As we near the end of 2022, we’d like to bring you our next pick of hot topics in the world of chemistry. We couldn’t narrow it down to 10 this time, so we have gone with a very festive 12.

Greek and pink macro shot of a chemistry molecule

1. Click & Bioorthogonal Chemistry

These distinct yet intertwined fields are only 20 years old, but in that short time they have shaped the field of modern chemical biology and influenced numerous other disciplines—earning themselves a Nobel Prize earlier this year.

Click chemistry describes near perfect synthetic reactions where molecular building blocks snap together to form a single product—under mild conditions and without disrupting normal biological functions. Bioorthogonal chemistry includes rare bond-forming reactions with the chemoselectivity and biocompatibility to proceed effectively within the most complex reaction vessels: living cells and organisms.

2. Smarter, Greener Technologies

Next up, the role of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) tools in environmental science and technology. These tools have the potential to reveal hidden patterns in complex systems, enabling fundamental insights. The question remains whether “Big Data” can solve global environmental problems, but in the meantime, there is no doubt that it is inspiring new research ideas and methods.

With a move towards using AI/ML tools for more hypothesis-driven research, the power and value will continue to increase, allowing ever more precise analysis that could transform our understanding of chemical behaviors.

3. Polymers: A Physical Chemistry Perspective

Polymers include natural and synthetic substances made from multiples of simpler monomers. There have been many advances in the physical chemistry of polymers, from understanding of degradation to their key interactions with solvents.

New research is also developing smart responsive polymers, such as those that can change shape in response to external stimuli. Work in conjugated polymers is also of interest for energy technologies, and may be one to watch.

4. Imaging on the Nanoscale

Following that, let's take a look at how the picture is changing for nanophotonics in chemical imaging and spectroscopy. Tailored nanoscopic light in the form of surface plasmons has helped to visualize chemical transformations in real space and time. But this new frontier necessitates an improved understanding of light-matter interactions at atomic scales.

Work published in 2022 in ACS journals has furthered our existing understanding of the interaction between plasmonic nanostructures and matter, and is driving an important conversation between researchers in this exciting and ever-evolving branch of nanophotonics.

5. Analytical Techniques for Environmental Research

Analytical science is a broad discipline, and a fundamental component in efforts to investigate and understand environmental chemistry, and impacts on environmental and public health. Applications range from detection and quantification of pollutants to extraction and separation of contaminants, and purification or recovery of vital resources.

Significant technological and scientific advances have been made in this field in recent years. Researchers hope that further studies in this area will contribute to improved environmental health, and a more sustainable future.

6. Theoretical Physical Chemistry

This atomistic description of molecules and materials is rooted in electronic structure theory and molecular dynamics. Today, the field has evolved to include machine learning and quantum information approaches.

Current applications range from atomic systems to nanoscale materials, condensed phase, and biological matter—including work on SARS-CoV-2, which itself remains a hot topic.

7. Nanomaterials for Next-Generation Sensing

Nanomaterials have been at the forefront of next-generation sensing technologies because of their unique and tunable properties. But there is an incredible breadth of research ongoing in the field, spanning metal–organic frameworks, carbon allotropes, nanotubes, and MXenes—a new family of 2D materials that can be used for conductometric sensing.

These newly developed materials demonstrate the advantage of nanomaterial-based sensors for use in health and medicine, environmental monitoring, and electronic applications.

8. The Circular Economy of Plastics

Within this growing field of chemistry, areas of particular interest focus on mapping plastic material flows, innovations in recycling processes, and the impact of human behavior on engineered systems.

Polyethylene plastic remains a ubiquitous presence in our daily lives and environment, despite known links with persistency, toxicity, and climate change—and despite the availability of biodegradable plastic alternatives. In addition to identifying new materials that can change the picture, there is also a pressing need for reliable metrics and novel solutions for sustainable and resilient circularity.

9. Epigenetics

Epigenetics is one of the fastest growing fields in chemical biology, spanning neuroscience, medicinal chemistry, and drug discovery, and harnessing contemporary medicinal chemistry techniques such as covalent inhibitors, fragment-based approaches to ligand development, machine learning, and DNA-encoded libraries. Crucially, chemical changes on DNA and histones constitute the molecular basis for epigenetic regulation.

This creates a need for new tools and probes to dissect this additional layer of gene expression regulation in eukaryotes, including potential ligands and assays.

10. Recent Advances in Polymer Science

Here, we turn back to polymers and soft matter, with a specific focus on new research that fundamentally advances understanding of these materials. This includes papers from teams working on polymer chemistry, colloids and interfacial science, composite materials, and spectroscopy—as well as information on mechanical recycling of polymers, which could reduce their environmental impact.

11. Machine Learning in Proteomics and Metabolomics

Our penultimate pick highlights more research on machine learning, specifically its use in proteomics and metabolomics—the large-scale study of proteins and metabolites and their inherent chemical processes. Machine learning and artificial intelligence have already had significant impacts in the field, and can be used at all stages of experiments, from enzymatic digestion and chromatography to ion mobility, tandem mass spectrometry, and feature detection.

But this is still an emerging field, and it is expected that the coming years will see an increased number of applications as techniques and tools are rapidly developed, impacting everything from hypothesis formulation, experimental design, and data acquisition to analysis, visualization, and explanation.

12. Nonclassical Crystallization

The final hot topic for this seasonal round-up: nonclassical crystallization—a popular method to synthesize advanced materials and bigger crystals than can be achieved with either classical crystal growth pathways or Ostwald ripening.

This is important, since crystals have applications in various fields such as energy, catalysis, biomedicine, optics, electrics, and magnetics. Understanding nonclassical pathways for their generation could provide new insights into the design and synthesis of novel materials with important applications.

All these topics have been covered in recent Special and Virtual Issues of ACS journals. Connect with us on social media to share your own favorite hot topics in the world of chemistry.

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