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News from the National Academies

Date: March 3, 2003
Contacts: Bill Kearney, Media Relations Officer
Chris Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Publication Announcement

Exciting Discoveries Lie Ahead for Chemists and Chemical Engineers;
Talented, Diverse Work Force and Public Outreach Needed to Achieve Goals

Many of the great scientific achievements of the last century -- such as the discovery of an expanding ozone hole and the development of antiviral drugs to help treat HIV infection -- were accomplished by chemists and chemical engineers. Today, work in the chemical sciences is crossing over into other fields, such as biology, nanotechnology, and the computer sciences, and more than 1 million new chemical compounds are being created every year, with many groundbreaking discoveries on the horizon. The chemical sciences are at the forefront of efforts to find new energy sources; improve the environment; design chemicals that learn to imitate biological processes; detect and respond to terrorist attacks; create new drugs and artificial human organs; and better understand how human cells behave chemically to make us who we are.

Research in the chemical sciences must remain ambitious if the United States is to maintain its scientific and technological leadership during this century, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. The field must attract the very best minds, which means recruiting more women and minorities and revising undergraduate and high school curriculums to make chemistry more appealing to students with a variety of interests. Also, undergraduate chemistry majors need more hands-on research experience, the report says. And the method by which graduate chemistry and chemical-engineering students are trained must reflect the fact that they will be working alongside scientists from other disciplines throughout their careers.

Strong financial support from the federal government also will be needed to facilitate discoveries in the chemical sciences and to ensure that a technically proficient work force is available, added the committee that wrote the report. And industry, which relies on the trained people that universities produce, can assist by offering fellowships for doctoral students in the chemical sciences and chemical engineering. Chemists and chemical engineers also need to do a better job explaining their accomplishments to the public and news media.

These steps can help chemists and chemical engineers meet 13 "grand challenges" for the 21st century, which are outlined in the new report. The study committee did not prioritize one challenge over another, because it did not wish to constrain any research activities. Rather, the goal of identifying the 13 areas is to challenge the creativity of practicing scientists and engineers, inspire young people to join the chemical sciences, and engender enthusiasm among policy-makers for what chemistry might achieve in coming years. The challenges seek to stimulate advances that would benefit society in various ways -- from finding cheaper and cleaner energy sources, to curing diseases, to gaining a deeper understanding of the Earth's chemistry in order to more effectively deal with pollution.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, American Chemical Society, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Inc., National Research Council, and a number of corporations in the chemical industry.

Copies of Beyond the Molecular Frontier: Challenges for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering will be available later this month from the National Academies Press; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or order on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


[ This announcement and the report are available at http://national-academies.org ]


NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology

Committee on Challenges for the Chemical Sciences in the 21st Century

Ronald Breslow1 (co-chair)
University Professor of Chemistry
Columbia University
New York City

Matthew V. Tirrell2 (co-chair)
Dean
College of Engineering
University of California
Santa Barbara

Mark A. Barteau
Robert L. Pigford Professor of Chemical Engineering, and
Chair, Department of Chemical Engineering
University of Delaware
Newark

Jacqueline K. Barton1
Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor of Chemistry
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena

Carolyn Bertozzi
Professor of Chemistry
University of California
Berkeley

Robert A. Brown1,2
Provost and Warren K. Lewis Professor of Chemical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

Ignacio E. Grossmann2
Rudolph H. and Florence Dean Professor, and
Head, Chemical Engineering Department
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh

Royce W. Murray1
Kenan Professor of Chemistry
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill

Paul J. Reider
Vice President of Chemistry Research
Amgen Inc.
Thousand Oaks, Calif.

William R. Roush
Warner Lambert/Parke Davis Professor of Chemistry
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

Michael L. Shuler2
Director and Professor
School of Chemical Engineering; and
Director of Bioengineering
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y.

Jeffrey J. Siirola2
Research Fellow
Chemical Process Research Laboratory
Eastman Chemical Co.
Kingsport, Tenn.

George M. Whitesides1
Mallinckrodt Professor of Chemistry
Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

Peter G. Wolynes1
Frances Crick Chair in the Physical Sciences
Department of Chemistry and Biochemisty
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla

Richard N. Zare1
Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science
Department of Chemistry
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Douglas J. Raber
Study Director


1 Member, National Academy of Sciences
2 Member, National Academy of Engineering