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November 5, 2001
Volume 79, Number 45
CENEAR 79 45 p. 5
ISSN 0009-2347
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Watching Paint Dry


I love the photograph on this week's cover. It shows an advanced-technology ultraviolet "oven" for curing powdered coatings. These new types of coatings may someday be used as an alternative to paints; for example, in the automotive industry as long-lasting car body coatings.

Because paints and coatings are so common, the average person probably doesn't think of them as chemicals. But, of course, they are. And the chemistry that goes into making new paints and coatings is impressive. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, watching paint--and coatings--dry can be a fascinating and extremely lucrative pastime.

In this week's issue, Senior Correspondent Marc Reisch once again paints a picture of the health of the paints and coatings industry. In 2000, the world's paint makers shipped about 5 billion gal of paint--valued at $70.6 billion. To keep up with the latest developments, Reisch will join thousands of paint manufacturers, formulators, and materials suppliers at the International Coatings Expo sponsored by the Federation of Societies for Coatings Technology, Nov. 5–7, in Atlanta.

For readers with a long memory, let me bring you up to date on my 1997 Editor's Page on that year's paints and coatings story. It was titled "Whatever Happened to Red?" It was the tale of how both my cars died one weekend, and in my search for new cars I was bewildered by the exotically named colors. The final paragraph read:

"Meanwhile, I'm delighted that most auto and paint makers have my best interests at heart. Reisch quotes one paint supplier who believes that car finishes that last a decade are not really needed. 'Who keeps a car for 10 years or longer?' he asks. Well, I do, and I for one am really enjoying my sporty little hatchback in vogue silver metallic and my staid sedan in heather mist. I hope to be able to bask in the reflected glory of their still lovely finishes as they move into their teenage years."

Sad to report, 60,000 miles later, the paint job on my staid sedan is no reflection of its former self. I could really use a better coating--and as always, I'll rely on DuPont's once-famous slogan, "Better Things for Better Living through Chemistry."

Speaking of the wonders of chemistry, last month I had the privilege of being the banquet speaker at the 16th Annual William S. Johnson Symposium in Organic Chemistry at Stanford University. The symposium honors the late William S. Johnson, a brilliant synthetic organic chemist who is credited with building the modern-day Stanford chemistry department.

Several hundred students and faculty from Stanford and other universities, as well as researchers and executives from chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech firms, heard one-hour lectures from seven distinguished chemists. The range and breadth of their talks was a fitting tribute to Bill Johnson and to the power and beauty of organic chemistry.

The speakers and their talks were as follows: Robert W. Armstrong, vice president, Discovery Chemistry Research, Eli Lilly & Co., on "The Chemistry of Change in New Drug Discovery"; Cornell University chemistry professor Jon C. Clardy on "Natural Products and Natural Product Libraries"; Stanford University chemistry professor Eric T. Kool on "Mimicking Biological Pathways with Nonbiological Molecules"; Caltech chemistry professor Peter B. Dervan on "Regulation of Gene Expression by Small Molecules"; University of Wisconsin chemistry professor Samuel H. Gellman on "Structure and Function in - and -Peptide Foldamers"; ETH-Zentrum chemistry professor Don Hilvert on "Searching Sequence Space for Protein Catalysts"; and Caltech chemistry professor Robert H. Grubbs on "Making Molecules with Transition-Metal Complexes."

The title of my talk was "The Two Cultures, Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." It had nothing to do with paints and coatings and darn little to do with zen or motorcycles, but if you're interested in reading it, send me your name and address and I'll ship off a copy.

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