Issue Date: January 5, 2004
CHALLENGES FOR CHEMISTS, CHEMISTRY, AND ACS
My interest in science arose at the time that the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite, and the U.S. recognized the need for scientists and engineers. I was drawn by the intellectual challenges of catalysis and by the fact that I felt I was needed to help solve important problems in chemistry. I chose organometallic chemistry and homogeneous catalysis as my research field because of the challenge of understanding the mechanisms of these new and important reactions. Today, chemists, the science of chemistry, and the American Chemical Society face many challenges. I ran for ACS president because I wanted to be a leader in focusing our attention on these challenges and to help convert these challenges to opportunities.
Challenges for chemistry. During my presidential year, I plan to emphasize the challenges that chemists and chemistry face. Some of these challenges were outlined in the National Research Council (NRC) report "Beyond the Molecular Frontier: Challenges for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering" written by a committee cochaired by Ronald Breslow, University Professor of Chemistry, Columbia University, and Matthew V. Tirrell, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. We are challenged to develop highly selective, energy-efficient, and environmentally benign new synthetic methods. We are challenged to develop inexpensive and unlimited energy sources to have a sustainable future. We need to understand how molecules change and react over shorter and shorter timescales.
As we move toward a revolution in nanoscience, we need to understand the structures of materials on a smaller and smaller scale and of single molecules and self-assembled arrays of molecules on a larger and larger scale. Biological chemists are challenged to understand the complex interactions among cell components and will need to work on teams with biologists. Environmental chemists need to better understand the atmosphere and the biosphere so that we can maintain a livable environment. Materials chemists are challenged to design molecular devices and new materials with predictable properties. We are challenged to develop robust and selective sensors to help protect the nation against disease and terrorism.
To highlight the NRC report, I will cosponsor a presidential symposium at the Anaheim, Calif., national meeting this spring with Immediate Past-President Elsa Reichmanis and President-Elect William F. Carroll Jr. The symposium aims to stimulate discussion of the future of chemistry. Divisions are being asked to hold related sessions on how the challenges outlined in the NRC report impact their science. I hope that all chemists will take the opportunity to read the report, which is freely available on the Web at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10633.html.
I urge all of us to make lists of the five most important advances in chemistry in the past 25 years, of the five major societal problems that will require advances in basic chemistry, and of five advances in basic chemistry that will enable new opportunities for chemists. I plan to use these lists when I present the case for support of chemistry to the public, to Congress, and to nonchemist leaders of government science agencies. My short list of societal problems that will require advances in basic chemistry include conquering diseases by developing antiviral drugs; solving energy problems by developing sustainable energy sources including solar and nuclear energy and by developing efficient fuel cells for H2, CH4, and CH3OH; and protecting against terrorism by developing sensors for biological and chemical warfare agents. Please e-mail your suggestions for all three lists to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Communication challenges for chemists. I plan to continue 2003 ACS President Reichmanis' emphasis on communication of the value of basic and applied chemistry to society. We all should take up the challenge of communicating the importance and excitement of chemistry to the general public. ACS takes a leadership role in giving us the ammunition to do this more effectively through the celebration of National Chemistry Week, the establishment of National Historic Chemical Landmarks, and through the Heroes of Chemistry Awards. At the New York ACS national meeting, the 2003 Heroes of Chemistry Awards were given to teams of chemists from Abbott, Wyeth, Pfizer, and Merck who developed pharmaceuticals for childhood diseases. We need to personalize chemical success stories by telling our friends and neighbors about achievements that we or fellow chemists have contributed to. We also need to communicate the increasingly important role that we as chemists are playing in meeting challenges to our nation's future.
We need to take advantage of ACS's Legislative Action Network (LAN) to communicate with Congress when issues critical to chemistry arise. LAN is a Web-based program designed to facilitate communications with legislators on issues such as K–12 science education, research funding, and the environment. Participating ACS members receive e-mail alerts prior to key congressional decisions. Each alert explores an issue's background and the ACS policy position. By clicking on a Web link, members can review action alerts, edit sample letters, and send messages to their legislators within minutes. The LAN website is http://www.legislators.com/chemical/home/.
Recruiting new ACS members. When we recruit new members to ACS, we invite fellow chemical scientists and engineers to join with us in our activities in local sections and divisions. We point with justifiable pride to the many benefits of membership: Chemical & Engineering News (which has been transformed in the past decade into a "must-read" publication), exciting national and regional meetings, the ACS website (http://chemistry.org), career services including the employment clearinghouse, professional development resources including ACS Short Courses and ProSpectives Conferences, life insurance, et cetera.
We also need to promote ACS membership as a way that we join together to give back to society. We do this through our Education Division's programs such as Kids & Chemistry and the Chemistry Olympiad. We join together to improve the public perception of chemistry through our Office of Communications, National Chemistry Week, National Historic Chemical Landmarks, and Heroes of Chemistry Awards. We advocate together for science through our Office of Legislative & Government Affairs and the Legislative Action Network. We support diversity through Project SEED and the ACS Scholars Program.
Recruiting new students into careers in chemistry. The number of U.S.-born students choosing careers in chemistry is distressingly low. We cannot continually rely on attracting international students to fill the need for chemists in the U.S. To recruit new chemists, I think it's essential to challenge students to find solutions for chemistry's problems. As I mentioned, this was my motivation for choosing a career in chemistry at the time of Sputnik. We need to tell students that they are needed to develop efficient new catalysts, to invent smart materials, to discover new drugs and ways to synthesize them, to open up the area of nanoscience, and to solve problems in environmental chemistry. If we present these needs and challenges to the best and brightest students, we can attract them into the chemical sciences to meet critical human needs.
Themes at national meetings. While the programs at national meetings have outstanding breadth and diversity, I think that we should highlight a theme for each meeting and publicize the events clustered around this theme that appear across the entire program.
Nanoscience is a theme that I hope to highlight at the Anaheim meeting this spring. To reach an audience beyond the meeting attendees--parents, high school teachers, the media--the ACS Committee on Science is taking the lead in organizing a Sunday afternoon Presidential Colloquium and reception that will feature leaders in nanoscience. A workshop on Career Opportunities in Nanoscience will be held for those considering switching to careers in this area. A tutorial for the media is being considered for sometime just before the meeting. More specialized sessions on nanoscience run by divisions will complement the symposium, and a cross-meeting road map of divisional events will be provided.
Chemistry is continually expanding at its interfaces with other areas of science. The chemist's approach of studying matter at the atomic and molecular level has expanded into materials science, biology, polymer chemistry, and surface science. We can provide a forum for scientists working in these cross-cutting areas to come together at national meetings where we highlight a theme that cuts across many divisions.
Graduate Education will be a theme for the fall 2004 meeting in Philadelphia. In cooperation with the Committee on Science and the ACS Office of Graduate Education, I will sponsor a Presidential Event on "The Future of Graduate Education." Margaret A. Cavanaugh of the National Science Foundation and Brian P. Coppola, a professor at the University of Michigan, are organizing the event. ACS technical divisions have been encouraged to have satellite programs on graduate education in their specialty areas that will be advertised together with the presidential symposium. Overall, this should provide a meeting-wide emphasis on graduate education in Philadelphia.
The Academic Employment Initiative (AEI) is another presidential event I will sponsor in 2004. AEI is a pilot project aimed at broadening the process by which colleges and universities recruit faculty into the chemical sciences. The intent is to give colleges and universities exposure to a larger pool of candidates for faculty positions than is possible through current recruitment practices, and to give candidates the opportunity to convey their teaching and research goals to a wider audience. Through this process, we expect to create a more inclusive system of faculty recruitment that will ultimately strengthen research and teaching in the chemical sciences.
In the current hiring process, chemistry departments rely largely on applicants' paper portfolios. In many cases, too strong a bias exists for applicants from the most prestigious chemistry departments and applicants from less prestigious departments are viewed as less likely candidates. This can discourage young people, particularly underrepresented communities and women, from seeking academic appointments if they are not from one of the top few graduate schools. Somehow, we have to find a way to broaden the recruitment process and make it more inclusive of the talent in our midst.
At the spring ACS meeting in Anaheim, AEI will sponsor a symposium called "Recruiting Faculty: How Is It Done? Who Gets the Job, and Why?" to explain the faculty recruiting process. Senior faculty from hiring committees and recently hired junior faculty will describe their experiences with the academic hiring process.
Our national meetings offer an ideal forum for academic seekers and employers to connect and explore mutual opportunities on a person-to-person basis. At the fall ACS meeting in Philadelphia, an AEI poster session will be run as part of the popular Sci-Mix poster session. At the AEI poster session, those seeking faculty positions will present a research poster or a poster expanding on their research interests, teaching philosophy, and experience. The objective is to give faculty recruiters the opportunity to meet as many candidates as possible and to give candidates the opportunity to network among themselves and meet faculty from many institutions--all in a setting that ensures them visibility in a natural, unforced environment.
Regional meetings. My attendance at the Northwest Regional Meeting in Bozeman, Mont., in June and at the Midwest Regional Meeting in Columbia, Mo., in November reinforced my conviction that regional meetings provide a vital and more intimate way for our members to interact. To enhance regional meetings and to encourage more cooperation between divisions and regional meetings, I will use presidential funds to match divisional support of outstanding symposia at regional meetings. During my three years in the presidential succession, I hope to attend a meeting in each region.
PROGRESS for women in chemistry. Like an amazingly large number of ACS members, I am married to a chemist. My wife, Martha Link Casey, and I met when we were organic chemistry graduate students at MIT. Martha has been very active in ACS for many years. She was chair of the Wisconsin Section of ACS in 1980 and has been a councilor from the Wisconsin Section since 1982. She has served on the Committee for Economic & Professional Affairs, on the Budget & Finance Committee, and on the Women Chemists Committee (WCC), and she was elected to the Council Policy Committee two years ago. Martha encouraged me to run for ACS president, was an effective "campaign manager," and is a great help and encouragement in my work with ACS.
When I joined the University of Wisconsin chemistry department in 1968, it was very difficult for spouses to find faculty positions at the same institution. Fortunately, "nepotism rules" are long gone, and we now have "spousal hiring" programs. Because faculty doors seemed closed, Martha switched to a career in academic administration, built UW Madison's Academic Planning & Analysis Office, and rose to an assistant vice chancellor position. Her chemistry background was definitely helpful to her career in administration.
I'm happy that women chemists are now more welcomed in faculty circles, and I applaud the role that WCC and the Committee on the Advancement of Women in Chemistry (COACh) are doing to help women faculty. I strongly support the PROGRESS pilot project, the resource dedicated to promoting the advancement and participation of women chemists and chemical engineers in the chemical workforce. I particularly like the Corporate Recognition Program that will recognize companies that have successfully diversified their senior technical management staff, the Be Visible Program, which supports seminars by "rising star" women in academe, and the Academic Awareness/Site Visits Program, which promotes hiring, promotion, and retention of women faculty.
Open financial reporting of ACS affairs. ACS is a financially sound organization, and its finances and investments are well managed. In addition, our Audit Committee routinely takes actions to ensure the independence of the external auditors, the integrity of management, and the adequacy of financial disclosures to the public. The committee is currently exploring ways to enhance the accountability and conformance of ACS with emerging best practices in financial reporting.
I am committed to keeping members informed on these issues and disclosing more information on ACS finances than is contained in the society's annual report. In particular, I believe we should make available to members information about top management's compensation. This information is now only available on the difficult-to-access Form 990. Even when it is possible to find the form, the information is not always easy to understand because compensation can include base salaries, bonuses, and fringe benefits, including retirement plan contributions and payments.
As the world's largest scientific society, ACS should take a leadership role among not-for-profit groups and inform members of the procedures and benchmarks that are used to set ACS salaries and bonuses. This information should be readily available on the ACS website. This open disclosure will help instill confidence in ACS membership that salaries are appropriate and that the board is providing proper oversight.
Combined challenges of soaring library costs and "open access" to literature. There are two trends in scientific publishing that are coming together to create problems that should concern chemists and ACS. Because chemists play a crucial role in producing these research publications, they can have an enormous influence on the future of scientific publications--if they assert themselves.
One trend is the very high and rapidly increasing prices of commercial science journals that are threatening the ability of university and industry libraries to maintain their access to the scientific literature. Libraries nationwide are canceling subscriptions to less used journals, only to see their costs continue to rise much faster than inflation. Although ACS journals provide very high quality at a reasonable cost, commercial publishers such as Elsevier charge much higher prices for what, in some cases, are lower quality journals. Let me give two examples from my research area: ACS's Organometallics cost libraries $1,905 in 2002 for 5,990 pages ($0.32 per page) and had about 26,000 citations and an impact factor of 3.215; in contrast, Elsevier's Journal of Organometallic Chemistry cost $9,210 in 2002 for 6,517 pages ($1.41 per page) and had about 21,000 citations and a lower impact factor of 1.901. ACS's new Organic Letters cost libraries $2,609 in 2002 for 4,743 pages ($0.55 per page) and had about 11,000 citations and an impact factor of 3.715; in contrast, Elsevier's established Tetrahedron Letters cost $9,624 in 2002 for 9,726 pages ($0.99 per page) and had about 62,000 citations and a lower impact factor of 2.357.
At least partially in response to the high cost of commercial journals, a second trend calling for "open access" publishing has developed. It calls for Internet publishing to make journals free for all to read. The noble goal of making scientific information available to a much wider audience has been championed by many, including United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts. The Public Library of Science, a project championed by former National Institutes of Health chief Harold E. Varmus, published its first open-access journal, PLoS Biology, in October 2003. This peer-reviewed journal is supported by $1,500 author fees and by a $9 million grant from the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation. Many have questioned the viability of this business model and worry about who will maintain journal archives and for how long.
Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn.) has proposed legislation that would require free access to publication of federally supported research. This would effectively remove copyright protection for ACS and other scientific journals. It would bias the publishing system toward the open-access model and would fatally damage publications of scientific societies. ACS has taken a strong position against the Sabo bill because the legislation would destroy ACS's ability to fulfill its mission of providing high-quality chemical publications at a reasonable cost.
I think that the solution to soaring library costs does not lie with open-access publishing but rather with electronic journals from scientific societies that are made available at reasonable costs. The solution will also require scientists to exert pressure on commercial publishers. The time has come for chemists who are editors or editorial board members of commercial journals to use their considerable influence to strongly urge publishers to greatly reduce their prices. I believe it is also time for chemists to consider whether they will continue to support exorbitantly priced commercial journals by serving as editors, editorial board members, authors, and referees!
I encourage all ACS members to join me in turning our challenges into opportunities for new successes.
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
- Copyright © American Chemical Society