At a time when climate, the environment and the protection of our planet are finally taking centre stage, Université Paris-Saclay, which has a large community of chemists with its researchers and students, has chosen to focus on chemistry. This exciting discipline, which studies the composition, properties and transformations of matter, suffers from a negative public image. The time has come to correct the stereotypes that overshadow the variety and wealth of the fields of chemistry, covered by research, training and professions. It is also time to shed light on the way chemistry contributes to major societal issues. "NO to popular misconceptions in chemistry!": a series of deliberately quirky illustrations that we hope will spark a debate! (Episode 3/3)
"A natural perfume is a perfume made without chemistry"
All is a question of not opposing "natural" and "chemistry", since it is the study and reproduction of the arrangement of the constituents of matter: molecules and atoms. Often we say "chemical products", when in reality we mean "synthetic products". Creating a perfume is the art of using chemical processes (distillation, recomposition, dispersion of essences...) to extract fragrances from flowers, seeds, or any other part of the plant. It is possible to create a perfume based on "natural" plants or synthetic products that both reproduce the arrangement of molecules governing odours.
"A chemical compound with a long name is necessarily dangerous"
Chemists rely solely on the structure of chemical compounds to name them, that means the arrangement of atoms relative to each other in the molecule. The rules of this nomenclature have been established by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). They allow any chemist in the world to understand and draw the structure of a compound just by reading its name. Its length then depends on the size and complexity of the molecule. Dangerousness is displayed using the international pictograms and the R (risk) and S (safety) sentences.
"Chemists are mad scientists who act as they please!"
In the collective imagination, a chemist would be a slightly crazy scientist, handling liquids of all colours and making smoking and detonating potions! In other words, he would play with the laws of nature. None of this: chemists are scientists like all others, who do not create new natural laws, but discover those that exist. They study them and try to apply them to obtain new compounds or new ways of making products that are already known.
"Chemistry is an old and outdated science"
Chemistry, as we perceive it today - the study and understanding of matter - is a relatively young science compared to others, such as mathematics or physics. Although we have been modelling matter for millennia, the knowledge acquired by humans on the reactions and phenomena involved has long remained very limited, mixing beliefs and supremacy.
(Drawings by Elena Vieillard)