A chemist talks about asking the right questions

Chemist John Warner talks movingly about how his work as a chemist changed after his son’s death in Asking the Right Questions, an essay for This I Believe, a public radio show. John Warner is co-founder of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.

Now, I believe the most important question — the right question that has not been asked — is a simple one, really: “Why?” “Why do we have hazardous chemicals?” “Why do we make things the way we do?”

I believe that the right questions are not being asked enough. And perhaps more troubling, the response rings out: “But that’s the way we’ve always done it!” And that is exactly the point. We chemists need to take a look at our relationship with the community we serve, focusing on the cumulative effects of the compounds we release into the environment. We can start by changing the way we teach chemistry to future chemists and to the general public.