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Welcome to Trailblazers 2020, guest edited by Jennifer Doudna

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
March 8, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 9


When we approached Jennifer Doudna about guest editing this issue of C&EN, we assumed she’d say she was busy. Because she is. After she helped discover the revolutionary gene-editing technology CRISPR, a wave of new opportunities and responsibilities came at her. CRISPR has seemingly limitless applications, but it also brings with it ethical questions that Doudna and others are working to answer. You can read all about the extreme demands on Doudna’s time in our profile of her here.

So we were thrilled when she agreed to work with us. The idea was simple: to celebrate Women’s History Month (March) and International Women’s Day (March 8) with an issue focused on women in chemistry. Doudna narrowed the focus to honoring women entrepreneurs in chemistry.

Thus was born C&EN’s first annual Trailblazers issue, celebrating chemistry’s diversity.

Who better to guide this inaugural issue than Doudna, who has cofounded five companies and sits on the scientific advisory boards of several others, all while running a large, thriving research group at the University of California, Berkeley? She is a standout in a tough environment for women trying to launch businesses. Start-ups with female founders received only 11.5% of all venture capital investment in the US in 2019, according to PitchBook, a financial data and software company.

With this special issue, Doudna wanted to highlight the women in chemistry who are launching their own firms despite grappling with the gender gap in funding. The individuals she helped us select are innovative women striving to find treatments for rare diseases, build better batteries, tackle the opioid crisis, and more. Some of these amazing women, like Stanford University’s Carolyn Bertozzi and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Paula Hammond, you’ll likely recognize because we’ve profiled them before. The others we spent time getting to know while producing this issue, and we can tell you firsthand, they’ve got extraordinary vision.

As guest editor, Doudna not only helped us select the businesswomen profiled in this issue but also reviewed almost all our Trailblazers content; to avoid a conflict of interest, she did not review her own profile. And she shared with us her top tips for new entrepreneurs.

Every part of this Trailblazers package was written by women reporters and polished by women editors. In cases where we needed to commission photos, we recruited women photographers. It was important to C&EN to truly celebrate women’s creativity and ambition by having them sculpt and assemble Trailblazers 2020. Our other colleagues worked tirelessly to support these journalists and artists so that C&EN could achieve its vision. And we’re so thankful.

We also have some sponsors to thank. This year’s Trailblazers issue was possible thanks to funding support from Pfizer, which did not influence any editorial decisions. And Merck & Co. is providing support for our continuing celebration of women entrepreneurs at the American Chemical Society Spring 2020 National Meeting in Philadelphia on Monday, March 23.

There, we’ve partnered with Gordon Research Conferences to hold a Power Hour breakfast, starting at 8:00 a.m., to discuss barriers that women face in science and entrepreneurship. Joseph DeSimone and Ellen Kullman of 3-D printing firm Carbon will kick things off with a fireside chat. After the breakfast, at 9:30 a.m., a handful of our Trailblazers will share their science and their entrepreneurial journeys during a symposium and panel discussion. You can register and get more details at We hope to see you there.

If you find this issue celebrating chemistry’s diversity as inspiring as we do, tell us who you’d like to see edit next year’s Trailblazers issue by writing to us at or sharing it with us at @cenmag on Twitter.

“We’re living though a revolution in chemical, biological, and engineering research due to the recent incredible advances in technology. It’s truly a unique time of exciting opportunities to develop new products that could help solve society’s most pressing problems. This issue spotlights the work of some of the most creative and successful entrepreneurs, who happen to be female, leading the charge from across the scientific and engineering spectrum. These women have excelled in their fields, often breaking through cultural and societal barriers. And many have founded companies dedicated to developing research ideas into novel products. By adding their diverse voices and perspectives to the entrepreneurial landscape, our Trailblazers are opening up new possibilities that will transform our society and help to correct the underrepresentation of women among entrepreneurs. I hope you’re as inspired as I am by their science and their stories.”


—Jennifer Doudna, professor of chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology, University of California, Berkeley

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



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