Investigative and problem-solving skills in chemistry are critical for solving some of the world’s most important challenges

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Source: Employee(s) of Universal Studios

Sherlock Holmes (played here by Basil Rathbone) knew enough chemistry to be made an honorary fellow of the RSC in 2002

Sanger or Sherlock? Magnifying glass or mass spectrometer? Cleanroom or crime scene? The work of those investigating crimes and those employed in chemistry R&D may seem very different, but the methods used by both chemists and detectives are more intrinsically linked than one may initially suspect.

Of course, forensic science ties together both of these activities – scientific analytical technologies underpin most crime scene investigations nowadays. For instance, DNA profiling from blood, hair, skin or saliva left behind at a crime scene can be key evidence during criminal proceedings. But the similarities aren’t confined to the field of forensics.

Whether it is characterising an unknown chemical entity or assessing a crime scene, the processes that professionals embark on when undertaking investigative work are very similar. In order to uncover the truth they both formulate and test hypotheses, gather evidence using specialised tools and use critical thinking to reach a conclusion based on fact and analytical evidence.

These skills are applicable across the broad spectrum of chemistry R&D; both analytical and innovative thinking are critical for any project. Chemists’ projects are rooted in investigative science – whether they are isolating DNA from samples discovered at a crime scene or assessing how a drug substance could help tackle unmet medical needs. In this digital supplement, Chemistry World and Notch go beyond the realms of forensic science to explore other impressive detective work undertaken in chemistry. Here, we highlight the investigative skillset that chemists use to address a diverse range of important challenges and problems impacting both science and wider society.

Backlit DNA sequence

Source: © Shutterstock

But even the eminent detective didn’t anticipate DNA profiling!

After the success of our Technology for Health, Green and Sustainable Chemistry, and Innovators digital supplements, we have identified organisations doing crucial detective work. As a result, we have created our Chemistry Detectives digital supplement to tell their fascinating stories.

In this supplement, you can read about the ways companies around the world integrate detection into their capabilities. PerkinElmer has provided us with incredible insights into how the right analytical tools and technologies are essential for tackling the devastating issue of food fraud. Our partners at Arcinova discuss how the problems encountered during drug substance development can be overcome through the combination of production and analytical expertise. Umicore details how chemists investigate different methods to break apart molecules and create novel chemical entities using metal-based catalysts. And finally, Nanoform explains how its proprietary technology helps to tackle the significant issue of clinical attrition in the drug development pipeline by improving a drug’s bioavailability.

This collection highlights the stories of organisations who use exceptional investigational skills to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. In our next supplement, we will expand upon this concept – amplifying the voices of chemists undertaking R&D at the forefront of innovation.

If you, your team or your company would like to get involved with this fantastic opportunity and have your story told, then please get in touch.

Welcome to our Chemistry Detectives collection