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Editorial: The challenge of recognizing chemists

by C&EN editorial staff
May 17, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 15


A sculpture of T12 in red in front of a window.
Credit: James Remington/
The Talented 12 feature looms large in our thoughts at C&EN.

This week’s issue celebrates C&EN’s Talented 12 class of 2024. It happens to be a milestone year for T12, as the project is known around C&EN: this is the 10th year we’ve highlighted a dozen “path-paving young researchers and entrepreneurs who are using chemistry to solve global problems,” as we put it in the inaugural T12 issue.

A tenth anniversary seems like a good time to reflect on this feature and how we’d like to see it flourish in the next 10 years. I’ve worked on T12 since the first class was announced in 2015, and this year marks my third as the editorial lead.

Over the years, I’ve received varied feedback on T12. More than one renowned scientist has shared their disdain for the feature. These scientists have told me it puts too much pressure on young researchers.

But others have said they like how it shows the breadth of the chemistry enterprise—both in the people who do the work and the work they do. A high school chemistry teacher recently shared that she uses T12 to show her class what scientists look like, and she adds, “It helps my students see a broader and current view of chemistry research.”

While that’s heartening to hear, there are areas where T12 could better reflect chemistry. Looking back at the 120 chemists we’ve highlighted since 2015, I noticed a couple of areas that stand out. We aren’t featuring enough chemists in industry and government, and we aren’t featuring enough chemists who are working outside the US.

When the T12 appeared in our pages, 66% were working in academia, while 26% were in industry, and 8% were working for a nonprofit organization or government laboratory. Perhaps more striking is the fact that 82% of the T12 were based in the US when featured.

I suspect it’s tougher to identify scientists working in industry because much of their work goes unreported for proprietary reasons. Industry and government labs’ emphasis on teams, as opposed to academia’s focus on individual researchers, could also make it challenging to single out people to nominate.

The disparity between US-based and international researchers is tougher to understand. It could be that recognizing the work of researchers around the world requires closer links with other countries’ national academies and regional research funders. It’s also possible that our T12 guideline that researchers be pretenure makes it tougher to capture chemists working in places where tenure is granted earlier than it is in the US. Some might argue that many top chemists end up in the US because it offers better opportunities for getting funding for research. We are sympathetic to arguments that challenge the international ambition of T12, but C&EN is committed to demonstrating that people are doing cutting-edge chemistry around the world.

As we look ahead to the next decade of T12, we hope to broaden the scientists we spotlight so that we capture more early-​career chemists solving global problems in industry, in government, and at places outside the US. And that’s where you, reader, come in. Every year, after this feature appears, we ask you to nominate chemists for T12. This year is no different. Nominations for the Talented 12 class of 2025 are open at

As you consider whom to nominate, please think broadly about scientists who are working not just in academic labs but also in industry and government around the world. Let us know about the exciting work they are doing. With your help, we can ensure that the Talented 12 truly reflect the next generation of leaders in the global chemistry enterprise.—

This editorial is the result of collective deliberation in C&EN. For this week’s editorial, lead contributors are Bethany Halford and Nick Ishmael-Perkins.

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


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