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CHEMICAL PROCESSES IN NEW ZEALAND, edited by John Packer, John Robertson and Heather Wansbrough; New Zealand Institute of Chemistry Education, 1998; 948 pp; $67.00 Looseleaf, $77.00 Two volume bound

Reviewed by Dr Michael Winter

This is the second edition of John Packer's magnum opus. Volume 1 of the first edition was published in 1978 in response to a request by a chemistry teacher; volume 2 followed in 1988. Since the first edition, there have been great changes, with new processes introduced and some industries closing down.

The new edition is a massive summary comprising 17 sections, a total of 101 articles from 122 authors, most of whom are practising experts in their field. In compiling these two new volumes, Professor Packer was expertly assisted by Dr John Robertson and Heather Wansbrough, a chemistry student at the University of Auckland.

In a work of this magnitude and complexity, it is inevitable that the writing style will vary somewhat. Heather Wansbrough's excellent editorial skills have helped maintain a consistency of format and readability throughout the volumes. The excellent summaries at the beginning of each article are especially useful for gaining a quick overview of the topic. The text is well laid out and is complemented by clear illustrations, tables, flow charts and chemical equations.

The bulk of the book deals with conventional chemical processes and the application of chemistry to agriculture and forestry. There are also sections on water, the environment and on biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Three articles on analysis and measurement complete the major part.

The articles are written clearly enough to inform non-chemists. Indeed the original edition was purchased by a wide range of people, and the current volumes promise to have the same more general appeal. However, there is an abundance of detail in the articles, and chemists wishing to find out more about processes outside their immediate area of expertise will be well catered for by the book.

Throughout the book there are gems of information, certainly a valuable source for a game of chemical Trivial Pursuit! I learned that continuous fermentation of beer was developed by Morgan Coutts of Dominion Breweries in the 1950s, and that 35% of all glass produced in New Zealand is recycled.

John Packer's article on the training and employment of chemists points to shortcomings in the educational and examination system. This could affect the education and intellectual challenge offered to the talented young students of chemistry who are needed to be leaders in the 21st century. The book ends on a historical note with a reprint of a review of chemistry in the development of New Zealand industry, which was originally published in 1940.

The scope and breadth of this work has far exceeded the original request for information for chemistry teachers. Indeed, so comprehensive is the coverage that a separate book could be produced to simplify the information for teachers wishing to use it with their classes. It is to be regretted that time did not allow the preparation of a comprehensive index, and also that only a few articles have a bibliography. However, these small points do nothing to detract from the excellence of this work, which, like its predecessors, is destined to become the standard reference.