Green chemists, including Nobel laureate, test Kuttanad fields

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Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Grubbs at a paddy field in Kuttanad.
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A group of foreign scientists practising green chemistry, including a Nobel prize winner, plunged into the paddy fields of Kuttanad to have a close look at its greenery. The team, which includes Nobel winner Dr. Robert Grubbs, is here to study the possibilities of green chemistry. They were shocked at the sight of heaps of garbage in various locations of Kuttanad and wondered why there are no plans to make tourism ecofriendly.

Dr Shiju Raveendran, a Kozhikode native who teaches at the Amsterdam University, said a project to generate fuel from biowaste is at the research stage in the Netherlands. “Kerala can also think of this,” he said. Netherlands has geographical similarities with Kerala.

Dr Bruce Lipschutz is leading a research to replace chemical solutions with water in several complex chemical reactions. A visitor once prompted Lipschutz into this research as he posed a question: “Do you have any idea as to how much chemical pollution your labs generate?”

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Dr Grubbs lends a helping hand as Dr Thomas Kolakott falls into silt in the field.

The idea ‘Don’t create waste’ originated thus. He said it was an Indian chemical firm that first used his green research, first published in 1998.

In Kuttanad, Dr Lipschutz was fascinated by pong pong (Cerbera odollam), the suicide fruit and took it for mango. Once it was explained to him that many people have ended their lives consuming the fruit, he cautioned: “It looks like mango, but don’t eat.”

As the boat parked in R. Block, some in the team asked why the paddy field is at a lower level than the backwaters. They were told the area is in fact below sea level.

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Dr Grubbs examines arecanut kept for drying at the Kuttanad paddy field.

Great man

Dr Grubbs stands tall among others not only because he is the 2005 Nobel winner. The tall man, who had to take extra care about his head inside a luxury boat, is noted for his simple ways.

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Dr Shiju Raveendran.

Grubbs, 76, was befriending everyone around, and joined a game of carroms on the boat. Asked for his comment on Kerala, Grubbs said: “Beautiful lakes.” He only offered a smile when it was pointed out that the pollution is quite high.

What is green chemistry?

Green chemistry, also called sustainable chemistry, aims at developing products and processes that curtail the use and generation of hazardous substances.

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Prof. Bruce Lipschutz.

The concept of green chemistry was born out of the fear that chemistry causes more harm than benefits to nature by generating harmful chemicals. Visiting Kuttanad and hearing its agonies, they have now realised that green chemistry is more absolutely relevant now.

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