• Question: have you ever been asked to make something illegal. or do you have the power to do so? if so, how do we trust chemists to do there job correctly

    Asked by bryn_ie to William, Thibaut "Tibo", Harry, Georgia, Emily, Aimee on 9 Nov 2019.
    • Photo: Georgia Orton

      Georgia Orton answered on 9 Nov 2019:


      This is a really interesting question. As a chemist I do have the skills to make a number of illegal things. However, I would rather put my scientific knowledge to good use. I’ve never been asked to break the law, and I wouldn’t do it.

      There are also lots of very tough safety checks in place to make sure people don’t do these things. For example, to buy a lot of the building blocks used to make illegal things you have to have licenses.

      Some scientists do work on things that are otherwise illegal and they have to get special permission to do so. For example, scientists working on making better painkillers for people in hospital (less addictive, fewer side effects) might have to use opioids (like heroin). They will be restricted to using very tiny amounts and will have to keep a record of every time they use it.

    • Photo: William Wiseman

      William Wiseman answered on 11 Nov 2019:


      I have never been asked to break the law. There are very strict checks on some chemicals used in drugs or toxins which means only licenced company’s can handle these materials and they have to document where these are used.

    • Photo: Aimee Egglestone

      Aimee Egglestone answered on 11 Nov 2019:


      Well, this is a tricky one. I have been asked to make a chemical which is illegal in most countries, but was not illegal in the country where we’d be sending it to. No, I cannot tell you what it was or what country it would be going to! I am a woman of mystery!

      In that case, there were ethical concerns, and legal concerns as well as safety concerns for the process and we elected to not make it for them. Thank goodness.

      As Georgia and William have said, we do have the knowledge and ability to make illegal things in most of our jobs – but it would be very hard to get away with because things are so closely monitored.

    • Photo: Thibaut Deviese

      Thibaut Deviese answered on 11 Nov 2019:


      I was asked by a flatmate once if I could make some drugs in the lab but, even if I have the skills, I would never try to make anything like that because (1) this is illegal and (2) I know it is not good for the person using these things. There are legal things that are a lot better than drugs: chocolate for exemple 😉

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