Historical research doesn’t always mean that you have to go far back in time, as Arjan Linthorst demonstrates with his thesis Research between Science, Society and Politics. The history and scientific development of green chemistry. He obtained his PhD at Maastricht University last February.
In his thesis, Linthorst examines the emergence of ‘green chemistry’ as a new, independent scientific discipline in the US, the UK and the Netherlands. A highly topical and increasingly relevant field of research and as a result, the subject feels very familiar. Moreover, many (Dutch) readers will know from their own experience the developments, individuals, initiatives, journals and discussions that Linthorst describes. Not least because he has delved extensively into the archives of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society (KNCV).
For those who have been operating professionally in the Netherlands within the chemistry (policy) field for some time, terms such as DTO-Chemie (Sustainable Technological Development), NOTA (Netherlands Organisation for Technological Aspects Research) and DCO (Sustainable Chemistry Development Foundation) will probably ring a bell. KNCV luminaries such as former presidents Herman van Bekkum and Jan Mulderink also come by.
In the UK, the deteriorating public image of chemistry and the chemical industry was the driving force to pursue ‘green chemistry’
It doesn’t happen often, that the topic of a history of chemistry thesis feels so close. That makes for an enjoyable read, although it also requires some perseverance from the reader. Linthorst presents an impressive amount of literature review, which means that you need to stay focused to not get lost in the wide array of names, reports and theories, combined with specialist terms from the sociology and philosophy of science.
Linthorst shows that the emergence of ‘green chemistry’, which gained traction in the Netherlands mainly under the banner of ‘sustainable chemistry’, has very different origins in different countries. In the US, researchers from the Environmental Protection Agency in particular, were driving forces in the formation of this new field, with the social need to reduce environmentally polluting waste streams as the main driver. In the UK, the deteriorating public image of chemistry and the chemical industry was the driving force to pursue ‘green chemistry’.
Touch of green
In the Netherlands, it seems to have been more of a combination of the two, with the search for renewable resources and raw materials mostly guiding the process. Opportunism reared its head everywhere over time. Many scientists were not averse to adding a touch of ‘green’ to their work (or its description in grant submissions) if it would help to secure funding.
This is precisely why, as Linthorst clearly states in the impact paragraph, it is important to understand the background and formation history of such a new field. If science is to be trusted by the public and considered to be a valuable investment of public resources, then the underlying motivations that drive the research should by crystal clear.
Research between Science, Society and Politics. The history and scientific development of green chemistry
Johan Alfredo Linthorst
Eburon Publishers (2023), 260 pages, €36,-
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