Maybe historical turning points don't really exist. Maybe they're parts of long, lazy curves that only look sharp with the perspective of hindsight.
But if not a turning point, 2005 will be remembered as a time of accelerating change for the American Chemical Society and the chemistry enterprise. Meteoric growth in developing countries, the rapid upward trajectory of energy costs, and new policies brought about by security concerns--among other issues--have consequences for us, and they're happening right now.
As ACS president, I am focusing on changing needs and the need for change--in chemistry at work, chemistry at school, and chemistry in the eyes of our neighbors. And more important, on finding the opportunity that inevitably accompanies that change.
THE CHEMISTRY ENTERPRISE, CIRCA 2015. "No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be."--Isaac Asimov
Chemistry is now truly global. For 20 years, developing countries have been positioning themselves for growth even though the results have become evident only recently. Technical and business information quickly transcends borders. Leading corporations traditionally considered the backbone of the U.S. chemical industry now identify themselves as global companies, deploying their resources to serve global markets.
Chemistry--both industrial and academic--is practiced outside the U.S. proficiently and at lower cost. Although our government could adopt policies to reduce costs of operating here, in the end, the future of the U.S. chemistry enterprise will more likely be determined by quality issues: our infrastructure, our economic and governmental stability, our protection of intellectual property, our entrepreneurial attitude, and--most important--our people. Knowing our strengths and using them to best advantage is critical. We must understand what it means to compete rather than to win by default.
To that end, I have commissioned a yearlong project called Enterprise 2015 whose goal is to identify the vectors acting on the chemistry enterprise--industry, academe, and government--and envision its state 10 years out. To start, we asked 30 leaders from various areas of chemistry whether they foresaw change in their sectors and, if so, to describe the forces driving that change. These interviews are summarized in an intriguing short paper which is available at my website, http://chemistry.org/chemistryenterprise2015.html. I encourage you to read this analysis and to share your vision of the next 10 years by e-mail to me.
I am particularly urging members who come to the spring ACS national meeting to read this paper, because it will form the basis for dialogue there. During the meeting, members of committees and divisions will be discussing these drivers and the 10-year outcomes for their specialized areas. We'll explore globalization and its impact on business, education, and government. Put simply: Where will our students come from in 10 years? Where will they go? How will we fund research and regulate?
Each group will capture its discussion and thoughts in a short document. Individual outputs will be melded together to form the basis for a symposium at the fall meeting, where we will review our findings and add the perspectives of outside experts. We'll have a town meeting and talk it through.
Finally, we'll summarize everything we heard and said into a final document, which will be available by the end of the year. Done correctly, it will describe our collective view of the changes and opportunities in the chemistry world 10 years hence and act as a career-coaching manual for current and future members.
I don't expect to stop the change in our discipline. I do hope to inform and equip members so we can be agents of change in our own environments.
SECONDARY EDUCATION. NSF tells us that 60% of high school students take chemistry, but fewer than half of their teachers have even a minor in chemistry. When I was campaigning last year, senior members wrote me long letters about the high school teachers that changed their lives. Years ago, unlike today, chemistry teachers were most likely chemists. They conveyed a passion born of their personal commitment to the field.
The U.S. needs more chemist high school teachers, and here's one approach to addressing that need. Many of our members are voluntarily or involuntarily early-retired, technically competent, and not ready to hang up their spikes. Some are already considering teaching as a second career. We can help.
I'm not suggesting that chemists go straight from the office or the laboratory to the classroom--it's not that simple. New teachers of any age need to come to class with the right set of pedagogical tools, a great apprentice teaching experience, and mentors from whom they can continue to learn.
But given the temperament, the desire, the technical expertise, and those tools, we have members who can shape our future by becoming second-career teachers. I also believe more of our students would choose teaching as a first career if they understood more clearly what was involved.
This year, we will have presidential events at the national meetings highlighting what it takes to become a teacher--early or late in a career--and we'll hear from people who have made the transition. We will capture the information for our website and provide it to local sections for use in their employment activities.
We have recently passed bylaw changes to enable greater teacher membership in ACS, but we need to demonstrate the value of such a membership. I've already asked the Division of Chemical Education, the Journal of Chemical Education, and ACS staff to help develop new products that address high school teachers' need for easy-to-find and easy-to-use classroom aids. We should have results to announce at the spring meeting.
Local sections can encourage teacher involvement by organizing low-cost teacher workshops or by bringing the excellent ACS program "Inquiry Matters" to the section. Retired members can volunteer at elementary schools as a resident science consultant for teachers who may have little hands-on science experience or science course work.
Many companies have "Adopt-a-School" programs. It's not too much of a stretch for those of us in chemistry to "Adopt-a-Teacher."
HOW THE PUBLIC SEES US, AND HOW WE SEE OURSELVES. It has become an article of faith among chemists that the public neither understands nor appreciates chemistry. Contrary to this belief, opinion research shows that the public does not think as badly of us as we think they do. They are OK with chemistry and chemists. But they're not OK with chemicals, and they are concerned about performance of the chemical industry.
The public needs to be reminded of the benefits of chemistry and our work to improve our own performance; but they can't hear us unless we get a microphone. There are two approaches to doing that: Communications professionals call them "earned media" and "paid media."
Focusing on earned media first, I would like us, and particularly our local sections, to consider what I call the Service Model, which I described in detail in a recent ACS Comment (C&EN, Oct. 4, 2004, page 49). In short, by organizing and promoting a service project as a gift to the community, we can earn the time at the microphone to tell people about the benefits of chemistry.
Examples of earned media opportunities include a blood drive that enables us to highlight medical devices and testing; or building with Habitat for Humanity, which allows us to show that even simple, decent housing is impossible without plastics and adhesives; or painting a women's shelter and talking about the chemistry of polymers and pigments. It's a demonstration of personal responsibility that reflects well on our professional capability. What's more, it can be a refreshing and revitalizing change for members from dinner and a seminar.
Additionally, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the largest chemistry trade association, has embarked upon its "essential2everything" campaign. Its first goal is to energize industry employees and empower them with the message that chemistry is essential to modern life. Eventually, ACC will launch some paid media--advertising--that will take the message to the public.
I would like us to collaborate with ACC and help essential2everything by providing good chemistry stories from the cutting edge where we live. A beneficial enterprise like ours working to improve its record has an important story to tell. We can do so together.
CHALLENGES FOR THE SOCIETY. Centuries ago, the sciences were a single discipline. More recently, they speciated into chemistry, physics, biology, and a few others. In the opening years of the 21st century, those species lines are blurring, and much of our work is multidisciplinary. As the largest single-discipline scientific society, we face the challenge of learning how to serve new small specialty disciplines while maintaining the overarching identity of chemistry.
ACS's declared mission is to be "the Big Tent." We believe anything related to chemistry can and should have a home at ACS. But that tent has experienced some leakage over the years as new specialty societies have formed outside ACS. Those societies focus on a discipline specific to the practitioners' needs. We have become, for many, the second membership choice in a budget that can afford only one.
To really be the Big Tent, we need to be a more hospitable nucleation site for multidisciplinary groups. We follow trends in the literature well, devising new journals to address specialties as they are born and mature. We need to make our society structure more agile and oriented toward service to emerging areas, and I believe there are new business venture models that can help us do so. Recognizing and providing visibility and value to new disciplines is important, and doing so will mean changing our approach. Seizing the opportunity will keep us vital.
In addition, new approaches to journal publishing are challenging traditional information delivery. In our current model, those who use the literature pay a small fee to support the cost of publication, review, delivery, and archiving; articles are accepted on merit. Conversely, in some "open access" systems, use of the literature is free but authors bear the cost. The charges can be quite significant--possibly limiting the ability of some authors to publish. But there is no stable, reliable, totally free system. That model of Web-based free information delivery was proved faulty and unsustainable during the collapse of the technology bubble in 2001. We cannot afford such a collapse of the scientific literature.
Information exchange is the lifeblood of science. Regardless of how the model evolves, I am committed to keeping ACS the highest quality and best-value publisher of chemical information. We have the opportunity to innovate in a changing business environment.
A TIME TO CELEBRATE. This year marks a significant anniversary for two ACS groups that make the Big Tent more diverse. The Committee on Chemists with Disabilities (CWD) celebrates its 25th anniversary, and the ACS Scholars Program celebrates 10 years of support for outstanding minority students.
In meeting with CWD, I developed a deep respect for our disabled colleagues. I realized that most of us live our lives a millisecond or a millimeter from an event that would bring their advocacy into sharp personal focus. Additionally, we all can take pride in making chemistry accessible to bright, diligent students like the ACS Scholars. There will be events at the fall meeting commemorating the achievements of both groups.
THE THEME IS OPPORTUNITY. This has been a tough millennium for chemistry. Lots of change and not much of it has been comfortable. The issues may be new or old, but the time has come to confront and understand them, difficult as they may be. Whether it's the public's perception, secondary education, or the state of the enterprise, in some cases, we can change the situation, but in others, we must change our minds. In all cases, we must work to see the opportunity that walks hand-in-hand with change. It's there.
When I ran for this office I said that the president should be the most visible face and credible voice for chemists and chemistry. I believe that more firmly today and have acted on that belief in my year as president-elect by visiting high schools and universities and speaking to lay audiences and government alike about chemistry's benefits.
Presence and availability will be the touchstones of my three years in the presidential succession. I intend to visit at least 50 of our 189 local sections, and I'm already well on my way. I will be at all five regional meetings, as well as the national meetings. I look forward to meeting lots of members in person, and for those I cannot meet, my e-mail is always open at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THANK YOU. Finally, some words of thanks to a few of the important mentors in my professional life: Bob Conard, my high school teacher in Crown Point, Ind.; John Ricketts at DePauw University; the late Ed Panek of Tulane and BASF; Dennis Peters at Indiana; and Roger Hirl of OxyChem.
Most important, I want to thank Ray Irani, chairman and CEO of Occidental Petroleum Corp., and the management of OxyChem for donating my time.
Thanks also to you, the members of ACS, for giving me this opportunity. It is the honor of a professional lifetime. I am in debt to all of those in local and national ACS governance who have been so helpful and generous with their counsel, and especially to my friends in my home section, Dallas-Fort Worth. This is the best job in the world, working with the best people, and I'm looking forward to an exciting year.
There is an old riddle: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: Just one, but the lightbulb has to want to change. In 2005, change is our challenge and our opportunity. Are we ready?