Using it to unboil an egg – by refolding the proteins into the state found prior to cooking – was a nice bit of theatre, and not surprisingly won an international Ig Nobel Prize in 2015. As the Ig Nobels describe themselves, they aren’t about crazy or pointless science, but about “honouring achievements that make people laugh, then think”. And Professor Raston has been making people think over his whole career.
The VFD brings together his two passions: scientific innovation and green chemistry. For more than 20 years he’s been championing the importance of chemists developing products and technologies that don’t create large amounts of waste or require unnecessary energy in their production. “Green chemistry is all about reducing the negative impact on the environment,” he says.
In the early days, there were many cynics who doubted the value of spending time and effort on developing more sustainable chemical practices. “I thought, at one stage, my career was going to go down the gurgler,” Professor Raston admits. “But the younger generation were saying ‘Why haven’t we been told about green chemistry before, where can we find out more information?’”
It was this that encouraged him to persevere.
Fortunately, Professor Raston found some like-minded souls to work with. In 1991, two scientists from the US’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their 12 Principles of Green Chemistry. They then invited him to represent Australia at a high-powered roundtable meeting in Washington, DC in 1998, which was designed to get people thinking.
Since then, more sustainable chemical practices have become not just a reality, but the accepted norm, required in most grant applications. Professor Raston says that nearly everyone who attended the roundtable in the US has since been honoured by their governments for their contributions to the industry. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2016.