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Ci Newsletter #9 – Tracking COVID variants & champagne chemistry

Andy @ Compound Interest
Andy @ Compound Interest
Welcome to the final Compound Interest newsletter of 2021! A slimmer offering this fortnight as we wrap up the year sees the conclusion of the ChemVsCOVID series of graphics, a look at bias in chemistry textbooks, and champagne chemistry to see in the new year. I also look back at some of the graphic highlights from 2021.

COVID variant tracking
Click to view graphic on the Ci site
Click to view graphic on the Ci site
There’s a degree of unfortunate coincidence in the final graphic in the ChemVsCOVID series I’ve been producing with the Royal Society of Chemistry being on the first variant of concern to emerge, when we currently find ourselves faced with another.
However, because of that, it’s also appropriately topical: without the efforts that have gone into sequencing samples of the virus and tracking emerging variants, we’d have known about the emergence of Omicron much later. The graphic looks at how variants are tracked and what the consequences of their mutations can be.
Though this is the final graphic in the ChemVsCOVID series, there’s still a bit more to come from it in the new year by way of a compilation which will also highlight other chemistry-relevant points from the pandemic. More on that in January!
Textbook bias in chemistry
As a white man who studied chemistry at school then went to university to continue studying it, I never had the issue of not seeing myself reflected in the textbooks and learning materials I used over the years. While these days there’s a lot more awareness of the representation issues that plague the sciences, school textbooks still haven’t quite caught up with these conversations.
To evidence this, a recent study looking at representations of women and men in A Level Chemistry (or equivalent) textbooks found them lacking in references to women in science, and a tendency to prioritise showing men in scientific roles.
Curricula often specify few (if any) names of scientists that students should recall, and to my mind that’s how it should be. I don’t think the answer to the representation issue is getting students to rote learn a list of names. But given that curricula focus on content rather than people, this study’s suggestion that “teachers may opt to supplement resources selected with materials that offer a wider representation” seems perfectly implementable – and a further reason to look further afield for teaching resources than the oft-derided specification-specific textbooks.
Year in review
‘Tis the season for hazy retrospectives on the past year, so I’ve spent some time looking back at the Compound Interest content I’ve put out in 2021. Looking back there’ve been some big projects which have dominated my output this year: the previously-mentioned ChemVsCOVID series, and the Women In Chemistry profiles which I started back in March and have still yet to completely finish.
There were a few other graphics independent of these projects. A favourite was the graphic I worked on with Jess Wade to highlight the materials science of athletics tracks, for the Tokyo Olympics. And, of course, there were the usual graphics highlighting this year’s Nobel Prize-winning research.
Overall, it feels like Compound Interest was in a bit of a holding pattern this year – hopefully understandable in the global pandemic circumstances. I’m hoping to focus less on COVID in the coming year (aren’t we all?), and also intend to take on fewer additional projects so I can prioritise a more steady flow of new graphics. Thanks for sticking with the site through my least productive year since starting it, and here’s to more interesting chemistry graphics next year!
Champagne chemistry
Click to view graphic on the Ci site
Click to view graphic on the Ci site
While Omicron’s emergence might have tempered the celebratory new year mood, I’m sure plenty of bottles of bubbly will still be popping open at midnight on New Year’s Eve. So here’s a classic graphic looking at the chemistry behind the bubbles!
Chemistry news & features
June Lindsey, another forgotten woman in the story of DNA
C&EN’s Year in Chemistry 2021
A guitarist puts picks to the test
If you’ve enjoyed the newsletter since I started it this year, please forward it to others you think might enjoy it, or share it on social media. Wishing you all enjoyable (and COVID-free!) holidays!
Thanks for reading,
Andy
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Andy @ Compound Interest
Andy @ Compound Interest @compoundchem

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