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June 14, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 24

Many paths to faculty success

In reference to Pamela S. Zurer’s article “Initiative Targets Faculty Recruiting,” ACS’s new Academic Employment Initiative (AEI) inaugural event missed the mark (C&EN, April 19, page 45). AEI claims an effort to try to “broaden the recruitment process and make it more inclusive,” yet the panelists at this inaugural event were a fairly homogeneous group, representing high “pedigree” and research-active institutions. Multiple times throughout the panel session, it was conveyed that one’s “pedigree” is the key to landing an academic position.

As a member of the audience, I felt disheartened, realizing that I did not have the “pedigree” required to be successful. Yet there I sat, considering myself to have a “successful” academic position at a liberal arts college, where teaching is the emphasis. I looked around the room, wondering how many prospective faculty members there were in the audience who did not do research at a top 10 university. How did they feel about their job prospects?

The AEI inaugural event clearly sent the wrong message to prospective faculty members. There are numerous opportunities in academia for people who did not receive their Ph.D. at a top 10 school. Additionally, a “successful” faculty position does not necessarily mean a research-active environment. Even people with “pedigree” sometimes prefer a position at a teaching institution.

I look forward to a more balanced view at the next AEI event.

Helen M. Boylan
New Wilmington, Pa.

Japan's island experiment

The editor's page "Lessons of Leaves"; reminds us that plants are indeed the sole renewable resources and provide all the living organisms on this planet with material and energy (C&EN, May 3, page 3). In order to sustain human civilization for generations to come, we must minimize the use of nonrenewable resources for both material and energy. Would it ever be possible for a society to live off the renewable resources alone?

Well, let me outline such a society which indeed did just that. It was Japan during the Edo period (about 1600-1868). Japan was closed to the outside world; no substantial amount of material and energy was exchanged with the outside world. It experimented, unwittingly, with a truly self-contained society. Throughout the period, the population was more or less constant, at about 30 million, about one-quarter of the present population. The population density, about 200 per sq. mile, was still much higher than that of today';s U.S. (75 per sq. mile).

Without the import of food, material, or energy resources, Japan sustained its population. The society was preindustrial, and hence living conditions were much lower than today';s standard. However, the level of culture was quite high, with flourishing art, theater, and academics, including mathematics. The number of books published was estimated to be the highest among all the nations at the time. The literacy level was quite high; primary education was widely available. Not only did the Japanese sustain the society, they improved their environment during this period. Soil was made more fertile and productive, rivers and lakes were made cleaner, and more forest was created.

How did they do it? Here is a summary of some prominent points:

◾ Peace prevailed; no waste of material and energy was necessary.

◾ Only truly renewable resources were used, and sparingly (that is, at a rate less than the natural renewal rate). For example, paper was made only from annually grown twigs of certain specific trees, and recycled.

◾ Human and animal waste was converted to fertilizer. (No synthetic fertilizer, of course, was known anywhere.) These resources were actually bought and sold.

◾ Virtually everything else was recycled and used as much as possible. For example, ash from burned timber (an energy source) was bought by a commercial enterprise, and useful chemical substances such as potassium carbonate were extracted and sold as fertilizer and for other uses. By the way, no significant amount of fossil fuel was used during this period.

◾ All artifacts, including those made from nonrenewable resources, were repaired over and over again and reused. (Some nonrenewable resources used were minerals for iron, copper, and other metals.)

I am not trying to advocate that we should return to such a preindustrial society, but I think that we can learn something from such an experience about the human spirit.

Ei-Ichiro Ochiai
Huntingdon, Pa.

Early research initiatives

It was interesting reading the article on the expansion and improvement of undergraduate research as discussed at several ACS meetings (C&EN, May 3, page 33). I am pleased to note that, back in 1990, the Gordon Research Conferences, under the directorship of Alexander Cruickshank, took two major steps to stimulate this very activity. Our first action was to study the effectiveness of undergraduate science education and research, after which we began the series of Science Education Conferences in a number of different scientific fields.

At the same time, we ran TARP, our Teaching & Research Program. This was designed to attract both undergraduate science faculty members and students to the Gordon Research Conferences. That drew so many new applicants that the registration form has been changed to note if the conference attendee is from an undergraduate institution rather than from the “usual” groups that dominated the attendance for so many years.

This was one of the first steps to initiate the activity that C&EN has covered now for several years, so virtually everyone is now very impressed.

Richard W. Zuehlke
Wilmot, N.H.

IP illuminated

All areas of science and technology experience conflicting claims of invention and priority; these claims intertwine financial and scientific interests and reflect clashes of personality. Nanotechnology, because of its perceived potential, has perhaps more than its share of these contentions, which are aggravated by a lack of consensus on nomenclature. “Nanotech IP” may have tried, diplomatically, to avoid these issues, but it was not entirely successful (C&EN, April 12, page 17). One important issue concerns the core matter of invention of various types of carbon nanotubes (or “buckytubes”).

When the article describes the intellectual property situation in carbon nanotubes—a matter that is related in both intellectual and legal ways to the matter of priority in invention—it is clear from the context that what are being discussed are what would be more fully described as “single-wall carbon nanotubes.” On this subject, the article correctly states that both NEC and IBM control significant intellectual property concerning this class of carbon nanotubes. The article is incorrect in tracing NEC’s position to Sumio Iijima’s 1991 paper [Nature, 354, 56 (1991)]. In fact, single-wall carbon nanotubes were discovered simultaneously by the NEC and IBM groups, but not until 1993 [Nature, 363, 603 and 605 (1993)].

The exact substance of Iijima’s 1991 “discovery” is central to assigning priority in the overall field of carbon nanotubes. What Iijima described in 1991 were multiwall carbon nanotubes. In fact, multiwall nanotubes had a long literature and patent history prior to the 1991 paper by Iijima. Relevant papers and patents which describe multiwall tubes include the following: J. Cryst. Growth, 32, 35 (1976), and U.S. Patent 4,663,230, filed Dec. 6, 1984. Multiwall carbon nanotubes of the type described in Iijima’s 1991 paper were, in fact, even in commercial use at the time of that paper. A recent, well-informed, and balanced article by W. de Heer [MRS Bull., 29, 281 (2004)] appropriately credits Iijima’s 1991 paper with awakening scientific interest in carbon nanotubes, but also correctly concludes that multiwall tubes had clearly been described, and their importance recognized, more than a decade previously.

Robert Hoch
Cambridge, Mass.

The April 12 issue of C&EN put the next big thing—nanotech—on the cover. In addition to being a part of the title of the story, the word “IP” (intellectual property) showed up around 30 times in the article. To me—an IP professor—the word sounded just like the meaning of “patent” in the article. In other words, “IP” could have been utilized interchangeably with “patent.”

However, we should be aware that IP is generally viewed as comprising four separate types of property rights: the big three (patents, trademarks, and copyrights) and trade secrets.

These four rights are different in nature, although sometimes they overlap. A patent conveys to its owner the right to prevent others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the patented invention. A trademark is a word, symbol, or combination thereof that is used to identify the source, albeit a possibly anonymous source, of goods. A copyright conveys to its owner the right to prevent others from copying, selling, performing, displaying, or making derivative versions of a work of authorship. Trade secrets consist of any valuable information that gives its owner a competitive advantage.

When dealing with technology, the IP issue should be mainly narrowed down to patents and trade secrets. Only computer software might overlap copyrights, patents, and trade secrets.

Shyh-Jen Wang
Taipei, Taiwan

Global call to arms

Kudos to Jurgen H. Exner for his comment “Global Climate Change and Citizen Chemists” (C&EN, March 29, page 45). He asks us to learn the issues, talk to others about them, write to our newspapers urging the government to invest in enhanced energy efficiency and conservation, save energy in our homes and factories, and choose fuel-efficient cars. In the long term, he says, the debate will be settled through science; we must embrace technologies that help us mitigate the potential negative effects of climate change.

These are all good things, but they will not happen automatically; we must demonstrate our support of them—long, loud, and often. Exner renders a real service in calling for individuals to exercise the rights and duties of citizens. Maybe then the issue will be settled by science. What we should fear most is that it will be settled by inaction, which is really all it takes for the status quo to prevail.

Exner’s most telling call may be to “embrace technologies that can help us to mitigate the potential negative aspects of climate change.” The scientific community today seems to be fixed on the reduction of CO2 emissions as the only path to control the CO2 level in the atmosphere, a very significant element of global climate change. Stabilization has been approached as a removal problem, resulting in very low cost methane and concentrated carbon forms suitable for segregation to achieve stability. This technology has been published over a number of years; only techniques already in use and well understood are required.

There may be other approaches to the control problem that are left out of consideration because of this seeming bias, and Exner exhorts us not to neglect them. Let us hope that his urging succeeds.

H. A. Hartung
Collingswood, N.J.


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