News Release

The 2021 year in chemistry

Reports and Proceedings

American Chemical Society

As researchers returned to their labs and at least some sense of normalcy in the wake of the pandemic, 2021 was a productive year for chemistry. A cover story in Chemical & Engineering News, an independent news outlet of the American Chemical Society, highlights the year’s top trends, delightful discoveries, forecasts for 2022 and more.

Many cool new compounds were reported in 2021, according to Senior Correspondent Celia Henry Arnaud, including the C&EN reader-voted molecule of the year, infinitene. This compound consists of 12 fused benzene rings that loop around like an infinity symbol. Other quirky discoveries that caught the attention of C&EN’s editors included pain-causing proteins identified in spitting snakes’ venom, bite-sized protein structures that students can “feel” with their lips and tongue, and uniformly distributed zinc atoms that make ants’ teeth razor sharp. Meanwhile, plastics recycling rocketed forward, with new developments in breaking down the polymers and reusing their constituents. And molecular editing — reactions that selectively insert, delete or swap an atom in a complex molecule — promised to open new doors for medicinal chemists and others.

Scientists continued to learn about COVID-19, revealing earlier missteps. For example, errors in the structures of the coronavirus’s proteins were spotted and corrected. Also, hopes for repurposed drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine, faded as they failed to provide convincing clinical results. Looking ahead to 2022, experts predict the next big chemistry trends will include photocatalytic conversion of carbon dioxide to useful chemicals, commercialization of and new applications for perovskite photovoltaics and an increased sense of community and inclusivity in chemistry.

The article, “C&EN’s Year in Chemistry 2021,” is freely available here.

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