Chemistry International
Vol. 22, No.4, July 2000

2000, Vol. 22
No. 4 (July)
..Chemistry in Argentina
..News from IUPAC
..Report of Accounts 1998-99
..Reports from Symposia

..Reports from Commissions
..Provisional Recommendations
..Awards and Prizes
..New Books
..Conference Announcements
..Conference Calendar

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Chemistry International
Vol. 22, No. 4
July 2000

 

Chemistry in Argentina

This article was contributed by Prof. Máximo Barón (Facultad de Ciências Exactas y Naturales, Universidad de Belgrano, Villanueva 1324, 1426 Buenos Aires, Argentina; E-mail: baron@ub.edu.ar; Tel.: +54 11 4511 4700; Fax: +54 11 4821 4887), Titular Member of IUPAC's Macromolecular Division Committee and Secretary of the Commission on Macromolecular Nomenclature (IV.1).

Introduction
Pre-19th Century Chemistry
From Self-Rule and Independence to Political Strife: 1810 to 1875
Industry, Teaching, and Research: 1875-1935
The Era of Expansion: 1936–1975
Last Quarter of the 20th Century
2000 and Beyond

The Era of Expansion: 1936–1975

Industry

Local and foreign investment strongly supported everything that happened in this period, during which there was important participation by the government - especially in what were called "mixed enterprises". This cooperation was important in heavy chemicals, steel mills, initial petrochemical enterprises, nonferrous metallurgy, and a variety of solvents, hydrogen peroxide, ammonia and derivatives, etc. Chemistry soon became a full-fledged part of the Argentine industrial scene and, although dependent in some cases on imported raw materials, it was able to fill many local needs and to begin producing exports to neighboring countries. This success was made possible by both local and foreign capital investment that was instrumental in starting not only industrial manufacturing works but also some industrial research as well as process and product development. Examples of the latter include ATANOR (hydrogen peroxide, solvents, formaldehyde, and pesticides), E. R. Squibb & Sons (which started an excellent research laboratory under Profs. Alfredo Sordelli and Venancio Deulofeu), ALBA S.A. (paints and varnishes), Duperial, Compañía Química, and many others.

Research in the Chemical Fields

One of the most important aspects of chemistry in Argentina during this period was the substantial expansion of basic research carried out in universities and at a variety of institutes. Instrumental to this expansion was the creation in 1958 of the National Research Council, whose organizer and president for many years, Prof. Bernardo A. Houssay, combined the qualities of a first-class scientist with those of an able and enterprising administrator. He had shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for 1947 with Gertrude Radnitz and Charles F. Cori. Prof. Houssay had been one of the more active members of the AAPC who supported several initiatives considered crucial to achieving a solid and fruitful national scientific system. The three most important measures were probably creating a National Research Council, establishing full-time professorships at national universities, and appointing a Secretary of Science and Technology at the Cabinet level.

Prof. Luis F. Leloir (1906—1987), winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The first two initiatives were successfully undertaken in 1958, while the third had to wait over a decade, until the distinguished cardiologist Prof. Alberto C. Taquini was appointed to the Cabinet position. However, by this time a number of research groups had been assembled and were very active and productive at several national universities that, in a rather short time, became veritable centers of excellence. They flourished in several regions both at universities, such as Buenos Aires with its well-known Schools of Chemistry at the Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales (Natural and Exact Sciences) and Farmacia y Bioquímica (Pharmacy and Biochemistry), La Plata with its Institutes of Physical and Organic Chemistry, Córdoba, Rosario, Santa Fé with its pioneering School of Chemical Engineering, Tucumán, the Center of the Province of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Bahia Blanca, Mar del Plata, and San Luis, among others, and at research institutes with federal, provincial, municipal, and private funding, such as Instituto de Investigaciones Bioquímicas, Fundación Campomar where Dr. Luis Federico Leloir (winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1970) worked, Instituto Superior de Investigaciones Fisicoquímicas (INIFTA), Planta Piloto de Química–Universidad Nacional del Sur [Chemical Pilot Plant–University of Bahía Blanca (PLAPIQUI)], Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica [National Atomic Energy Commission (CONEA)], Laboratorio de Ensayo de Materiales e Investigaciones Tecnológicas [Laboratory for Material Testing and Technological Research (LEMIT)], and Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Industrial [National Institute for Industrial Technology (INTI].

All these efforts found substantial and continuing support from the National Research Council (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, or CONICET, as it is known popularly), which had a good start under Houssay's firm and enlightened leadership as president (reporting directly to the National Executive). The funds CONICET received from the national budget were used judiciously for broad and effective scholarship programs and for the funding of research at universities and institutes. To describe the many activities of CONICET and its impact on science in Argentina is, in fact, another story; suffice it to say here that its existence enabled Argentina to take a significant place on the scientific world scene, with chemistry as one of the most important fields.

Last Quarter of the 20th Century

Viewed under the UNIFOR International Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (UN), chemistry has an important share that ranges from the production of starting materials for other industries (e.g., food, textiles, printing, construction, transportation, health care, packaging, etc.) to products for direct use both locally and for export (such as paints and varnishes, pharmaceuticals, surface active agents, plastics, pulp and paper products, pigments, metals, rubber, glass, resins, pesticides, and fertilizers).

Oil and petrochemistry deserve a separate commentary. Although Argentine petroleum deposits were first discovered near a Patagonian village in 1907 and later on in other Argentine regions (Salta, Jujuy, Mendoza, Neuquén, Santa Cruz, and Tierra del Fuego), oil and gas production from them satisfied the energy needs of only part of the local market. In the early 1940s, because of demand brought about by World War II, the Dirección Nacional de Fabricaciones Militares (National Military Industries Agency) built a toluene synthesis plant to manufacture raw material for explosives. But it was only in the late 1950s and early 1960s that petrochemistry came into its own, essentially because of an aggressive exploration and production program that provided oil and gas in adequate amounts. Argentine petrochemistry has now become a multimillion-dollar industry that produces olefins and polyolefins, methanol, fertilizers, styrene and polystyrene, ethylene and propylene oxides, aromatics, vinyl chloride and PVC, polyethylene terephthalate, acetone, and other ketones - for both local consumption and export. In 1998, total petrochemical production reached 3.3 million tons (MTons), of which 36% comprised basic products, 28% intermediates, and 36% end-products.

2000 and Beyond

Chemistry in Argentina has traveled a difficult and, at times, bumpy road with moments of great enthusiasm and others of acrid gloom. Both local and foreign capital have contributed to its birth and growth, spawning small to medium-sized (by international standards) companies that make almost every basic chemical needed by the market. But the ever-changing world economy and the peculiar evolution of chemical industries, with emphasis shifting back and forth from industrial products to revenues for shareholders on a worldwide scale, has created unexpected situations that a rather small market like Argentina has difficulties coping with. Still, a new millennium is just around the corner, and the country has been through worse crises before. We can, therefore, look forward to the future with a hopeful heart.

 

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