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April 12, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 15

Feb. 23, page 22: The schematic diagram failed to show the introduction of steam to the coal gasifier, which is necessary to create hydrogen in the gasifier.
March 22, page 9: Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) does not represent the district in which Brookhaven National Laboratory is located.

Brain drain: A complex issue

You published a comment, "Keeping a Creative Edge," by your executive director, Madeleine Jacobs, that addresses the changes in the chemical industry over the past 40 years and the new "somber" mood of chemical executives because of the "transfer of millions of manufacturing jobs from the U.S." and the worry that job creation in the high-technology sector can "no longer be counted on" to replace the lost manufacturing jobs (C&EN, March 8, page 47).

We are accustomed to having substantial numbers of nonnative Americans among the students in American Ph.D. programs in the sciences. This is often explained as, "American students don't want to work hard enough to study the sciences." Have the current American students, who have been raised amid plenty, become "lazy"?

Recently, an M.D. friend related a story about his medical school to me. He is in charge of interviewing to select fellows for one of the advanced medical specialties, and for the current year's class there were nearly 100 applicants for the eight slots open. All but five of the applicants were foreign, and most of the impressive applicants were in the foreign group.

When economists explain why we are outsourcing blue-collar jobs, they sometimes conclude that this is "good for America," since our students will train for high-tech jobs. But will they? Perhaps not. And if they do not, are we sanguine about having the majority of our future scientists, engineers, and physicians being of foreign birth? Is this just what the U.S., the melting pot, has always had? Or is it new? What will the effect be on the U.S. economy, psychic well-being, and security if the science, medical, and engineering professions are primarily stocked with foreigners in the future?

William A. Pryor
Baton Rouge, La.

The IT list

Rick Mullin's article "Dealing with Data Overload" is one of best things I have read about the information explosion (C&EN, March 22, page 19). As the author of two books, one of which deals in part with the explosion, I find that Mullin's article updates and clarifies the problem.

First, his statement that "sources say ... that designing data networks will inevitably bring IT departments more closely into business concerns, just as it will pull workers into the nuts and bolts of network design" reminds me of the words of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Vannevar Bush. I believe that in the mid-1960s, he said: "And the technical colleges and universities are not just giving the engineer more basic science; now they are giving both the engineer and the physicist more of the humanities. At MIT, we have instituted a good number of humanities courses, including subjects such as psychology and economics. The engineering graduate is no longer just a nuts-and-bolts man, and the science graduate is no longer just a laboratory specialist. The trend is toward more and more cross-fertilizing of disciplines" (International Science and Technology, prototype issue, page 56). Substitute IT for engineer and scientist, and you find that Mullin has correctly pointed out that indeed we need to bring together data technology with business.

Second, Mullin notes the words "human factor" as well as "worker." Human factors engineering--that is, ergonomics, though some would differentiate the two--designs environments for human beings. We either take the human being into account in everything from control panels to processes and now to data, or we ignore workers at our peril.

Michael M. Kazanjian

Chemists in drug development

Your recent article titled "Birth of a Drug" gave a good, but somewhat unbalanced, account of the roles that chemists play in the development of a new drug (C&EN, March 22, page 51).

While the contributions of the synthetic organic and medicinal chemists were well documented (as they should be), the efforts of bioanalytical chemists were largely overlooked. The early assessments of a new chemical entity's solubility, bioavailability, and metabolic stability discussed in the article would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of the trained, experienced bioanalytical practitioner. Skilled in various aspects of sample preparation, chromatography, and analytical detection technology, these scientists play a key role both in drug discovery and in "downstream" preclinical and clinical drug development.

Mark L. J. Reimer



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