Nature celebrates a discipline's unheralded achievements.
Television and cinema aren't often kind to chemists, who regularly find themselves portrayed as the nefarious creators of toxic pollutants, or as mad scientists brewing up Love Potion #9 in some cluttered and archaic laboratory.
But most chemists innocently pass their time trying to figure out how things work at the molecular level, often using a relatively simple set of concepts to shed light on complex natural phenomena.
Fireflies, for example, communicate with each other by emitting light, and the protein responsible for this bioluminescence reaction is luciferase, which is well known to biologists. In this issue of Nature, Nakatsu and co-workers explain how they used synthetic chemistry, structural biology and biochemistry to explore how changes in the active site of the protein lead to changes in the colour of the emitted light (see pages 285 and 372).
The work is published as part of an issue in which we have collected, ahead of the American Chemical Society's meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, several chemistry and biochemistry papers along with an interview with Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann on his work with young scientists in the Middle East (see page 274) and a NatureJobs assessment of career opportunities in green chemistry (see page 378).
In addition, Nature's website now includes a collection of recently published Nature papers on metalloproteins, a set of proteins containing transition metals that are involved in a wide range of biologically significant processes, including DNA repair and the biosynthesis of natural products (see http://www.nature.com/nature/focus/metalloproteins).
Our website also features a chemistry blog launched this week, ‘The Sceptical Chymist’, featuring entries by editors at Nature journals as well as by authors and readers (see http://blogs.nature.com/thescepticalchymist). The first blog entry explains the choice of title.
Last, but not least, the website will feature a podcast including lively interviews about chemistry and biochemistry papers recently published in Nature and its sister journals. The podcast and an online collection of recent chemistry content will be available from 23 March (see http://www.nature.com/conferences/acs).
Chemists themselves probably don't need to be reminded of the usefulness of their work, or of the excitement inherent in it. We hope, however, that this modest barrage of publishing activity will help to convey some of that excitement to the wider scientific community — and even to interested observers in the world beyond. Perhaps one day even Hollywood producers will recognize the diligence with which chemists attempt to interrogate nature, and the inherent value of their contribution to our understanding of it. But don't hold your breath.