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Identifying solutions to global challenges

Chemical Sciences & Society Summit series reflects on its impact over a decade

by Linda Wang
March 26, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 13


Since 2008, the Chemical Sciences & Society Summit (CS3) program has brought together chemists from around the world to identify solutions to the most pressing global challenges.

White papers published by CS3

2009, Kloster Seeon, Germany: “Powering the World with Sunlight”.

2010, London: “A Sustainable Global Society: How Can Materials Chemistry Help?”

2011, Beijing: “Chemistry for Better Health”.

2012, San Francisco: “Organic Electronics for a Better Tomorrow: Innovation, Accessibility, Sustainability”

2013, Narita, Japan: “Efficient Utilization of Elements”

2015, Leipzig, Germany: “Chemistry and Water: Challenges & Solutions in a Changing World”

2017, Dalian, China: “Solar Energy & Photonics for a Sustainable Future”

Last week’s release of the white paper “Solar Energy & Photonics for a Sustainable Future” marks the end of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s support of the U.S.’s participation in the CS3 series in its current form (see page 2).

The series is a collaboration of the American Chemical Society, the Chinese Chemical Society, the German Chemical Society, the Chemical Society of Japan, and the Royal Society of Chemistry. Until now, the initiative has been funded by NSF, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the German Research Foundation, the Japan Science & Technology Agency, and the U.K. Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council.

The five participating countries—the U.S., the U.K., Germany, China, and Japan—have taken turns hosting the summits, and each country sends a delegation of roughly a half-dozen experts in the field, as well as representatives from funding agencies and chemical societies.

Since its launch, CS3 has produced seven white papers on topics such as energy research, sustainable materials, and the environment. The latest white paper on solar energy is based on recommendations from the Sept. 5–8, 2017, summit in Dalian, China.

“I hope we can direct the field of science and technology in a direction that will be very fruitful, and I hope the funding agencies will respond positively to these issues,” says Suljo Linic, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who led the ACS delegation at the 2017 summit.

Participants in past summits say the white papers have inspired new research projects and proposals related to the global challenges. Matthew Platz, who was director of the chemistry division at NSF from 2010 to 2012, says the 2010 white paper on a sustainable global society contributed to the development of a new NSF program called Sustainable Chemistry, Engineering & Materials (SusChEM).

“Reading that report was very influential in my shaping of the program that became known as SusChEM at the NSF,” Platz says. SusChEM aims to replace scarce, expensive, and toxic chemicals with earth-abundant, inexpensive, and low-toxicity chemicals.

Platz, who is now a professor of chemistry at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, led the ACS delegation to the 2015 summit in Leipzig, Germany. “I think one of the impacts of CS3 has been to bring to the awareness of academic chemists the need for the discovery of new chemistry in areas related to global problems other than health,” Platz says. “I hope that CS3 has opened the eyes of some younger chemists and encouraged some people to become chemists by showing the need for the discovery of new chemistry to solve urgent global problems.”

“The white papers have been the starting point for in-depth discussion among decision- and policy-makers in Germany,” says Markus Behnke of the German Research Foundation. He notes that the 2009 paper on solar energy and the resulting recommendations, for example, influenced discussions on Germany’s exit from nuclear and fossil energy.


“CS3 meetings are a very good showcase of joint efforts on an international level to show how the chemical community serves the needs of the society with respect to global challenges,” says Hans-Georg Weinig, director of education, career, and science for the German Chemical Society.

Zhigang Shuai, a professor of chemistry at Tsinghua University in China and representative for the Chinese Chemical Society, has participated in every CS3 meeting since the pilot summit in 2009. He says the white papers have inspired new research projects in China. In fact, the reports are distributed to attendees of the Chinese Chemical Society annual conference. “Many scientists told me they really appreciated those white papers because they provided directions for their research projects and for their students,” he says.

Brooke Mayer, an assistant professor of civil, construction, and environmental engineering at Marquette University, who participated in the 2015 meeting in Leipzig, says it’s important to inspire younger chemists to work on research projects that address global challenges, and she hopes more will participate in meetings like CS3.

“Any chance you get to participate in these global international discussions, take that opportunity because it’s an amazing experience,” Mayer says. “I hope that the white papers are really pushing forward research agendas.”

Platz says that identifying solutions is just the first step. “It’s time to act, and I hope the community will turn out some great proposals in these areas,” he says. “In 10 to 15 years, we should revisit these issues and see what’s changed in water, what’s changed in critical elements, and what’s changed in materials in the years since these issues were defined.” To learn more about the CS3 series and read the white papers, visit


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