The rotation of plane polarized light by chiral substances was first observed by in 1815, and gained considerable importance in the sugar industry, analytical chemistry, and pharmaceuticals. deduced in 1848 that this phenomenon has a molecular basis. The term itself was coined by in 1894. Different enantiomers or diastereomers of a compound were formerly called optical isomers due to their different optical properties. At one time, chirality was thought to be associated with organic chemistry, but this misconception was overthrown by the resolution of a purely inorganic compound, , by .
Tong emphasized the role of chemistry students — particularly the strong Ph.D. program — in the department’s impressive spate of successful grant applications.
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Tong himself received a two-year, $340,000 grant from the Department of Energy for an especially ambitious project, “Exploring Electrocatalysis of Methane on Transition Metal Surfaces.” Tong hopes to develop an catalytic process by which common but environmentally harmful methane gas can be converted to methanol or other useful chemicals through electrochemistry — cutting out the massive expenditure of energy the current steam-reforming process now requires. It’s a process that has been tried before without success, but Tong hopes a new approach can make it possible.
The origin of this in is the subject of much debate. Most scientists believe that Earth life's "choice" of chirality was purely random, and that if carbon-based life forms exist elsewhere in the universe, their chemistry could theoretically have opposite chirality. However, there is some suggestion that early amino acids could have formed in comet dust. In this case, circularly polarised radiation (which makes up 17% of stellar radiation) could have caused the selective destruction of one chirality of amino acids, leading to a selection bias which ultimately resulted in all life on Earth being homochiral.