See Inside October 2011

Atom Power: Tackling the Problems of Modern Life

2011 is the International Year of Chemistry—a well-deserved celebration of that science's profound power

Illustration by George Retseck

The popular idea that chemistry is now conceptually understood and that all we have to do is use it is false. Sure, most of the products we use in our daily lives were made possible by modern chemistry. But producing useful compounds is far from all chemists do. In fact, many of the most pressing problems of modernity—from making cars cleaner to altering the fate of living cells—are, at heart, problems in chemistry and will require chemists to solve them. So, too, will some of the most fundamental mysteries in science.

The International Year, a United Nations designation, has the theme of “chemistry—our life, our future” and is being honored with a range of activities globally. Our own celebration follows. Learn about 10 open questions that all have chemistry at their core and about the surprising role of chemical signaling in human interactions. These stories underscore how far and deep the science of chemistry reaches into our modern life.

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