In response to "Quo Vadis Chemistry?" commenters have tacitly sidestepped the real reason for the decline in interest in chemistry: money (C&EN, May 31, page 36).
At our recent science fair, there was a winner who clearly had a chemistry project but entered it in the engineering category. Why? Because the winner was after the "big bucks" in engineering. Indeed, the individual was awarded a significant engineering scholarship.
Until ACS and the chemical industry regain the "street appeal" that engineering now enjoys and pays for, chemistry will continue to decline. That's not to say that there won't be chemists; it's just to say that chemistry will continue to play second-fiddle to engineering as long as the money's in engineering disciplines. To attract more people to chemistry careers, the society and the industry must change remuneration, not just discuss goals and strategies.
Martha G. Dibblee
It has been interesting to me how many different metrics have been used through the years to support the thesis that U.S. science is losing its competitive edge, as was stated in the recent Editor's Page titled "Pursuing Scientific Excellence" (C&EN, June 14, page 5).
Sometimes it is the number of patents, sometimes it is something related to university graduates. In this case, it is the nation of origin of scientific papers. These numbers can mean everything or nothing. Don't you also have to examine the quality of patents or papers, or the effectiveness of the university graduates in the workplace? U.S. science may be losing its competitive edge, but these and other metrics are too simplistic.
If we want to maintain our competitive edge, someone needs to get a handle on what it is about U.S. culture and/or its economic system that allows graduates of a supposedly inferior education system to outachieve U.S. graduates. The simple measure of this is our technical and economic dominance. As long as this occurs, maybe it doesn't matter if we make incremental changes in our educational system; actual improvement may not follow. Maybe what will matter is if the power of the U.S. is understood in such a way as to apply that to motivate students earlier into areas of study where they will become enthusiastic and successful.
I'm a chemist, and I don't really care if my child or any particular child wants to become a chemist. What I care about is that children are allowed to follow their enthusiasm into a career of their choosing. Doesn't everyone wish that for their children and all children? My son is now in law school, and I'm happy for him because he is enthusiastic and motivated about the career he has chosen. The sheer numbers of people living in the U.S. guarantee that quite a few people will also choose to be chemists, so our excellence in chemistry will probably continue. And if everyone in our culture were to find his or her niche earlier in school and be allowed to pursue that, then maybe the U.S. would be even more competitive.
Stanley D. Young
Fort Collins, Colo.