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Living on Earth: The Chemical Internet

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The invention of the Internet revolutionized the world. Now, a new type of network -- a chemical Internet -- could fundamentally transform the chemical world we live in. Host Steve Curwood talks with Bartosz Grzybowski, professor of chemistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who created a chemical Internet called Chematica which he believes could change how drugs are made.


CURWOOD: The Internet has fundamentally changed our world. Now, the creation of another kind of internet--a chemical internet--also has revolutionary potential, not only for the field of chemistry, but for the environmental impact of the chemically-laden world we now live in. Bartosz Grzybowski is a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Professor Grzybowski and his team have developed software that can track the almost infinite number of possible chemical reactions to find the quickest, cheapest and most environmental safe ways to make things. They nicknamed this software the "chemical internet."

GRZYBOWSKI: Imagine a huge network, but instead of computers connected by nodes, we have molecules connected by reactions. And this information has been created not by me, not by my colleagues, but by every chemist that ever lived. So it's a huge mass of chemical reactions connecting molecules existing individually.

What we have done, we collected all this information and hooked it up into a network. Think about it this way: what Google did for the internet--searching for names, addresses, companies, and all that--now we, by having created this chemical internet, what we're doing is a sort of a chemical Google that allows a very different way of looking at chemistry, analyzing chemistry, finding optimal synthetic pathways, new ways of making drugs.

So it's a global view on chemistry, and it's based not on the knowledge of a single chemist--not on my expertise, not on the expertise of any of my colleagues, but on the expertise of every chemist who ever lived.

CURWOOD: As I understand it, there are some seven million different substances that you have linked by knowledge, the reactions that get you from one to another, what do you do with all of that?
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