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Committee on Science: Exploring emerging scientific challenges and opportunities

by Mark C. Cesa, Chair, ACS Committee on Science
May 6, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 19

A photo of Mark Cesa.
Credit: Courtesy of Mark Cesa

The Committee on Science (ComSci) has a unique role within the American Chemical Society. ComSci serves ACS members, leadership, and policy-makers by engaging the broader chemistry community to identify new frontiers of chemistry, examine the scientific basis of and formulate public policies related to the chemical sciences, and recognize outstanding chemical scientists.

ComSci held a strategy retreat in early 2018 to define its vision, mission, and goals for the coming years. ComSci’s goals will focus on processes that will help identify emerging areas in chemistry, review and develop policy statements and related material, advise the ACS Board of Directors on recognizing outstanding scientific achievement, and build communication systems to engage collaborators and stakeholders.

ComSci endeavors to apply the output of forums, roundtables, and symposia that the committee organizes to developing policy statements in expert science.

ComSci provides content in the form of symposia, workshops, and roundtable discussions on emerging issues of importance to the chemistry community and the public. ComSci organized a roundtable discussion (C&EN, Oct. 17, 2016, page 38) that was originally focused on emerging issues in materials science but evolved into a discussion about the importance of collaborations between industry and academia. After that roundtable, a ComSci forum titled “Chemical Innovation Partnerships: Industry-University Success Stories” was held at the spring 2017 ACS national meeting in San Francisco. At that forum, cosponsored by the ACS Division of Business Development & Management, five speakers from industry, academia, and government agencies, including the National Institute of Standards & Technology and the National Science Foundation, spoke about success stories in academic-industry collaborations and about initiatives and tools to assist and promote such partnerships.

A symposium titled “Sustaining Water Resources: Environmental & Economic Impact,” was organized by ComSci at the fall 2017 ACS national meeting in Washington, D.C. Speakers representing universities, the Department of Energy, and industry made presentations about the role of water in energy production and the ramifications for water availability, quality, and remediation. A paper is planned that will include input from these speakers.

Additionally, a symposium on the emerging and increasingly important field of big data and machine learning in chemical synthesis will be held at the fall ACS national meeting in Boston. The symposium, titled “Automating Small-Molecule Route Design, Optimization & Synthesis,” will center on the Make-It Program of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

ComSci endeavors to apply the output of forums, roundtables, and symposia that the committee organizes to developing policy statements in expert science and to encourage awareness among ACS members about these issues. A recent example is the symposium titled “Forensics: The Crossroads of Science, Policy & Justice” at the fall 2016 ACS national meeting in Philadelphia. In this symposium, experts from government, law enforcement, academia, and industry discussed the role of chemistry in forensic science and discussed challenges in forensic methods, training, and lab accreditation. This symposium provided ACS members with background information related to the policy statement on forensic science, for which ComSci volunteers served on the writing team.

As part of ComSci’s contributions to the development of ACS policy statements, the committee has also provided members to serve on writing teams for a draft statement on prevention of the reemergence of chemical weapons and to develop fact sheets to inform members about the field of chemical biology.


At the spring 2018 ACS national meeting in New Orleans in March, ComSci hosted a roundtable discussion to assist in updating the ACS policy statement on hydraulic fracturing with relevant science, engineering, and technology.

On behalf of ACS, ComSci has identified outstanding chemists and prepared nominations for them for the National Medal of Science, the King Faisal International Prize in Science, and the Grand Médaille from the French Academy of Sciences for 2018. ComSci will engage the broader ACS community to find highly deserving candidates for future awards.

Communicating the contributions of ComSci is integral to achieving ComSci’s mission. A new subcommittee has been formed that will develop ways to gather information and inform the ACS community about the rapidly evolving science of chemistry.

Recruiting excellent contributors to the committee, developing ways to facilitate identification of new frontiers in chemistry, organizing content of value to ACS leadership and membership, and communicating effectively with the chemistry community will be the foundation for ComSci’s future efforts. ComSci remains strongly committed to providing ACS with the knowledge that its members and leaders need to help guide the society for the future.

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


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