Habemus Chimista! Pope Francis is a Chemist

Written by Peter Tenido (Licensed Chemist, ICP Member; DLSU Part-time Faculty)

The white smoke used to signal the end of papal conclave is produced from a mixture of potassium chlorate, lactose, and rosin, a natural amber resin obtained from conifers.  The white “fumata” that emerged from the Sistine Chapel chimney on March 13 hailed the election of Jorge Bergoglio, Argentien cardinal, and Bishop of Buenos Aires, as new pope and leader of the worldwide Catholic Church.  He is the first pope to choose the name Francis (drawing connections to Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier), the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1300 years, the first Latin American pope, and the first Jesuit pope.  He prefers keeping a low profile and is known for his simplicity and humility, choosing to use public transport and live in a small apartment.

Interestingly, the new pope Francis was initially a chemist by training.  He graduated from a technical secondary school as a chemical technician and then, at the age of 21, decided to become a priest.  He has a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, and was ordained a priest in 1969.  The coming days will, no doubt, reveal more about the new pope’s views on important social issues, and his views on scientific progress in the 21st century (given his early scientific training) will surely prove interesting to follow.
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