems that there is still a very little bit to the finish! To this a good progress in hardware development contributes much. Very soon we will be able not only to see how the reaction actually take place, but also to make something like molecular films: as the molecules approach each other, begin to navigate and interact, in other words, a chemical reaction occurs.

This is one of the most interesting projects in my laboratory. All six of those projects we are working on are attempts to find an answer to this question from different sights.

Chemistry must be an exact science, despite all the mnemonic images of chemical formulas.

One of the themes in your lab is ionic liquids, what is interesting about them?

Ionic liquids – is a unique system, which laid a lot of basic scientific knowledge and has potential practical applications. These materials are unique in their stability: at high temperature - does not decompose under vacuum - vaporize (despite the fact that the liquid).

Typically, the liquid evaporated in vacuo immediately. For example, under an electron microscope to study the liquid is almost impossible, because as soon as we put them there, they instantly vaporize. Due to the unique stability of the ionic liquid it is in the first time we were able to observe that can occur in a chemical system.

We even managed to take a video of the dynamic behavior of the system: how the self-organization as a moving and modified nanoparticles, and on this issue published an article in the German journal Angewandte Chemie.

What was your path to creating a versatile laboratory?

From the very beginning of my studies, and then to work at the Institute of Organic Chemistry, I developed a certain direction. In the framework of its I changed the theme so that to learn what I'm wondering. The institute has a unique setting for new projects can be quite easy to start a project on a new theme.

One problem lies in Russian chemists that they often operate for a long time over the same topics. It often happens that a person is studying for decades a well-known reaction or class of compounds. This is useful, because if you choose the outdated and uninteresting topic, it can be safely operated without competition. However, relevant and useful research in this way is not to do. We need to open up new areas, because science does not stand still.

Example - the same ionic liquid.

Initially, ionic liquids have been a medium for the reaction. And now, as it turned out, it can be based on them do drugs: a few weeks after the publication of our material for drug delivery methods in ion engines was announced an independent expert opinion that the system of ionic liquids is one of the platforms for the pharmaceutical industry.

That is, the interest in this area will grow and soon many laboratories around the world will begin active research.

Valentin Pavlovich, it is believed that chemistry, as a science, has become obsolete, and now it's rather a way of production.

We must first determine the answer to the question, what is the subject of chemistry, and what are the possibilities of its application. I believe,

chemistry, it's where there is a molecule. All living organisms are made up of molecules, from the depths of the ocean to the far corners of the universe - the molecules are everywhere. Therefore, chemistry, science, never izzhivёt not run its course, but it interests and areas of work will change.

For example, changing the emphasis on one or another direction in the state programs, in innovative development, finally, financing funds. For example, right now do not give grants in certain areas of chemistry, which is why some scholars, especially conservative and are accustomed to working on some kind of a reaction, it seems that chemistry, as a science, disappears.

But in fact,

provide grants for nanotechnology, according to the program of development of pharmaceuticals and new materials. All of these programs are based on organic chemistry, and basic science is not going anywhere.

I look to the future with optimism. I did not scare, but rather pleased when new directions are opened. If you look, for example, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, then they are given in different areas: for the proteins of the DNA for chemical reactions, for catalysis. And the more of this diversity, the more I am happy. Because everything, even the Nobel Committee tells me that this is also chemistry. This is my science, everything is where I work.

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