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Comment: Increasing innovation in the chemical sciences requires investment and collaboration

by Angela K. Wilson, ACS President
September 1, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 31


Angela K. Wilson.
Credit: Harley J. Seeley
Angela K. Wilson

One of the greatest joys during my time in the ACS presidential succession has been engaging with chemical scientists across the career spectrum and from around the globe. Some of these scientists have developed innovations that have transformed our fundamental understanding of the chemical sciences and have also captured global markets. It has been a delight to learn about the science and the people behind the work. I have also been impressed by the energy, enthusiasm, and potential of chemical scientists who are just beginning their career journey.

The accomplishments in our field have been made with significant investments of time and resources at many levels, not only by organizations, but also by individuals. As we strive to address a plethora of global challenges, I am inspired by what I believe chemical scientists can accomplish. New legislation such as the CHIPS and Science Act and the new US National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate on Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP)—along with new and ongoing initiatives across the globe on energy, sustainability, manufacturing, innovation, health, and environment—reveal what new innovations will need.

Continuous, committed, growing investments to basic and applied research and translation are crucial. Until recently, funding to the NSF, a primary financial supporter for research in the US, had remained flat for over a decade. At the same time, the costs of all dimensions of research have increased substantially, including those for personnel, chemicals, equipment, and supplies. Providing the same budget, while costs continue to rise, hampers growth in R&D and innovation and shrinks the much-needed future STEM workforce. Sustained and significantly increased investments in the chemical sciences are vital to economic growth and enable the chemical sciences to address global challenges in energy, health, manufacturing, and the environment.

Our voices across the chemical sector are vital. The chemical sciences are central to global and national economies, health, and security.

ACS is active in advocacy and has policy positions in the following areas: “Science Education and Workforce,” “Sustainability and the Environment,” and “Innovation through Research & Technology,” and you can find more information about these areas at​3e7h1YH. New legislation alone does not translate to funding, and often initiatives are put in place without new funding to support them, or funds needed for core research programs are reallocated to the new initiative. We, as the chemical sciences community, need to be sure that innovation and competitiveness, from basic to applied research, continue to be strengthened and supported.Our voices across the chemical sector are vital. The chemical sciences are central to global and national economies, health, and security. I encourage you to become involved in advocating for science through communication and engagement with the public and legislators because it is essential that the public sees the connectivity between the chemistry we do and how our chemistry benefits the public.

Collaborations are essential. Partnerships are needed to address the scientific challenges offered by the CHIPS and Science Act and TIP and those at the core of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals. Teams of scientists and engineers, from multiple sectors of the chemical sciences, bring a broad spectrum of expertise and insight and can help find innovative, timely, and workable solutions to daunting challenges. These teams come together in a variety of ways, but often through publications, presentations, and networking. One of the most successful collaborative research teams I participated in had a brainstorming discussion on a specific topic (in this case quantum computing), rather than a typical symposium with formal talks. While we may have topical discussion sessions within our own research teams or organizations, typically we have limited opportunities for these discussions across a broad spectrum of chemical scientists from different organizations.

ACS provides opportunities for connectivity and networking through in-person and virtual meetings, publications, and presentations. But more opportunities are needed for collaboration. At the ACS Spring 2022 meeting we began “Saturday Sessions” that provide training in emerging areas to grow chemical science capabilities. These Saturday Sessions will be extended, beginning at the ACS Spring 2023 meeting, and will provide opportunities for discussion in critical and emerging areas in the chemical sciences. I hope that you will join us.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


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