Editor's Page  
  November 8,  2004
Volume 82, Number 45
p. 5

  A Radical Notion  


A month ago, I wrote an editorial titled “Disturbing Trends” in which I noted a number of developments that did not seem to bode well for chemistry. I also asked readers to write C&EN to express their thoughts about where our science is headed (C&EN, Oct. 11, page 5). A selection of these perceptive and thought-provoking letters appears on page 6.

Is she a chemist?
Two themes run through many of these letters: One is that science is evolving rapidly and chemistry often is not keeping pace. Another is: What took you so long to notice?

These letters are but one indication of the passion ACS members have for chemistry and the amount of thought they have focused on chemistry’s future. The future of ACS, of course, is very much wrapped up in the future of the chemical enterprise, and many individuals in ACS governance and on the ACS staff are considering how the society should position itself in this rapidly evolving environment. In her first year as ACS executive director and CEO, Madeleine Jacobs has focused intensely on the “value proposition” ACS offers members and how that value proposition can be increased and broadened to attract new members.

The desire to attract new members, especially young scientists, led to a key component of the ACS Strategic Plan for 2004–06: “Changing the definition of chemistry to encompass its true multidisciplinary nature.” The plan states that “ACS, working at all levels of the organization, will redefine chemistry to include the multidisciplinary fields in which chemistry and chemical engineering play enabling roles and broaden the range of scientists and engineers who self-identify as chemical practitioners.”

As I have talked over the past few months to a variety of people who care about ACS and about chemistry—including members of ACS governance, leaders of the society’s technical divisions, ACS staff members, prominent academic chemists, and industry leaders—I have begun to wonder whether the redefinition of chemistry envisioned in the ACS Strategic Plan is really possible. Possible, that is, in the sense that other scientists who we think are doing chemistry—scientists working at the interface of chemistry and biology, in materials science, in nanoscience and technology—will ever accept a redefinition and embrace the idea that they are, in fact, chemists. And, by extension, view ACS as a natural professional home.

I am beginning to wonder whether the words “chemistry” and “chemical” carry too much baggage for us ever to be successful in redefining them to encompass the breadth of our science as it exists today and, even more important, as it develops through the 21st century. That has led me to a radical notion: Perhaps it is time to change the name of the American Chemical Society to better reflect who, in fact, we really are.

That’s right, change the name of ACS. To what? Here is one suggestion: Society for Molecular Sciences & Engineering. This name reflects the fact that we are not really an American organization anymore, we are a global society serving a global science. About 60% of the papers published in ACS journals this year will be from non-U.S. authors. More than 50% of the society’s revenues come from sales outside the U.S.

More important, “Molecular Sciences & Engineering” conveys a much broader sweep of scientific and technological endeavor than does “Chemical.” The Society for Molecular Sciences & Engineering would offer a welcoming home to a wide range of scientists who are practicing chemistry or using chemistry to probe living systems or build materials with precisely engineered properties, including those who just don’t see themselves as “chemists.”

Changing the name of ACS is not a step that should be taken lightly. There is no question that we would lose something dear to us if we were to change the name of ACS. However, it is possible that we would gain even more, a new identity that more accurately reflects the enterprise in which we are engaged.

Thanks for reading.

  Chemical & Engineering News
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