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The 1702 Chair of Chemistry at Cambridge. Transformation and Change. Edited by Mary Archer and Christopher Haley

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The 1702 Chair of Chemistry at
Transformation and
Change. Edited by
Mary Archer and
Christopher Haley.
Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge 2005.
318 pp., hardcover
£ 50.00.—ISBN
When I received an invitation to review
this book, my initial reaction was one of
amazement. How on earth, I asked
myself, could anyone expect me, a
former Oxford man, to discuss—let
alone say something complimentary
about—a product that had Cambridge
University stamped all over it. Had the
fact been overlooked that for several
centuries an intense rivalry has existed
between the two great citadels of learning based in the cities of Cambridge and
Oxford? Had it also not been realized
that I was on the wrong side to be
reviewing this offering? I mused that
perhaps this was the very reason I had
been selected—at least no one could
accuse me of being partisan! In the
event, my concerns proved to be
groundless, and it quickly became clear
to me that I need have no qualms
about tackling this particular task.
Even a first casual glance through the
pages of this book convinced me that
here was no ordinary book, this was a
work of quality, and one I would have
no difficulty in making positive comments about—even if it did emanate
from Cambridge!
The Chairs of Chemistry at Oxford
and Cambridge Universities are the
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2005, 44, 4663 – 4665
oldest in the land. Oxford led the way
and appointed its first professor of
chemistry, a certain Robert Plot, to his
Chair in 1683. After his incumbency,
however, the Chair remained vacant
for some considerable time, and so
Oxford cannot claim to have had a continuously occupied Chair starting from
Plot. Cambridge, on the other hand,
can reasonably assert that it has such a
Chair, though its Chair was founded
only in 1702 (or, more accurately, in
1703 if our present-day Gregorian calendar is used). We might also mention that
a four-year interregnum in this professorship occurred during the Second
World War. To celebrate the tercentenary of this Chair, a two-day symposium
entitled “[email protected]” was held in the
Chemistry Department at Cambridge
in December 2002. The principal organizers were Mary Archer, formerly lecturer at Newnham College, Cambridge
(and, incidentally, wife of the bestselling
novelist Jeffrey Archer) and Christopher Haley, at the time archivist and historian in the Department. Over 100 participants, including your reviewer,
attended this international event.
The organizers were successful in
assembling a top-notch team of historians of science who, after delivering
their lectures, wrote them up—sometimes together with additional contributors—to provide a permanent record of
the proceedings. The two most recent
holders of the 1702 Chair, Alan Battersby and Steven Ley, needed no commentary on their tenure, as both were
present and able to speak for themselves. The written versions of these lectures, duly edited by Archer and Haley,
are now presented as a composite work
in the specially commissioned book
reviewed here. Reassuringly, in view of
the fact that a total of 18 authors have
contributed to the 12 chapters contained
in this book, a commendable continuity
is maintained in the story that is told of
the development of the 1702 Chair and
its very diverse incumbents. The focus,
however, always remains strictly on
this particular Chair and its occupiers,
and never broadens to a discussion of
the development of chemistry in general
at Cambridge over the past three centuries.
What is most striking about the story
that unfolds is the enormity of the
changes that have been necessitated to
accommodate the radical transformation in our thinking about chemistry
and its practitioners that has taken
place over the past 300 years. Among
the more notable changes, we may
include our evolving perception of the
subject matter of chemistry and our
steadily growing expectations regarding
the conduct and competence of its professors. When the 1702 Chair was
approaching the homestretch of its protracted alchemical incarnation. But,
even in its heyday, alchemy had been
considered by its critics as little more
than a rather grimy and unproductive
craft, involved in the pursuit of illusory
goals such as transmutation of the elements and discovery of the elixir of
life. It should come as no great surprise
that the earliest 1702 Chairholders
were powerfully influenced by and
adherent to contemporaneous alchemical practices.
Giovanni Francesco Vigani, who
hailed from Verona in Italy, was the
first of the 1702 Chairholders. He was
in the tradition of European continental
alchemists, and affirmed that there were,
in all, five chemical principles: the active
principles of mercury, sulfur, and salt,
and the passive principles of earth and
water. His experimental work, and also
his lectures to students, featured primarily the use of the alchemical furnace and
its role in carrying out distillations, fermentations, and sublimations. In these
endeavors, he was strongly supported
by his friend and colleague, the illustrious Sir Isaac Newton, who had set himself the task of regaining the supposed
alchemical wisdom of the ancients.
Newton committed himself to this task
with such fervor that his “fire in ye Elaboratory” scarcely went out, and he was
able to pass on to Vigani much valuable
information on the construction and
operation of furnaces. Throughout his
career, Vigani was also a very active
apothecary, ever willing to sell medical
consultations and a wide range of pharmaceutical concoctions to his students
and others. The most popular of his
medications proved to be “green precipitate of mercury”, which was alleged to
cure venereal diseases. In 1704, the President of QueenEs College purchased a
large oak cabinet for Vigani to house
+ 2005 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
all 600 items of his materia medica. This
handsome piece of furniture is still on
display in Cambridge today.
Although space restrictions preclude
further discussion of individual 1702
Chairholders, we would mention in passing the astonishing disparity in the qualifications of certain of the earlier incumbents, compared to what is expected
nowadays. For example, the fifth Chairholder, Richard Watson (1764–1771),
admitted upon appointment that he
“knew nothing at all of chemistry, had
never read a syllable on the subject,
nor seen a single experiment in it”.
Only after studying chemistry as much
as his “other avocations would permit”
was he able—some 15 months later—to
deliver his first course of lectures. How
times have changed! The four most
recent 1702 professors, in stark contrast,
were outstanding chemists well before
they took up tenure. Alexander Todd
(1944–1971), Ralph Raphael (1972–
1988), Alan Battersby (1988–1992), and
Steven Lay (1992–the present) had
established reputations, which they
built upon while Chairholders. In recognition for their services to chemistry, all
went on to become Fellows of the Royal
Society, Todd even being elected as
President of the Royal Society. For his
work on nucleoside and nucleotide
structures, Lord Todd was also awarded
the Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Cambridge has a long chemical tradition, of which it can be justifiably
proud, and the story of the 1702 Chair
constitutes a significant part of that tradition. The story that is presented here
for the first time is authoritative, readable, and engaging. Every serious library
of chemistry should possess a copy of
this work, and everyone interested in
the history of science will be captivated
by reading it.
Dennis H. Rouvray
Department of Chemistry
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia (USA)
DOI: 10.1002/anie.200585294
Molecular Reaction Dynamics
By Raphael D.
Levine. Cambridge
University Press,
Cambridge 2005.
554 pp., hardcover
£ 45.00.—ISBN
In this book, Raphael D. Levine presents a completely rewritten version of
the classical text by Levine and Bernstein that was published in 1974. The
book covers a wide range of topics in
molecular reaction dynamics, including
not only the fundamental areas of
molecular collisions, reaction rates,
potential energy functions, molecular
energy transfer, and basic calculation
methods, but also some brand new
topics: real-time femtosecond photochemistry, quantum control of chemical
reactions, stereodynamics, and chemical
reactions in condensed phases and at
The first four chapters describe the
basic principles of molecular dynamics:
chemical reaction dynamics, an introduction to reactive molecular collisions,
and an introduction to formal scattering
theory. These chapters introduce the
basic terminology, and describe the classical phenomena that are observed,
accompanied by theoretical explanations at a qualitative level.
Chapters 5 and 6 give an introduction to the main calculation methods of
molecular dynamics, in which there
have recently been important developments. The methods described include
the use of potential energy functions,
the classical trajectory approach,
Monte Carlo simulation methods, transition-state theory, RRKM theory, flux
contour maps, phase-space theory, and
others. The explanations are very clear
and show the authorEs outstanding pedagogical skill. The clear explanation of
complicated subjects, with only a minimum of mathematical details, is a characteristic that appears throughout the
Chapter 7 describes the use of photochemistry as a new way of preparing
+ 2005 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
molecular species in defined quantum
states and controlling chemical reactions. The author discusses different
approaches to understanding molecular
photodissociation, both within and
beyond the Born–Oppenheimer approximation, and illustrates them with an
impressive number of up-to-date applications, including photoexcitation of
diatomic molecules, photodissociation
dynamics, mode-selective photochemistry, bimolecular spectroscopy, and quantum control experiments.
Chapter 8 describes real-time (femtosecond) photochemistry, which has
recently found a huge number of important applications, as it provides a deep
insight into the transition-state region
of a chemical reaction, and allows control of the making and breaking of
chemical bonds. This rather short chapter qualitatively illustrates several
important observed effects: wave packets, bond breaking, coherence, and
chemical transformations caused by
ultrashort laser pulses.
Chapter 9
energy transfer, including the electronic
and vibrational degrees of freedom of
the molecules. This area has found several important applications, such as
chemical lasers and the investigation of
the nonadiabatic interactions in molecules that are described in the text.
Chapter 10 describes the stereodynamics of molecular reactions, which
is another brand new direction of molecular dynamics, as it gives direct access to
the elementary steps of a chemical reaction. The author describes several ways
of preparing oriented molecules, using
an electric field or laser radiation, and
shows many examples in which the
resulting anisotropy of the reaction
products is analyzed.
Chapters 11 and 12 describe molecular dynamics in condensed phases and in
molecular reactions at the interface
between a gas and the condensed
phase. Recent progress in this field has
important implications for the chemical
industry, for nanotechnology, and for
biology. The author explains in detail
the key features of solvent interactions,
solvation phenomena, and the cage
effect. Several examples show advances
in the understanding of chemical reactivity in solutions and on surfaces.
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2005, 44, 4663 – 4665
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chemistry, hale, cambridge, transformation, archer, mary, change, christopher, edited, 1702, chaire
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