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Mainstreaming Multiple Uses of Chemicals in Chemistry Teacher Education Programs of Africa


Temechegn Engida, Editor in Chief, African Journal of Chemical Education (AJCE)

05/16/16 to 05/20/16

Many compounds can be used for or manipulated to serve a variety of purposes. Chemistry teachers and the chemistry curricula they use, however, do not directly deal with the idea of the use, misuse, and abuse of multi-use chemicals. This paper therefore attempts to explore strategies in mainstreaming the concepts of multi-use chemicals in Chemistry teacher education programs. It is believed that teacher education programs have multiplier effects since they are intended to cover both pre- and in-service chemistry teachers.


Mainstreaming Multiple Uses of Chemicals

in Chemistry Teacher Education Programs of Africa

Temechegn Engida

President of FASC (2006-2013), Editor-in-Chief of AJCE (2011--)


Whereas a toxic chemical is conceptualized as any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals, its precursor is defined as any chemical reactant which takes part at any stage in the production by whatever method of a toxic chemical (1).

IUPAC undertook in 2002 an evaluation of the scientific and technological advances in chemical sciences that might have an impact on the implementation the CWC (2). Prior to the commencement of IUPAC’s evaluation, the Director-General of OPCW stressed the importance of this evaluation as an assessment of the scientific foundations of the Convention in preparation for the First Review Conference of the CWC held later on 28 April 2003.

In 2004, IUPAC and OPCW agreed on a proposal for a joint project on chemistry education, outreach, and the professional conduct of chemists that led to a joint IUPAC/OPCW international workshop held in Oxford/UK on 9–12 July 2005.The Director-General of OPCW then established the Temporary Working Group on Education and Outreach in Science and Technology (TWG-EOST) in November 2011 in the framework of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) of OPCW. The TWG-EOST accomplished its tasks and made relevant recommendation sometime in 2015 for the sustainability of the E&O activities in OPCW.

Such sustained/continued efforts by the OPCW in promoting education and outreach among the scientific communities and the public at large in relation to the CWC and its implementation are to be applauded since they clearly indicate that chemists and chemistry teachers have a great stake in this process.

If chemists and chemistry educators agree that education and outreach in relation to the CWC is a necessary part of their professional obligations (as rationalized above), then they need to devise strategies that accomplish these obligations. Based on previous works by IUPAC and OPCW it seems that there is a general agreement that preparation and use of educational materials specifically devoted to the CWC and their implementation will be an unavoidable strategy.

On the other hand, it is clear that the existing educational materials for school science and university chemistry students are written mostly for a specialist audience, or have dealt only marginally with the topics central to chemical weapons or the CWC in general. It is also clear that revising or updating the existing chemistry education materials to address and deal with the CWC may not be realistic in the near future, particularly in African countries, mainly because of the financial, institutional and human requirements (3).

By way of validating the above efforts and claims at least in Africa and identifying other challenges and the way forward, I conducted a survey study in 2015 (4). Various approaches were used to collect data for that work, some of which were the following. I made a brief look at the Ethiopian secondary school and the undergraduate Harmonized Chemistry Curricula contents in relation to multiple uses of chemicals and the work of OPCW. I also administered a brief test on the same issues in selected senior secondary schools and a University in Ethiopia. The test consisted of eight questions, some in true-false and others in multiple choice formats. The questions were asking whether a single chemical can be useful or dangerous depending on its use, whether chemists played an influential role in the development of chemical warfare, what CWC stands for, etc. A sample of 52 senior secondary school students, 5 secondary school chemistry teachers (BSc degree Holders) and 11 University Lecturers (MSc degree holders) participated in answering the test. These samples were selected on availability and willingness basis.

I also facilitated, upon request by OPCW, the E&O group at the Twelfth Regional Meeting of National Authorities (NAs) of States Parties (SPs) in Africa, from 4 to 6 June 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya. I posed certain questions and issues to guide them through the discussion process. Some of these were:

  • Could professional societies like national chemical societies, continental federations, and international unions be in a position to take the burden? How feasible is this in your country? Why?
  • Is there any hope that States Parties in Africa can be the major players in this regard? Do you have specific experiences in your country? What are the challenges and opportunities?
  • What are the most feasible strategies to convince education policy makers and curriculum developers to integrate issues related to CWC in already ‘crowded’ curricula in African/your education systems?
  • Given the fact that that ‘one size fits all’ kind of educational material cannot work here, what are the most plausible and yet cost-effective approaches to address the various stakeholders (science and technology/education policy-makers and shapers-- including politicians and the media, diplomats, senior military personnel, researchers and students of Chemistry/Science)?

That occasion gave me the opportunity to get the views and opinions of representatives of the participating African countries. In particular the participants expressed the challenges they faced in their respective countries in relation to the CWC’s education and outreach activities. They also suggested the way forward.

The findings of the study (4) suggested that a lot has to be done in order to fully and effectively promote the ideals of the CWC among the various stakeholders. The most relevant finding for this paper, posed in a form of a questions was that: Can we assume that these university instructors (the majority of whom scored about 20% on a test prepared for high school students) are ready to teach secondary school chemistry teachers in relation to the concepts investigated? In fact, some of the secondary school chemistry teachers scored lower than their students in the test. We can thus safely say that our university instructors, high school chemistry teachers, students and their corresponding curricula are not ready for multiple uses of chemistry concepts or not ready to contribute meaningfully to the ideals of the CWC.

As a continuation of the previous works (3 and 4), this paper attempts to explore strategies in mainstreaming the concepts of multi-use chemicals in Chemistry teacher education programs. It is believed that teacher education programs have multiplier effects since they are intended to cover both pre- and in-service chemistry teachers.



It is now well known, and perhaps well accepted, that the knowledge base for teaching in the 21st century is the technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK, later referred to as TPACK for ease of remembering it as a word). The framework was proposed (5) as depicted in figure 1.

Figure 1. Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge framework [5, p. 1025]

As Mishra and Koehler (5) argued “though Shulman’s approach [of the PCK as the knowledge base for teaching] still holds true, what has changed since the 1980s is that technologies have come to the forefront of educational discourse primarily because of the availability of a range of new, primarily digital, technologies and requirements for learning how to apply them to teaching” (p. 1023). It thus became natural to propose for the integration of technology with PCK, resulting in the amalgam knowledge called the technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK/TPACK). The TPCK framework “emphasizes the connections, interactions, affordances, and constraints between and among content, pedagogy, and technology. In this model, knowledge about content (C), pedagogy (P), and technology (T) is central for developing good teaching. However, rather than treating these as separate bodies of knowledge, this model additionally emphasizes the complex interplay of these three bodies of knowledge” (5, p. 1025).

However, TPACK is not a professional development model; rather it is a framework for teacher knowledge (6). Planners of professional development for teachers may use it by illuminating what teachers need to know about technology, pedagogy, and content and their interrelationships. More importantly, the TPACK framework does not specify how this should be accomplished, recognizing that there are many possible approaches to knowledge development of this type.

In response to such criticisms, the ICT-enhanced teacher development (ICTeTD) model (7) was thus developed as one of the approaches for the professional development of teachers at all levels (including higher education instructors)  recognizing TPACK as the knowledge base for teachers and as the backbone of the ICTeTD. The ICTeTD model (figure 2) is expected to serve as the guide for the preparation of pre-and in-service teachers for the 21st century. The tetrahedral framework recognizes and indicates the progressive, transformed and dynamic nature of TPACK. It conveys the transformed nature of TPCK from its constituent content knowledge (CK), pedagogical knowledge (PK) and technological knowledge (PK). Furthermore, the entire knowledge base for teachers is embedded within a context.

Figure 2. ICT-enhanced teacher development model (7, p. 19)


In the context of this paper, the content knowledge (CK) refers to the actual chemistry (of use, misuse, and abuse of multi-use chemicals). Such contents can be derived from relevant sources, the most notable being the Multiple Uses of Chemicals site Whatever the sources maybe, the contents need to be reorganized to fit the ICTeTD model in such a way that chemistry teacher educators at the Emerging Level will deal with the most basic aspects of multiple uses of chemicals, with those chemistry teacher educators at the next higher levels (Applying, Infusing and Transforming) dealing with progressively advanced aspects of the CK.

The pedagogical knowledge (PK) is also expected to progress with the CK, with the Emerging level being more traditional in the sense that trainers are expected to familiarize trainees with basic facts about the multiple uses of chemicals. The other levels progressively employ more activity-oriented, innovative and transformative pedagogical strategies. The technological knowledge (TK) is also part and parcel of the progressive development in the sense that basic productivity tools being dominant at the emerging level, and other advanced and more interactive digital technologies progressively applied throughout the ICTeTD ladder.

The strategy proposed and described above does not expect to create a standalone course on multiple uses of chemicals. Rather all chemistry teacher educators in a given institution would be trained to use the approach throughout their chemistry teacher training programs (hence the term mainstreamed) of pre-and in-service teachers (hence ensuring the multiplying effect of dealing with chemistry teacher education programs).

Finally, it is important to stress the role of Context in the entire approach and as depicted in figure 2. The context defines the application of a certain stage/level in a more meaningful way. For instance if teachers are more acquainted with being the authority in the classrooms who deals with verified knowledge and impart it to students, pedagogically speaking it is hard to immediately put such teachers at a higher level than emerging one. Similarly, some teachers might have developed technology literacy skills through personal initiatives whereas others (mainly in resource-constrained countries/institutions) might not have ever touched a computer mouse. Again some chemistry teachers might be aware of the multiple use chemicals through various media (TV, radio, Internet) while others are just naïve about them. It is thus extremely useful to analyze the context while mainstreaming the multiple use chemical in chemistry teacher education programs.



  1. OPCW (2005). Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and n Their Destruction. The Technical Secretariat (English-Language Version).
  2. Pearson, G.S. and Mahaffy, P. (2006). Education, Outreach, and Codes of Conduct to Further the Norms and Obligations of the Chemical Weapons Convention (IUPAC Technical Report). Pure Appl. Chem., Vol. 78, No. 11, pp. 2169–2192.
  3. Engida, T. (2012). Education and Outreach about the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC): Food for Thought for Chemistry Educators in Africa. African Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp.1-6.
  4. Engida, T. (2015). The State of Education and Outreach Activities in Africa in Relation to the Chemical Weapons Convention. African Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp.84-93.
  5. Mishra, P. and Koehler, M. (2006). “Technological pedagogical content knowledge: a framework for teacher knowledge”, Teachers College Record, Vol. 108, No. 6, pp. 1017–1054.
  6. Harris, J., Mishra, P. and Koehler, M. (2009). “Teachers’ Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge and Learning Activity Types: Curriculum-based Technology Integration Reframed”, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, Vol. 41, No. 4, pp. 393–416.
  7. Engida, T. (2011). ICT-enhanced Teacher Development Model. Addis Ababa: UNESCO-IICBA.



Bob Belford's picture

Hi Temechegn,

Thank you for this very interesting article.  Some of your findings have really got me baffled.  Near the end of your introduction you state:  “Can we assume that these university instructors (the majority of whom scored about 20% on a test prepared for high school students) are ready to teach secondary school chemistry teachers in relation to the concepts investigated?”  I became interested and looked up reference 4 (which is open access) to see if I could find out what kind of questions these are, but could not.

I actually have multiple questions here.  First, would it be possible to share a sampling of the kinds of questions that were asked?  I am very curious.

Second, it is my understanding that the digital access divide is very high in Africa, and wouldn’t this represent an obstacle for ICTeTD (ICT-enhanced Teacher Development), and do all these University Instructors who did so bad have access to ICT?

The World Bank has an interesting map on internet use by country,

and I believe the “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends” states that 60% of the planet’s population do not have internet access

and on page 9, Figure 0.6a, there is an interesting graph showing “within-country” digital divide for Africa (which I do not understand in the sense of "which country"), but it is clear that for whatever "within-country" it represents, most people do not have access to the internet.  In your paper you state that some students did better on your test than their instructors.  Could this be a result of ICT access?

Thank you for sharing your important work.

Dear Bob,

Thanks for the thoughtful questions and comments. Just for the sake of having a common understanding of the issues I raised, I would like to stress that the point of comparison between the chemistry teachers/lecturers and their students was not on the basic/fundamental chemistry concepts but rather on issues revolving around multiple use chemicals. As I argued in the paper the chemistry curricula under consideration do have little or no reference to the multiple use chemicals. This implies that the teacher/lecturers and students’ knowledge (if any) about these concepts/issues could be personally motivated, not structured knowledge in their respective chemistry curricula. In fact this is the major reason for my argument in ‘mainstreaming’ the issues in the curricula, given the significance of chemists’ roles in this regard as argued by IUPAC and OPCW in the first part of my introduction.


Having said so, the test items were revolving around very basic factual questions like the following:

1. Which of the following is not used or considered as chemical agents?

a) Riot control agents

b) Mustard agents

c) Chlorine

d) Nerve agents

2. A single chemical can be useful or dangerous depending on its use.

a) True

b) False

3. Chemists played an influential role in the development of chemical warfare (CW)

a) True

b) False

4. Beneficial substances cannot be used to produce chemical weapons.

a) True

b) False

The study was a descriptive survey study, not a cause-effect investigation. That means, I cannot say that the lack of access to ICT may be the cause for the instructors’ lack of knowledge about these issues. After all, the digital divide applies to the students as well, though they may be more digitally native since the students belong to the current (digital) generation.


The digital divide is quite well known and I don’t expect that gap to close soon, if at all it closes. What is important in relation to ICTeTD is that it is calling for the use of the available technologies (whatever their level of sophistications) in a more meaningful way by integrating appropriate pedagogy to the content under consideration. In fact, at lower levels of the ICTeTD model like emerging, the expectation is for teachers to be more effective and efficient in the use of the basic productivity tools like Microsoft Office products, even in a non-Internet based contexts. In other words, the availability of the Internet is not a necessary condition for the application of the model. We have accumulated such experiences in some teacher education colleges of African countries like Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, and Uganda.


In summary, therefore, it is good to have high level technologies (Internet-based) for a better implementation of the ICTeTD model for introducing/teaching the multiple use chemicals but the model is applicable for any level of technological context.

Best regards


Roy Jensen's picture

An interesting paper. 

I echo Bob's request for some (or all) of the assessment questions used. (I'm curious how I'll do!)

Secondly, I'm wondering if the term "technological knowledge" could more aptly be "application knowledge". While this CONFCHEM is focused on chemical weapons, applications of chemistry are everwhere. From cooking to cleaning to paint. As an instructor, I strive to use applications that are relevant to the students 'world' to form as many connections as possible between the concepts being taught and the students existing knowledge.

I'll admit I've not thought or taught a lot about the potential use of chemicals as chemical weapons. I live in an area with little risk of a chemical weapons attack. However, an emerging drug -- W18 -- is about 30 times more lethal than VX nerve agent, based on LD50. I have talked about W18 in class because it is something that my students might be exposed to.

Your thoughts?


Dear Roy,

Since you echoed the questions raised by Bob, I believe the above points will be relevant to you as well.


Coming to your issues of “technological knowledge” being considered as “application knowledge”, I am not sure this term (application knowledge) can properly reflect what is intended in the model. The model argues that any (chemistry) teacher in the 21st century should have an amalgam knowledge derived from technology (TK), pedagogy (PK) and content (CK—chemistry, more specifically in this case multiple use chemicals). This combined knowledge can be applied (“application knowledge) to any aspect of chemistry, including everyday life chemistry.


Thank you again for your constructive suggestions/questions!


Bob Belford's picture

Hi Temechegn,

I have been thinking a lot about your paper and I am going to ask some pretty basic questions that may frustrate you. But they are sincere questions.

First deals with “multi-use chemicals”, and I have quickly looked through the Kings College site, , which is very impressive. Now it is hard for me to articulate my question, but why do you think “multiple-use chemicals” are a path for bringing these concepts into the curriculum? Are there classroom activities being developed? Is there a list, or framework for categorizing multi-use chemicals?

My second question deals with your use of the term “mainstreaming”. What exactly do you mean by “mainstreaming”?  What are different strategies?

Actually, I may have an understanding of what you mean, but I am hard pressed to see how it is being done.  Also, I, like many other people on this discussion list create educational material, and I am trying to get a bearing if there is something here I can integrate into the material I create. Sure I am not involved with Teacher Education Programs per se, but I do create material that teachers use. Which I would assume would be a "mainstreaming" strategy.

But could you elaborate on WHY multi-use chemicals are important, and what you mean by mainstreaming.


Bob Belford



Hi Bob,

I am very happy that you have been thinking about my paper a lot and you posed some pretty basic questions! I assure you that your questions never frustrated me. If I were someone to get frustrated by questions/challenges, I wouldn’t have joined the ConfChem.

Even though we all belong to the “Chemistry Community”, I understand and confirmed from the last two days discussions revolving around my paper that there are issues that we do not have a common understanding. Well, that is acceptable since we deal with different sectors of Chemistry: Basic Chemistry, Industrial Chemistry, Chemistry Education, etc. What brought us together in this discussion is our common goal of supporting the ideals of CWC in making the world free of chemical weapons (as much as possible!)!


Now let me try to deal with your questions (sincere responses):

I wish my colleagues who coined the term “multi-use chemicals” come onboard in responding to you first question. You know, some formal and informal surveys with the public at large have shown that chemistry (and chemicals) are generally perceived as dangerous/toxic. If you ask children to express themselves through drawing about what they think of Chemistry, the most probable drawings will involve fires/explosions, etc. When you add to this misconception about the nature of chemistry and chemicals the idea of “chemical weapons”, then everybody will ignore you. So what is alternatively suggested is that the nature of chemicals as “chemical weapons” is just one extreme position in the continuum of the use, misuse and abuse of chemicals. In addition, the term “multiple-use chemicals” has a positive connotation to attract those who have little background about the misuse/abuse of the chemicals. On the hand, the term “chemical weapons” is very negatively powerful, I may be wrong, to use for education and outreach purposes among the public at large. So I prefer the term ‘multi-use chemicals” for their neutral connotation. This term, therefore, can serve as an attractive entry point to the chemistry curricula at various levels.


Your second question is about the term “mainstreaming”. Let me try to explain the term with examples from other areas since, I believe, the identification of examples will help in defining the attributes of the term. As you may agree with me, HIV/AIDS has made a great deal of disaster in the world, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Informing the public about the killing nature of the disease, about the mechanisms for protecting oneself from the possible means of exposure, etc. through the various media did not bring much as expected. So at one point, we felt that instead of talking about the disease as such why don’t we design, for instance, a mathematics/arithmetic lesson in which the addition/subtraction/multiplication/division operations are performed with cases taken from the statistics of HIV/AIDS cases from different countries. In this approach, the stated/overt goal was teaching arithmetic but the hidden (to the target audience) goal was creating awareness about the danger HIV/AIDS was creating. In this particular case, HIV/AIDS was not taught as a stand-alone course/topic/issue, but was systematically mainstreamed into the arithmetic/mathematics lessons/courses.


So I personally don’t believe that the issues of chemical weapons (or its more liberal term “multiple-use chemicals) be introduced into the chemistry education system as a stand-alone (be it paper-based or internet/online-based). I believe mainstreaming it would be a better strategy, particularly at the teacher education system.

Best regards


Dear Temechegn,

I appreciate the opportunity to learn about your teacher education program.  Like Bob and Roy, I was curious to see the assessment questions and completely unsure how well I would perform on a quiz like you described.  I had never previously heard the term multi-use, but the concept made complete sense once you had explained it.  In most of the classes I've taught, we spend little time discussing real life applications of chemicals.  Those courses will be enriched by including some of the information you have shared with us.  Thanks for sharing your materials and your experiences.


Dear Jennifer,

Thanks for sharing your experience about multi-use chamicals. Actually mine was the as yours except, perhaps, I had the idea since some years back. My initial introduction was when I had the opporutiny to meet colleagues from the Sandia Laboratories (USA) during a workshop in Cairo/Egypt in 2009. In the same year I got another opportunity to serve as a reviewer of a publication of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. But the real exposure and proper understanding of the multiple use chemicals came after I became a member of the Temporary Working Group on Education and Outreach of the Scientific Advisory Board of OPCW at the beginning of 2012. So we all are exploring it as newcomers.


Dear Temechegn,

I appreciated the issues that you discussed in your article.

As an undergraduate student, I learned about the ethics of chemistry in a way that was very effective for me. In my chemistry class, my professors integrated historical and current ethical issues relevant to the curricula outlined for the course.

For example, when we covered our unit on thermodynamics and kinetics, we looked at the Haber-Bosch process. The application of this chemical knowledge allowed for the invention of ammonia fertilizer, which has made a lasting impact on modern agriculture.  

However, we also discussed the ethical battle that Haber encountered when he was pressured to create the chemical weapon of chlorine gas during WWI. We also watched a biographical movie about his life, which allowed me to become better aware of the impact of scientific integrity on the world around me. By engaging the story, I found that I was better able to engage both the curricula and the ethical learning objectives.

When our professors discussed chemical ethics in the context of history, it allowed us to better understand the types of realistic ethical challenges chemists encounter.

From my classes, I was able to gather that chemistry can be applied to harm or benefit humanity and the environment around us.  Likewise, “multi-use” chemicals can be used in beneficial or harmful contexts. As an undergraduate student, I felt that rich-context teaching in the classroom helped to normalize the topic of multiple uses.

Do you feel that this is a relevant strategy to “mainstreaming” multiple-use chemicals?

Thanks again,


Hello all,

Thank you to Temechegn for your exploration of this issue, it was a very thought provoking paper. Also, thank you Rachel for the comments regarding your own experience with rich context learning and ‘mainstreaming’ multiple uses materials.

I find I have had similar experiences with this sort of discussion in the chemistry class (including the same movie about Haber’s life). During a class about stereochemistry, the (R) and (S) isomers of thalidomide were used as an example of enantiotopic molecules. In the case of thalidomide, the presence of two enantiomers was the difference between a teratogen and a safe compound. While the content learning was important, we took a moment in class to discuss the negative effects of the drug resultant from its use to treat morning sickness, as well as its continued, controlled use today to treat other conditions.

Within the context of learning part of our curriculum, we were asked to question whether or not a single chemical which had caused so much suffering could be beneficial simply by changing the way it’s used—a true multiple uses question.

At my university, The King’s University, chemistry majors also are required to participate in a seminar class which is often characterized by ethical—sometimes multiple uses related—discussions about chemistry.

I found that rich context teaching in a classroom setting increased my learning of the content and also normalized ethical discussion in chemistry. However, having a place like our seminar class where I could engage in a direct discussion of these issues with other students and our professors was also very important.

Though much of this article focuses on educating teachers to be more effective in these areas, I, like Rachel, wonder if these same techniques of integration and open discussion might be helpful in trying to normalize these topics?




Dear Mckenize,

Thanks a lot for your contribution and bringing another case of the rich context learning that Rachel brought up. I am in particular happy that you raised the case of thalidomide. Sorry for those pregnant women who were victims of the drug. I new about it some two decases ago. By then I was just appreciating the role structure has in relation to chemical properties (since I was more engaed in structural chemistry education). Then I tried to briefly mention the case to my students in the Addis Ababa University, still in the context of structure-property, not at all in relation to multi-use chemaicals. So I believe it is a very good contribution, though we need to to explore it further in relation to chemical weapons. As a technique, bringing specific contexts into chemistry lessons is a very usefult approach to promote authentic/meaningful learning.

By the way, Mckenize, isn't thalidomide now banned as a drug for morning sickness? Excuse me for my ignorance.



Hi Temechegn,

It is certainly an interesting example of multiple uses that could provide a good stepping off point for the discussion of chemical weapons. Though as Roy Jensen pointed out, there are often multiple-use examples, such as relevant drugs, which can produce a strong response in students simply due to their proximity to the issue.

As for your last comment, yes, thalidomide is no longer used to treat morning sickness, and is tightly controlled to prevent teratogenic effects during pregnancy. However, it is being used to treat other diseases, such as some skin conditions. In recent times, it has even been researched as a treatment for certain cancers, making it a unique example for both the positive and negative uses of chemicals! 



Dear Mckenzie, 

Thanks again for the prompt response. I know that the deadly thalidomide is still used as chemo drug.

Just for the sake of further reflection, do you think that the negative effects that happened through the use of thalidomide betewwn 1957 and 1961 was due to a deliberate/intentional misuse/abuse of the chemical?



Dear Rachel,

I am impressed by the issues you raised particularly at undergraduate level. I knew about the beneficial work of Fritz Haber's work all along my education, including his Nobel Prize award. But I kenw very little until some 5 years ago about the "the ethical battle that Haber encountered when he was pressured to create the chemical weapon of chlorine gas during WWI." So I am very happy that this is so in your context. You also mentioned that you watched "a biographical movie about his life". Though I don't know which particular movie you watched, I also watched a kind of movie about Haber's life sponsored/coordinated by OPCW. In that movie, Haber was fighting with his wife (who herself was a PhD in Chemistry, colleagues at OPCW can help me) about his active involvement in the WWI. His wife was opposing his active involvement in the war but he was insiting to finish off the war as quickly as possible by using the chemical weapon, arguing that death is death whatever the means may be. So I want you to a little bit elaborate the point you said about Haber being "pressured to create the chemical weapon of chlorine gas during WWI."

The "rich context approach" is a perfectly fitting technique to mainstream the issue in teaching. My point is there is a need to a broader model as the one I presented in order to meaningfully integrate the issues into the chemistry education program sustainably. Otherwise, it will depend only on few kenowledgable and interested professors' will to enrich their teaching with contexts applicable to human life and ethics of science.



Motivation for Multiple Uses - Contexts close to student experience.  Thanks, Temechegn, for your very interesting paper, and the important work that lies behind it in trying to help chemistry teachers and future teachers in an African setting make connections between fundamental chemistry concepts and important contexts and applications of chemistry.  Our team at the King's Centre for Visualization in Science developed these multiple use materials as a joint IUPAC-OPCW project, in collaboration with scientists and educators, as well as staff members at OPCW. In addition to helping to disseminate understanding and awareness about chemical weapons and pre-cursors, a major objective for the multiple uses material is to help students, teachers, policy makers and the public become increasingly aware of the choices that each of us make every day with respect to the use of chemical substances.  For this reason, rather than start with chemical weapons precursors, we start with uses and misuses of substances that are known primarily for their benefits to human health (pseudoephedrine) and discuss how simple knowledge about chemical transformations can lead to the production of very harmful substances (like crystal meth).  These examples are almost universally close to the experience of secondary and post-secondary students (I'm thinking of Roy's good example of new synthetic drugs that make headlines) and create interesting opportunities to help students see that ethical choices about the uses of science and technology are part of all of our lives.  We know that the multiple uses materials are being used with a large range of audiences in both formal and informal settings, and some science ethics classes and modules have found them to be particularly helpful.  So, i think I understand your use of the term "mainstreaming" to imply that we also weave such ethical considerations into the learning objectives for the "mainstream" and gatekeeper courses in chemistry that so many students seeking careers in science related areas are required to take.  

Peter Mahaffy

Thanks to all esp Temechegn for this conversation.  I must admit that I am significantly troubled by the term "multiple use".  I think that something like "weaponizable" would be a more accurate description of what is being discussed.  Multiple use carries with it the implication that all chemicals can be used as weapons simply because all, or pretty much all have multiple uses, while OPCW is concerned with the uses of chemicals as weapons not their other myriad uses.

Given the fear of chemicals that most people have (don't dribble any methanol on the floor near a physicist) the term multiple use to describe chemicals that can be used as weapons in the classroom will only intensify the aversion of many for chemistry and chemicals.

Surely I am not the first to make such observations, and I would like to know why this description is being used. Have I missed something?



Josh Halpern

Thanks Josh for bringing this up as it provides an opportunity to give some personal views and ask a question or two.

First some background:

In the world of WMD security, people frequently talk about “Dual-Use” technologies, meaning technologies that and have both peaceful and weaponisable/military uses.  This terminology originates from the nuclear weapons world and has also been adopted by those referring to biological and chemical weapons.  Sometimes you hear about “Dual Use Research of Concern” (DURC), which is somewhat strange to someone like me with a technical background, because my understanding of the dual-use term is that it is already meant to indicate these is a potential security concern.

As I understand it (and Peter might chime in here for more history), the multiple use terminology came about to try and move away from this somewhat black/white view that dual-use implies, and to indicate that chemicals have many uses, some good, some bad.

In terms of OPCW and its focus, the concern with the uses of chemicals as weapons is the core mission, but to say that there is no focus that includes the many other uses of chemicals is incorrect.  The promotion of peaceful uses of chemistry (especially for the use of science to strengthen international cooperation and trust between nations), certainly gives OPCW interest in how chemicals are used that do not involve weapons or harming people.  Likewise from a chemical security perspective, reducing access to toxic chemicals is of great interest – here one might consider how to replace certain industrial chemicals with substances that pose less health and safety risk (and are thus less likely to be attractive for use to do harm) – this too places much interest in how chemicals are used for non-weapon purposes.

With all that said, a question of interest to me is “why talk about multiple uses and misuse potential of chemicals?” and perhaps “do we need to talk about chemical weapons in this context?”

Peter already touched on the answer to the first question: ”…a major objective for the multiple uses material is to help students, teachers, policy makers and the public become increasingly aware of the choices that each of us make every day with respect to the use of chemical substances.”

I often see this brought up in a discussion on ethics.  I think it has value in another way, that is, for those who go into professional careers in chemistry they may at some point find themselves in decision making positions on projects, product lines, laboratory safety/security issues, and so on.  They may also be asked to provide inputs on risk assessments and perhaps even regulatory issues involving chemicals.  Understanding how to consider the multiple dimensions of how chemicals are used and where they may have both desired and undesired impact is quite important in this regard.

With regard to “do we need to talk about chemical weapons in this context?”.  This likely depends on the interest from students and the context of the examples used.  Chemical weapons certainly provide a rather extreme example of chemicals used in harmful ways, but as has been pointed out in some of the comments, the examples are outside many peoples experience and perhaps a bit abstract.  Other examples (drugs of abuse and thalidomide has been mentioned) may certainly be more effective in achieving the goals of the multiple uses project and/or providing some insight into decision making/risk assessment aspects related chemicals.  I personally do not believe that knowing about the Chemical Weapons Convention is necessary to address the issues that are brought up in the multiple use discussion, but knowing about the topic might be relevant for those interested in the role of chemistry in history and world events.  If one considers that it has cost more money to dispose of chemical munitions than it did to manufacture them, there could be some practical lessons in this on life-cycles of chemicals as well.

I am of course not a chemistry educator, so I’m curious to hear what those who do teach chemistry think.

What terminology would you find more suited to use in place of “multiple uses” to address some of the issues that its discussion is intended to touch upon? (Terminology that is less negative about chemicals to non-chemists?)

Do you see interest from students in these kind of topics?

Are there specific chemicals that you discuss in your courses to highlight beneficial and negative uses of the same chemical?

To end, I’ll toss out an example of a chemical weapon that might have some connection to daily life, did you know that sulfur mustard was the inspiration for the first chemotherapy drug? (And nitrogen mustard, originally produced as a chemical weapon is the active ingredient in the chemotherapy drug Mustargen?).

See for example

Context is important for the choice of terms. Perhaps it's just familiarity, but in discussions relating to the posible use of chemicals as weapons, I prefer the old "dual use" phrase for chemicals such as phosgene and hydrogen cyanide that have significant legitimate uses and can also be used as chemical weapons. In this context, there are two categories, legitimate and chemical weapon, so therefore "dual". In other non-CW contexts, I don't see that the "multiple use" phrase is very useful. It's a very rare chemical that doesn't have multiple uses. 

I use the nitrogen mustard (HN2) as an example of dual use in my WMD class at MIIS, but it's sort of creepy for both the CW possibility and the cancer treatment. My students at MIIS are used to "creepy", but with my non-science majors class at Monterey Peninsula College, I use chlorine as an example of something that has very large-scale beneficial uses but can also be used as a chemical weapon. In a majors chemistry course, I'd use phosgene as an example of something that has large-scale industrial uses but can be a CW. 

Mark Bishop

I thought I'd add a bit to my last message. For those instructors who are thinking of mentioning chemical weapons in their classes, I thought I'd point out that you don't have to try to find space in your already full syllabus for "chemical weapons day". Instead, CW can be mentioned briefly as examples relating to different topics. For example, you can use chlorine, Cl2, as your example for the introduction of covalent bonds and Lewis structures. This can lead to a brief mention of a variety of things, such as a bit of history of Fritz Haber, who's a bit of a "dual use" scientist himself. He's best known for his role in developing the reaction that forms ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen, but he is also a central figure in the development to Germany's use of chemical weapons in WWI. A discussion of chlorine can also be used as an opportunity to describe something that been in the news, such as the use of chlorine as a CW in Syria. Phosgene, COCl2, which was used a weapon in WWI, could be used as an example of how to draw Lewis structures and how to know when a structure has a double bond, or phosgene could be mentioned when describing proteins, including hemoglobin. Phosgene crosslinks proteins in the same way that formaldehyde does. Sulfur mustard can be mentioned when DNA is described, because it is thought to attach to the guanine nucleotide in DNA. Hydrogen cyanide can be mentioned when you discuss enzymes, because hydrogen cyanide is thought to disrupt cellular respiration by inhibiting the cytochrome oxidase enzyme in mitochondria. If you describe neurotransmitters and the firing of neurons, nerve agents are good examples. I wouldn't recommend mentioning all of these things (chemists are already consider to be creepy enough), but the same students who are always asking you to blow things up will find a description of CW interesting. 

You can see the PDF of my PowerPoint presentation on chemical weapons at This presentaion includes some slides that Jonathan Forman kindly sent me. There are links to other presentations relating to chemical weapons, reprocessing of nuclear wastes, and explosives at The presentations below the dotted line are a bit outdated. If anyone wants the PowerPoint files for any of these presentations, let me know at

Mark Bishop

Roy Jensen's picture

Hey Mark ... long time no chat. 

Thanks for sharing your CW resources. :) 194 pages in the PowerPoint!! Wow! 

If you don't mind, I'd like to make an essay for Exploring Chemistry based on your notes. :D

My info on energetic materials complements yours: Chapter 25 from Exploring Chemistry.


OK, Roy just got me to look at Mark's slides, and well, the first one of the introduction should be shared with the list.

“If…in the future wars we are to avoid gross mismanagement in high places and panic… among the masses, it is essential that everyone should learn elementary science, and that politicians and soldiers should not be proud of their ignorance of it...” J. B. S. Haldane

Now I am not sure this just pertains to future wars, but it is worth reflection.


malkayayon's picture


I agree that teachers can, and should mention chemical weapons and ethical issues regarding the use of any chemical in class.

I myself, mention Haber as an example of a person who helped humanity, but damaged it as well at different stages in the curriculum. Not only once.

I also mention different ethical issues related with WWII, not only related to chemistry but to all scientists and engineers who developed the mass killing industry in the concentration camps.  The extermination camps were designed based on scientific principles, considering efficiency of production.  

The less efficient way to kill people by connecting the exhaust of the truck to the truck where people (highly packed) where suffocated by the combustion products of the engine (mainly CO) was changed by a more efficient technique in extermination camps. Those people worked in labs and offices, not in the front.

Zyklon B was chosen as a suitable "killer" (HCN) and was "adapted" to use in extermination camps by taking away additives that warned by smell of its poisonous nature (used in the pesticide as an alarm to the person using the pesticide to kill animals). These caused trouble..

BTW, the company that sold zyklon B was Degesch. Its first director was  Fritz Haber. In 1936 Degussa held shares as IG Farben (both 42,5%) and Th. Goldschmidt AG (15%). After the second world war Degesch continued production. In 1986 the company was sold to Detia Freyberg GmbH; The current name is Detia-Degesch GmbH.

Mark - Thank you for sharing the presentation.


The following are some references:


Zyklon B was the trade name of a cyanide-based pesticide invented in Germany in the early 1920s. It consisted of hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid), a cautionary eye irritant, and one of several adsorbents such as diatomaceous earth. The product is infamous for its use by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust to murder a million people in gas chambers installed in extermination camps.

( During the IG Farben trial the director of Degesch, Dr. Gerhard Friedrich Peters, implicated himself. He received information by Kurt Gerstein about the murder of people using Zyklon B and was informed that the German army needed the gas without the usual additives that were added to warn people by smell of its poisonous nature.[1] In 1949 Peters was charged with murder in the court of Frankfurt and convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment. The conviction was in 1952 legally confirmed in an appeal and set to six years. Peters went to prison but was acquitted in a new appeal in 1953. The law had changed; he was no longer considered guilty in assisting in murder.


Thanks for your comments, Mark. Let me comment a bit further on the "dual use/ multiple use" terminology. After some consideration, the OPCW Temporary Working Group on Education and Outreach, which I served on as a member, recommended that in educational contexts the term "multiple uses" of chemicals is the most helpful way to frame questions that will engage students and teachers.  In the disarmament community, dual use has an important historic understanding.  But if we use that to reach new audiences of students studying chemistry around the world, the idea that chemicals are either good or bad shuts down the engagement and conversation pretty quickly, and they are not likely to be motivated to explore the crucial idea further that every one of us makes decisions about chemicals in our lives every day, and many/most of those choices involve a spectrum of uses, rather than good or bad. Chemical weapons are at one extreme in that continuum. Chlorine came up earlier, and it's an interesting example.  The conversation with students might end quickly if they were told that in it's elemental state it's either bad (as a chemical weapon or precursor to mustard gas) or good (perhaps to purify water). So many interesting and important questions come when this gets taken further.  The huge benefits of chlorinating water have some downsides when carcinogenic trihalomethanes are formed.  Chlorine atoms are incorporated into many important antibiotics and pesticides that are good because they kill things (bacteria or fungi or insects), but have downsides because some of these chlorinated substances bioaccumulate and have the capacity to disrupt endocrine systems.  With exploration of the spectrum of choices that each of us makes about chemicals every day and for which chemists have particular responsibilty to give leadership to society, the value of engaging students with the full spectrum of choices as they are relevant to their lives becomes apparent.  This is one way the multiple uses of chemicals materials, which were created as a joint IUPAC/OPCW project, have been used in some educational contexts, including in the development of ethics scenarios.  I'd encourage you to explore them further if you can - and would welcome further thoughts about the importance of highlighting the many ethical areas that fall between dual uses.  


Peter - I appreciate your comments. I now have a better understanding of the reasons for using the term "multiple uses". Thanks. the risk of belaboring a small issue, I'll make a couple of comments. 

Although I don't have a strong feeling one way or the other, I haven't been convinced that it's better to use the term "multiple use" in the context of chemical weapons. If one is talking about the possibility of using a chemical as a chemical weapon or for some other purpose, it still makes more sense to see that as a dichotomy, therefore dual use. It's doesn't have to be presented as bad (which most people think for CW, but perhaps the followers of ISIS might think as good) and good (as chemicals that can be used for other purposes may or may not be, as you described well); it's simply CW or other purpose. To use the phrase "multiple use" in this context makes a simple either/or into something much more complicated than necessary. Certainly, if the goal is to describe the wide range of possible uses of a chemical, I agree that the phrase "multiple use" makes more sense, and I totally agree that it's important to explore the ethical issues associated with the pros and cons of the use of chemicals. I'm a little uneasy about implying that there's a whole gradation of good to bad for chemicals with CW on the bad end of the spectrum. It might suggest that the issues you mention, such as the formation of trihalomethanes in chlorinated water, are only a difference of degree when compared to CW, rather than a difference in kind. 


I have to say that I strongly disagree with the term "multiple use" as you use it.  You might as well say that all chemicals can be used as weapons and thus chemicals are dangerous and ethically off limits because that is what students and everyone else will hear.  Image some high school or college kid coming home and when dad/mom asks what did you learn in school today the kid says we learned about the multiple uses of chemical and how they can be used as weapons.  End of story.

The problem is not that chemicals have multiple uses, the question is framing the discussion of weaponizable chemicals with the term "multiple use".  It merely reinforces negative views of chemistry and chemists.  Sorry about that, but the image of chemistry that most people have is negative enough without reinforcement.  IMHO you need to specifically label those chemicals which can be weaponizable/used as weapons from those that simply have many uses.


Josh Halpern

bmccollum's picture

I can appreciate the concern about discussing "multiple use" of chemicals with high school students, but I think these learners are likely ready for this level of intellectual complexity and debate.  In my experience with learners at the college level, students thrive on these topics, at being challenged to think beyond black and white.  In my course on the Science and Politics of Nuclear Energy the "multiple use" of nuclear technologies is a focal point of discussions. You cannot escape the issue.  Misinformation related to "multiple use" of nuclear technologies is one of the major tools used by anti-nuclear activists. However, when students engage with the issue they are able to deconstruct the arguments and present informed positions to those in their social circle.  Other tools with multiple use are machetes, fertilizers, automobiles, and computers.  Each can be used for social benefit or for social harm.

The positions presented by Temechegn in this paper, and Peter in his post, align well with my experience.  When teachers have a greater understanding of "multiple use" of chemicals they are better able to guide responsible and reasoned exploration of the topic by their students.