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  Editor's Page  
  April 25, 2005
Volume 83, Number 17
p. 3

  Impressions Of Beijing  


I am writing this from Beijing, where I am visiting as a member of a delegation from the American Chemical Society. The delegation is meeting with chemists and other scientists from a number of institutions to explore opportunities for ACS and its Chinese counterparts to work together to advance our science.

The delegation consists of ACS President William Carroll; ACS Board of Directors Chair James Burke; ACS Executive Director Madeleine Jacobs; Peter Stang, a chemistry professor at the University of Utah and editor of JACS; Elsa Reichmanis, director of materials chemistry at Lucent Technology's Bell Labs and 2003 ACS president; and Joan Valentine, a chemistry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and editor of Accounts of Chemical Research. A small number of senior ACS staff members are also part of the delegation.

This is my first visit to China, and in this editorial, I want to share a few first impressions.


The Great Wall is every bit as remarkable as it is reputed to be. It is massive and snakes impossibly over steep mountain slopes which, at this time of the year, are blanketed pink and white with blooming wild cherry trees. It is hard to imagine the human effort that went into constructing it.

As impressive as the Great Wall itself is the extensive terracing of the mountains that the wall runs across. The terracing captures runoff and prevents erosion. Thousands of square kilometers of steep slopes have been carefully and precisely terraced by hand to sculpt all of the nonrocky portions with stripes every couple of meters, rising from the base of the mountains to their summits. The labor that goes into this effort is as unimaginable as that which went into the Great Wall, and it speaks to the enormous human capital China can bring to any project.


The delegation's first official visit was to the China Association for Science & Technology (CAST), which is involved in boosting public awareness of science and technology and improving science education throughout the nation. As different as China and the U.S. are, some of the concerns of officials at CAST are remarkably similar to those of ACS. At one point, Zhou Guangzhao, president of CAST, remarked: "It is very hard to reform secondary education. The teachers too often focus on preparing students to take examinations instead of focusing on mastering the subject."


The delegation spent the better part of two days visiting the Institute of Chemistry of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ICCAS) and the College of Chemistry & Molecular Engineering at Peking University, two of the premier chemistry teaching and research institutions in China. We met with many of the faculty and students at both institutions and learned about the research being done at them.

No one would mistake the labs at ICCAS or Peking University for labs at a U.S. or European university chemistry department. While the labs contain some state-of-the-art equipment, the quarters are cramped and the conditions, in many cases, relatively primitive. Safety considerations are virtually nonexistent. Despite their limitations, the chemists at these two institutions are conducting fine research and publishing it in quality journals.

The chemists at ICCAS and Peking University are determined to make China a power in chemical research. On the second floor of the main building on the ICCAS campus, a series of panels depicts research at the institute. One panel presents what amounts to an ICCAS vision statement, and it reads in part: "ICCAS aims to become, within the next 10 to 15 years, a leading national base for basic research in chemical sciences and an internationally first-class research center for molecular science." It also states that ICCAS will promote research "with an eye to the highest prizes in world science and technology."

The vision may seem a little improbable, but given the intelligence, determination, and sheer passion for chemistry I heard expressed by the faculties and students at ICCAS and Peking University, I don't think it is unrealistic at all.

Thanks for reading.

  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2005

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