If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



ChemCensus 2005 And ACS

by Rudy Baum, Editor-in-chief
October 2, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 40

I was a speaker at a symposium sponsored by the Division of Professional Relations on ChemCensus 2005 at the recent ACS national meeting in San Francisco. I was the last to speak at the daylong symposium and provided a summary of the talks that preceded me and speculated on what ChemCensus 2010 might look like.

ChemCensus is a survey of all ACS members likely to be in the domestic workforce. It is conducted every five years. Before the San Francisco meeting, I reviewed Editor-at-Large Michael Heylin's report on ChemCensus 2005 (C&EN, Aug. 1, 2005, page 41). I noted three trends:

◾ The role of women in the chemical enterprise continues to grow.
◾ Diversity is increasing, but slowly.
◾ The number of ACS members in the domestic workforce is shrinking.

At the symposium, I elaborated on all three points, in particular the third one. In his article on ChemCensus 2005, Heylin pointed out that the 86,600 questionnaires mailed in 2005 were 7,500, or 8%, fewer than those mailed in 2000.

This is, at least in part, because ACS membership is aging significantly. "A striking change over the past 20 years," Heylin wrote, "is the increasing age of ACS members in the chemical workforce. In 1985, 42.8% of working ACS members were less than 40 years old. In 2005, only 27.8% are. Between 1990, the lowest point, and 2005, the mean age rose from 41.3 to 47.0."

The increasingly multidisciplinary nature of science, I think, also is contributing to this decline in ACS members in the workforce. Remember, I told the symposium, we tend to equate the ChemCensus demographics with those of the chemical enterprise as a whole. However, ChemCensus actually reflects the demographics of ACS. From many conversations I have had over the years, I am convinced that chemists working at the interfaces between chemistry and other disciplines, where chemistry is more an enabling tool than a core science, are less likely to self-identify as chemists. And, as such, less likely to join ACS, I think.

Many of the talks at the symposium reinforced these observations and extended them to trends taking place that will change the face of ChemCensus 2010 and beyond. Former ACS president and University of Wisconsin, Madison, emeritus professor Charles P. Casey discussed changes in the chemistry Ph.D. "We need to recruit and educate new chemists," Casey said. "We need to challenge students to find solutions to chemistry's problems—the environment, energy, materials, catalysis, and drug discovery." Casey listed a number of reasons to reexamine the chemistry Ph.D.:

◾ Changes in the discipline—Do the traditional divisions make sense?
◾ The interdisciplinary nature of research.
◾ The importance of teamwork.

Casey also noted that many professors "can't remember why we had all those requirements in the first place."

Another former ACS president, Elsa Reichmanis of Lucent Technologies, also stressed the changing nature of chemical research, calling it "interdisciplinary, international, and team-oriented." Reichmanis pointed to numerous technologies being developed and jobs being created that require input from a wide range of scientific specialists, including chemists.

The most electrifying talk at the symposium was given by Leroy Hood, founder and director of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. Hood is a keen observer of science and an articulate champion of probing biological systems in ways that fully recognize their complexity.

Hood called systems biology "a fundamental paradigm change in biology that is creating tremendous opportunities for chemistry" and said that "biology will be a dominant science in the 21st century." He also noted that "systems biology cannot be done in silos. It is a cross-disciplinary team effort." Hood described ingenious and efficient approaches to measuring an array of organ-specific blood proteins that "will make the blood a window into health and disease." He also discussed the education of future chemists, again pointing to the need for cross-disciplinary training, double majors, and deep training in computation.

Hood, Reichmanis, Casey, and other speakers all painted a bright future for chemistry. But it will be a different enterprise than the one many of us grew up in. For ACS to remain a vital component of that emerging chemical enterprise, it will have to evolve as well.

Thanks for reading.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.