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ACS News

Cutting-Edge Symposia Available Online

by Carolyn Ribes, Chair, Committee on Science
April 28, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 17

Credit: Courtesy of Carolyn Ribes
Credit: Courtesy of Carolyn Ribes

The primary objective of ACS national meetings is to provide the chemical community with a productive exchange of technical information. The 33 ACS technical divisions do an outstanding job organizing symposia on cutting-edge science in their disciplines. Presidential events often feature thought leaders from academia, industry, and government organizations who focus on issues with global impact. In addition, several committees provide programming that ranges from professional development to technical content.

All of this programming creates inevitable scheduling conflicts. Often, symposia on similar subjects targeting similar audiences are held concurrently. This leads to attendees being frustrated because they must forgo a session of interest and to speakers and symposia organizers being disappointed with the size of their audiences. I can't count the number of times I have left a session regretting that more of our members didn't get to enjoy the excellent presentations or share in the lively debate.

As one way to mitigate this frustration, in 2007 the Committee on Science (ComSci) decided to offer the opportunity for all ACS members to attend our symposia virtually and to hear speakers' insightful comments via recordings of the presentations posted on our website.

So why should you bother to visit this website? As chemists, we expect to work on complicated global problems and to provide solutions that enrich our world and the chemical enterprise. In the past, ComSci has organized programs on topics such as nanotechnology, energy, sustainability, and biotechnology, and we will continue to do so. But we shouldn't focus exclusively on the what issues. We also want to explore how science is pursued.

During the past few years, many of us have noted remarkable changes in how we do science. We know the era of large companies with central research laboratories that pursue fundamental research has ended. We have observed the shift toward more global outsourcing and more collaborative efforts between academia and industry. For example, many university faculty members establish start-up companies to explore commercial opportunities for their research. As a result, technology transfer is now a discipline practiced at most universities. With these changes, however, we also encounter new challenges.

ComSci has launched a series of symposia to explore two of these challenges: how we conduct scientific research and how we establish successful partnerships (nationally and globally). At the 2007 fall national meeting in Boston, two sessions addressed these issues.

The first focused on the structural aspects of establishing collaborations and presented diverse perspectives held by universities and industry. "Partnering for Innovation and Competitiveness: Critical Success Factors and Failure Modes That Impede Success" raised several key questions: Who owns the invention, the creator or the financer? Is educating people the sole mission of the university, or should it include serving the public interest through stimulating the local economy? And finally, How do we balance confidentiality with the need for professors and students to publish their work?

The second session, "Creating and Sustaining International Research Collaborations," described some case studies and best practices for establishing strong, long-term collaborative interactions. Rather than attempt to summarize the key points of these presenters, I encourage you to visit our website, listen to the presentations, and judge for yourself what the key messages are and how they affect you. I think you will conclude that it will have been time well spent. You'll find links to the presentations described at (then, scroll down and click on "Science").

Acknowledging the ongoing importance of using partnerships to advance scientific discovery, ComSci delivered a symposium in New Orleans entitled "Needs and Opportunities for the Chemical Enterprise in Energy and the Environment." Presentations highlighted academic-industrial relationships, collaborations with government laboratories, and the role of venture capital in directing research priorities.

If you attended the 2008 spring national meeting, we hope you were able to join us in person for these stimulating presentations. For the more than 100,000 ACS members who were not in New Orleans, the presentations will be posted on the Internet within the next month. We want all ACS members to benefit from the productive exchange of information that is vital to our success as scientists and to that of the larger chemical enterprise.

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


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