This is a guest editorial by Bethany Halford, C&EN’s senior correspondent in life sciences and editorial lead of this year’s Talented 12 special issue.
In this week’s issue, you’ll meet the Talented 12 class of 2023. This group of a dozen early-career researchers represents the ninth cohort of this program, known to C&EN staff as T12. As the editorial lead of T12 this year, I’m excited for you to read about how these scientists use chemistry to make the world a better place.
May 19 marked my 20th anniversary at C&EN. And I’ve been working on Talented 12 since the first class was announced, in 2015—first as a profile writer, then as editorial colead, and for the past 2 years, as the editorial lead (although I would be remiss if I didn’t say that there’s a fantastic team that puts these issues together).
Now, I’m going to make a confession: when the Talented 12 project was first proposed, I thought it was a terrible idea. Didn’t other publications have this covered? There is MIT Technology Review’s Innovators under 35 and Forbes’s 30 under 30. I also thought: “There are too many personality-driven science stories. We should focus on the science, not the scientists.”
But I was wrong.
T12 is a great way to focus on science while also boosting the profiles of a new generation of scientists. This year’s class brings the number of early-career molecular science researchers profiled to 108. They create lifesaving drugs, tackle the problem of plastic pollution, and invent new ways to store energy, to name just a few of their research areas.
With T12, we show the breadth of the chemistry enterprise by highlighting diverse researchers working in chemistry’s myriad subdisciplines. We also include scientists working in industry and government, who are often overlooked by other recognition programs.
We can still improve. Featuring more people from industry and government would better represent the chemistry enterprise overall. And even though we highlight researchers outside the US—this year’s group includes chemists working in Israel and Switzerland—I hope that in the future, our list includes more international scientists.
“I do appreciate diversity in the Talented 12 selections overall,” says Darryl Boyd, a chemist at the US Naval Research Laboratory and a member of the T12 class of 2018. “The Talented 12 has honored many women; many Black people; many people of color; people who come from different employment backgrounds, like government, academia, or industry; as well as a broad swath of chemical disciplines,” he says.
I reached out to Boyd and a few other T12 alumni to get a sense of how the program made an impact on their careers. They all say that being included in the Talented 12 gave them confidence at a critical time.
Bozhi Tian, a physical chemist at the University of Chicago who works on bioelectronics—a field dominated by engineers—says that being named to the class of 2017 “reinforced my belief that my unique perspective and expertise can actually make a contribution to this discipline.”
Renã Robinson, an analytical chemist at Vanderbilt University, says that being named to the class of 2016 “came at the right time in my career and offered me the confidence I needed to move my research in an uncharted territory in my field. It also allowed me to think more broadly about the impact of my work and left me encouraged to follow through on innovative research directions in my laboratory.”
Putting this issue together every year is a massive undertaking—from winnowing down our list of hundreds of nominations to ensuring all our profiles look great in these pages and online. It’s therefore gratifying to hear that we are helping these promising researchers as they take on daunting challenges. So please continue to nominate chemists you think we should have on our list. Nominations for 2024 can be found at cenm.ag/t12-nominations-2024. And I’ll keep wondering how I could have been so mistaken about what has proved to be a fantastic feature.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.