Future Research Directions in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

Friday, March 14, 2008, Rayburn House Office Building 2325


According to the National Research Council (NRC), more than one quarter of the jobs in the U.S. depend on chemistry in some way. Is the U.S. positioned to remain at the forefront of chemistry and chemical engineering research? In 2007, the NRC evaluated the international standing of the U.S. in the fields of chemistry and chemical engineering. The findings of these NRC benchmarking exercises were highlighted in a March 14, 2008 American Chemical Society congressional briefing. This briefing, entitled “Future Research Directions in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering,” was the 124th in the ACS series of Science & the Congress briefings.

Featured Speakers

Susan Butts, Senior Director of the External Science and Technology Programs at the Dow Chemical Company. Dr. Butts discussed how investment in chemistry and chemical engineering research is an integral aspect of the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act.

Charles Casey, Homer B. Adkins Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and chair of the university’s Chemistry Department from 1998-2001. According to Dr. Casey, the benchmarking exercise found that while the U.S. remains the world leader in Chemistry research, its lead is likely to shrink due to competition from Asia and Europe. The U.S. is expected to remain strong in emerging areas such as nanoscience, biological chemistry and materials chemistry, but at the expense of core research areas. In order to sustain the supply of chemists, Casey said, the U.S. chemistry enterprise currently depends critically on foreign students and postdocs, while the number of U.S. students receiving chemistry PhDs continues to shrink.

Eric Kaler, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Stony Brook University. He noted that the U.S. remains among the world’s leaders in Chemical Engineering, but now shares the leadership role with Europe and Japan in some core areas. The sub-areas losing ground in the U.S. tend to be in traditional research areas, while those at or nearing the forefront are in biological areas and energy.

Hratch Semerjian, President and Executive Director of the Council for Chemical Research. Dr. Semerjian described how globalization is affecting U.S. industrial sectors. He advocated improved science and math education, promotion of university-industry partnerships, and strong investment in research, which he said, pays substantial returns to the economy.

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