Jun 262013

At the Open Floor session on the future, I mentioned that one way to attract attention to a field was to pose major open questions. I forgot to mention a list of Big Problems presented by Marjorie Senechal, to which she has added another item. Here is the list, of Big Problems, with editorial asides..

  • Infinite structures. Crystals are among the best-behaved of these, so they are a natural place to begin. Crystalline structures are beguiling, in the sense that they look (to mathematicians) like something we already understand perfectly well, but as chemists point out, we don’t really understand them all that well, do we?
  • Diffuse scattering. Uwe Grimm talked about a rough classification of three types of scattering, the sharp Bragg peaks, the diffuse scattering, and the absolutely continuous background.
  • Self-assembly. How does it work (the subject of Henrik van Lengerich’s talk) and, is it actually the way we want to go (see the Free versus Managed Assembly posting of January 28.
  • Folding. This is what proteins do (for an example, see the internet game fold.it. This may be connected to the basilisk of the secret chamber of chemistry: Mr. Schrodinger’s equation.
  • Crystal design. If we really understood crystals we should be able to make the crystals we want to make, just as we build the buildings we want to build.

So here is another set of challenges, which are tricky things. After all, I distinctly remember Mike Treacy throwing down the gauntlet several years ago and saying that we should design a zeolite and synthesize it from the design…

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