Issue Date: January 30, 2006
The Chemistry Enterprise In 2015
Readers of C&EN clearly have an abiding interest in the future of the chemistry enterprise. It's no secret that that enterprise is undergoing rapid and major changes in this era of globalization, multidisciplinary research, and homeland security.
One of the major initiatives William F. Carroll Jr. undertook during his year as ACS president in 2005 was a project to understand the vectors driving the chemistry enterprise today and how the enterprise will change in the next 10 years. The fruit of that project is a report, "The Chemistry Enterprise in 2015," that is now posted on chemistry.org (chemistry.org/chemistryenterprise2015.html). It is well worth reading.
"When I was running for president," Carroll says, "members wrote to tell me that chemistry was dead, the jobs all went to China, and they would never encourage their children to go into it. We needed to find out whether that was true.
"We found out that it's not true. The 2015 project teaches us that a huge generational change is happening as the baby boomers wind down. All industry is becoming global, and people in developing countries will become consumers as well as workers. The U.S. has a high standard of living and is also a high-cost place to do business. Our future is to lead in science, technology, innovation, and commercialization of high-value products. That will not happen unless truly bright people choose science and chemistry."
"The Chemistry Enterprise in 2015" was written by Carroll and Douglas J. Raber, a consultant with GreenPoint Science. It is based on interviews Carroll and Raber conducted with 30 senior researchers, teachers, business executives, government scientists, and policymakers, as well as information gleaned from national meeting presentations and discussions within ACS committees, divisions, and local sections.
The report is an accessible, insightful, and quite readable examination of some of the forces that are shaping the chemistry enterprise, which it defines broadly. "The chemistry enterprise-including industry, universities, and government laboratories-plays a central role in our nation's well-being," the report states. "It helps to maintain our intellectual vitality, and it lies at the core of the country's economy. Broadly, the industry extends beyond traditional chemicals and petrochemicals to include energy, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals as well. The enterprise is dynamic, and change is both normal and essential. In the last century, chemical science moved from working with a small number of known chemicals, in quantities ranging from only a few grams to a few tons, to the current state where we have the capability to manipulate quantities as small as a single atom and as large as the entire biosphere."
The year 2015 is not that far off, and the chemistry enterprise envisioned in the report is already taking shape. Much of the emphasis is on multidisciplinarity, globalization, energy, and sustainability. On multidisciplinary research, for example, the report states: "Ultimately it may be difficult to identify a project's disciplinary origin, and the question will seem irrelevant."
On energy and raw materials, the report focuses on natural gas, petroleum, coal, nuclear energy, renewable resources, solar energy, and hydrogen. On hydrogen, for example, the report notes that "the hydrogen economy is ultimately predicated on advances in catalysis that would enable efficient cracking of water." It also observes that "hydrogen-derived liquid fuels and raw materials such as methanol have a greater chance of ultimate commercialization-particularly if the synthesis includes the use of CO2 as a reagent."
Of the numerous points made in the report on sustainability, two stood out for me:
- "By 2015, the chemistry enterprise will be judged under a new paradigm of sustainability. Sustainable operations will become both economically and ethically essential."
- "Most issues associated with sustainability ultimately devolve to questions of energy."
What is clear, Carroll says, is that "no matter what, the road to better health, better materials, and better energy sources goes through chemistry."
"The Chemistry Enterprise in 2015" ends with a highly optimistic comment with which I heartily agree: "In 2015, it still will be good to be a chemist."
Thanks for reading.
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