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Editor's Page

November 21, 2005
Volume 83, Number 47
p. 3

Faces Of The Storm

Rudy Baum, Editor-in-chief

This week's cover story, “Faces of the Storm,” is a series of 11 profiles of chemists and other people associated with the chemical enterprise whose lives—both personal and professional—have been seriously affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Those two powerful storms battered the Gulf Coast in August and September, yet the devastation they wrought persists and continues to reverberate through the lives of tens of thousands of people.

The idea for the feature originated with Howard M. Peters, a member of the ACS Board of Directors, who e-mailed me on Sept. 9, right between Katrina and Rita. “What about an issue of C&EN with stories of professors, chemists, and students who were directly impacted by the storm and its aftermath and how they are doing now?” Peters wrote. Peters even suggested a couple of the people—Jack Stocker and Saundra McGuire—whom we profiled.

I broached the idea with C&EN's senior staff at our next weekly planning meeting, and everyone was enthusiastic. Linda Raber, assistant managing editor for ACS News & Special Features, agreed to coordinate the effort, and we asked for volunteers to locate and profile a representative group of individuals from academe and industry. Raber, Senior Correspondent Marc Reisch, Senior Editor Bette Hileman, Associate Editor Amanda Yarnell, Assistant Editors Bethany Halford and Rachel Petkewich, and West Coast Senior Editor Elizabeth Wilson identified a variety of people to talk to about their experiences in the aftermath of the hurricanes. In many cases, the reporters located local photographers who captured some of the poignant images that accompany the profiles.

Many of the stories are wrenching. Raber writes of Stocker, an emeritus chemistry professor at the University of New Orleans and a 62-year ACS member who has served on the ACS Council since 1972, who returned to his home in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans for the first time since Katrina on Nov. 11 with photographer Justine Szymala. One of the photographs Szymala took is this week's cover. Stocker's house was devastated by the flood that inundated much of New Orleans after the levees broke. Among his irreplaceable losses was his collection of 20,000 or so vintage science-fiction novels.

“A lot of things that you, in your initial rush, want to save, you realize are not practical,” Stocker says. “Each one you decide to let go of, you have to say a personal good-bye to. These are things you've treasured all your life. It's not easy, I can assure you.”

Other profiles look at, for example, two Tulane professors trying to keep their research programs on track in borrowed lab space; a PPG team's rescue work in New Orleans after Katrina and its preparations for Rita; an Xavier University senior attempting to keep alive his dream of attending medical school; the efforts of the chairs of the chemistry departments at the University of New Orleans and Xavier (who are married to each other) to keep their departments together; and the challenges being faced at Louisiana State University, which is dealing with numerous effects of the storms, including stressed students and faculty and potential cuts to university funding. The profiles also highlight the tremendous generosity of individuals, companies, and institutions in the face of tragedy.

As Raber notes in her introduction to the series of profiles, despite the devastation, dislocation, and loss, these stories are all characterized by a remarkable sense of hope and resilience. For these people, and many others like them, “very little is back to normal physically or emotionally,” Raber writes. “But spirits remain strong.”

“Faces of the Storm” is a departure for C&EN because it is, at heart, a human interest story, not the straight news reporting on the chemical enterprise that usually fills the pages of this magazine. I think it is a worthwhile departure, however, because our enterprise has a human face, and the twin tragedies of Katrina and Rita remind us of that fact.

Thanks for reading.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2010 American Chemical Society