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ACS News

Multidisciplinary Theme Brings Chemists Together In San Francisco

by Amanda Yarnell
October 2, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 40


Scientific sessions charting hurricanes' environmental impact were only part of "Recovery from and Prevention of Natural Disasters," a special multiday symposium at the American Chemical Society's national meeting in San Francisco. The symposium was the society's first foray into thematic programming, in which multiple divisions are invited to bring their own disciplinary slants to a special symposium on a multidisciplinary topic.

The symposium's theme was selected in part for its timeliness, according to environmental chemist Ruth A. Hathaway of Hathaway Consulting, who organized the symposium. This year marks the 100th anniversary of San Francisco's devastating earthquake, she noted. And it's been one year since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast.

Members of the Divisions of Chemical Health & Safety, Chemical Education, Environmental Chemistry, and Geochemistry, as well as the Society Committee on Education, contributed to the symposium. During its four-day run, scientists described their efforts to assess the storms' environmental impact; university professors recounted the damage to and recovery of schools all along the Gulf Coast; chemical industry representatives from the region outlined their response in the hurricanes' wake; and members of local, state, and federal agencies discussed their roles in responding to and preparing for natural disasters.

The symposium's keynote address was delivered by James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Witt, now chief executive officer of James Lee Witt Associates LLC, led FEMA under former president Bill Clinton and described the agency's role in responding to natural disasters. He lauded chemists for developing materials and products invaluable in mitigating natural disasters, including hurricane-resistant glass and fire-retardant shingles and siding.

He also called upon chemists to do what they can to ensure the safety of their labs and communities in the event of catastrophes. In addition, he said, FEMA should "do more to protect not only scientific research but also the nation's scientists and their families."


Next spring in Chicago, the ACS national meeting will carry the theme of sustainability. Three multidisciplinary symposia are planned: "Chemistry for a Sustainable Energy Future," "Chemistry for a Sustainable Future Food Supply," and "Chemistry for a Sustainable Future Water Supply."


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