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All That Sparkles

by Rudy M. Baum
February 2, 2004 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 82, ISSUE 5


Two stories in this week's issue of C&EN make for fascinating reading and illustrate well the breadth of coverage we attempt to bring to you, our readers, each week.

The brilliant sparkle of jewelry-quality yellow diamonds that grace this issue's striking cover were produced by Sarasota, Fla.-based Gemesis in a high-pressure, high-temperature crystal growth chamber about the size of a washing machine. Associate Editor Amanda Yarnell's cover story (see page 26) provides an in-depth look at efforts by Gemesis and another start-up company, Apollo Diamond of Boston, to produce affordable, laboratory-grown diamond gemstones.

Yarnell writes that "because of diamond's remarkable optical, thermal, chemical, and electronic properties, synthetic diamond promises to offer a lot more than just beautiful jewelry." Diamond is the hardest and stiffest material known; it is an excellent electrical insulator; has the highest thermal conductivity of any material, yet barely expands when heated; is transparent to UV, visible, and infrared light; and is chemically inert to nearly all acids and bases, Yarnell points out.

Although more than 100 tons of synthetic diamond is produced annually worldwide, the quest for large, perfect stones doped with trace impurities to impart desired color or electronic properties is driving Gemesis, Apollo, and others. For instance, doped diamond semiconductors could replace silicon in some computer chips that operate under increasingly demanding conditions. Yarnell digs deep into the chemistry and materials science behind these efforts.

On an entirely different note, Senior Editor Cheryl Hogue examines what, at first blush, seems a straightforward proposal by the Bush Administration for government-wide standards for peer review of science used for setting federal regulations (see page 21). The plan put out by the Office of Management & Budget in August 2003 defines how and when government documents would undergo peer review.

Who could possibly object to peer review of science used to make regulatory decisions? As Hogue writes, peer review is "virtually sacrosanct in science." But as is so often the case, it's not that simple.

OMB received 187 responses to its peer review proposal. They came from organizations as diverse as the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Association of Funeral Home Directors.

There are many elements to the debate over the OMB proposal. As Hogue points out, critics of the proposed system "say that the plan will seriously hamper the government's ability to regulate and that it paves the way for industry-dominated peer review panels." One worrisome aspect of the plan is that it would prevent any scientist receiving a federal grant from serving as a peer reviewer for the agency providing the funding. Two critics of the plan observe that one of the goals of some regulatory agency grant programs is "to create a cadre of experts to contribute to informed policy debate."

Supporters of the OMB plan, who draw largely from industry, say the proposal will improve the scientific basis for regulation. In fact, many of their comments to OMB recommended an even more prescriptive plan in which the public would have input on the focus of a particular review and the selection of peer reviewers.

OMB originally had planned to issue a final version of the peer review guidance by February, but in light of the public comments, Hogue writes, the office has moved that date to several months later. This is an issue that could have a very large impact on the chemical enterprise, and C&EN will continue to follow it closely.

These are just two stories in an issue that also includes a report on chemical R&D spending, an employment story on opportunities in academe in the Pacific Northwest, and the preliminary program for the 227th ACS national meeting in Anaheim, Calif. Like the diamonds on the cover, the chemical enterprise has many facets, and C&EN is committed to covering all of them in a way that we hope sparkles and informs.

Thanks for reading.



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