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ACS News

The New ACS Fellows Program

by Bruce E. Bursten, Immediate Past-President
January 19, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 3

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

THE ROYAL SOCIETY of Chemistry has one. So do the Chemical Institute of Canada, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the American Physical Society. Many American Chemical Society members have benefited from the one that the American Association for the Advancement of Science has.

The time is right to create a new mechanism for ACS to celebrate the excellence of its membership.

And beginning in 2009, ACS will have a Fellows Program, too.

For years, many have questioned why there was not a program to designate society members as ACS Fellows and therefore honor their professional accomplishments. Such a program would directly address Goal No. 2 of our new Strategic Plan: "ACS will be the most effective global scientific community to engage members and other scientific professionals to advance science education, research, knowledge, interaction, and collaboration." The time is right to create a new mechanism for ACS to celebrate the excellence of its membership.

During my year as ACS president, I charged a Presidential Task Force to explore the feasibility, financial implications, and guidelines of an ACS Fellows Program. The task force was cochaired by Michael J. Brownfield, who is a member of the Divisional Activities Committee, and Janan M. Hayes, a member of the ACS Board of Directors. The broad membership of the task force included representatives from a number of our national committees and journals, as well as two ACS past-presidents (Ronald Breslow and Elsa Reichmanis).

THE TASK FORCE members worked with remarkable dedication, diligence, and efficiency during 2008. While crafting guidelines for the ACS Fellows Program, they sought the input of numerous representative bodies within ACS, including the Divisional Activities Committee, the Local Section Activities Committee, the Membership Affairs Committee, the Committee on Science, and the International Activities Committee. A poll of the chairs of our technical divisions who attended the 2008 Division Summit indicated unanimous support for the establishment of a Fellows Program.

During its December 2008 meeting, the ACS Board of Directors voted unanimously to establish the program for an initial period of three years, beginning in 2009.

The new ACS Fellows Program will have as its overarching goal "to recognize members of the American Chemical Society for outstanding achievements in and contributions to science, the profession, and the society." The "and" in that goal statement is significant—the Fellows Program will differ from most of our national awards insofar as excellence in multiple activities will be required for election as a Fellow.

The program will honor those members who have contributed in two defined areas—namely, "Excellence in Science/Profession" and "Outstanding Service to ACS"—and who have demonstrated evidence of exceptional accomplishments and professional attainment in one of the areas with significant contributions in the other. It will be a program that truly honors those of our members who have achieved excellence in chemistry and excellence within our society.

The task force has recommended that roughly 250 of our members be elected Fellows during the initial years of the program. Ultimately, the body of Fellows will reach a steady state of 1 to 2% of our membership, and this group will recognize not only excellence but also the diversity of our society. The task force has also recommended that automatic Fellow status be granted only to our living Priestley Medalists.

The Selection Committee for ACS Fellows will be chaired by the immediate past-president of ACS. Because our presidents are elected in alternate years from academic and nonacademic sources, the task force believes that this rotation will ensure a broad selection process. As immediate past-president for 2009, it will be my great honor to chair the selection process for the first class of ACS Fellows. Nominations will be sought from divisions, local sections, committees, and individuals. The nomination process will be relatively simple and will be broadly publicized later this year in C&EN and on the ACS website.

The new class of ACS Fellows will be honored at a reception at the fall ACS national meeting. Fellows will receive a distinctive lapel pin that will designate their election. There will be no cash award for this honor.

It is my opinion that the establishment of the ACS Fellows Program is an important new initiative for our society. The program will obviously honor our members within ACS. Equally important, the program will provide to stakeholders outside ACS, such as employers, other scientific societies, and civic groups, recognition of our members. The ACS Fellows, with their experience in and vision for ACS, will also make up a body that can be called upon by the president and the board of directors for advice and counsel.

The task force and I hope that you are as excited about the establishment of the ACS Fellows Program as we are. We invite your feedback and suggestions as this nascent program moves forward. Please feel free to send your comments to

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


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