American Chemical Society President unveils initiatives for 2012

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SAN DIEGO, March 25, 2012 — Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., president of the American Chemical Society (ACS) — the world’s largest scientific society — today described initiatives on climate science, the education of future scientists and commemoration of a landmark federal law that engendered some of the nation’s greatest universities. Those initiatives will be the theme of Shakhashiri’s presidential year.

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A chemistry professor who holds the William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Shakhashiri discussed the projects during a press briefing at the ACS’ 243rd National Meeting & Exposition. Almost 18,000 scientists and others are expected to attend the meeting, one of the largest scientific gatherings of 2012. They will hear more than 11,700 reports Sunday through Thursday on new advances in scientific fields that range from astronomy to zoology, and view new laboratory instruments, books, journals and other products in the large exhibition.

After ACS’ founding in 1876, a tradition emerged that each new ACS president defines a theme and identifies initiatives for the society during his or her year in office. Shakhashiri’s theme, “Advancing Chemistry and Communicating Chemistry,” incorporates responses to some of the great challenges facing scientists and society in the 21st century.

“As a learned society, ACS and its members have significant responsibilities to bring our scientific and educational acumen to address human needs,” said Shakhashiri. “We advance chemistry through research, education and innovation. Communicating chemistry to fellow scientists and to the world is one of ACS’ core functions. Communicating the values and role of the chemical sciences to nonspecialists is another of our important responsibilities.”

Shakhashiri’s initiatives involve the 150th anniversary of a landmark federal law called the Morrill Land Grant Act, education of scientists at the graduate level for the 21st century and climate science.

Morrill Land Grant Sesquicentennial Celebration

This initiative commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, which provided states with 30,000 acres of land for each of its members of Congress. States sold the land to raise money to establish colleges focusing on agriculture, science, engineering and liberal arts. Without that money, it would have been impossible for states to fund such institutions. A second Morrill Act in 1890 was passed specifically to support land-grant institutions for African-Americans. Today, more than 100 institutions have land-grant status, including many historically Black colleges and universities. Cornell University, The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ohio State University and Tuskegee University are just a few examples of land-grant institutions. Land-grant institutions today produce more than half of all Ph.D. scientists.

ACS will celebrate this occasion with a retrospective and a prospective look at chemistry. For a “look back,” Shakhashiri invites chemists to join in by publicizing the accomplishments of chemical scientists from their institutions, regardless of land-grant status. “We should embrace and celebrate our rich contributions as chemists, as a discipline, and as a professional society to the larger society in which we live,” he said. He explained that the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition being held here this week offers many opportunities to “look ahead” at where chemistry is going. Attendees will hear about the latest chemistry innovations directly from scientists who are on the cutting edge.

ACS Presidential Commission on Graduate Education

Graduate education is advanced education that students pursue, typically after earning a bachelor’s, or undergraduate, degree. Graduate education includes doctoral degrees, or Ph.D.s, almost 50,000 of which are granted annually. Students in science Ph.D. programs typically take courses for the first two or three years, then conduct research. The programs may last four to six years. Afterwards, newly-minted Ph.D.s may join the workforce or continue as “postdoctoral fellows” for another two to three years before seeking jobs in academia or industry.

The commission will examine the purposes of graduate education and research in the chemical sciences and the needs and aspirations of graduate students. The commission is chaired by Larry R. Faulkner, Ph.D., who is president emeritus of the University of Texas at Austin. Paul L. Houston, Ph.D., is executive director and dean of the College of Sciences and professor, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The commission and its working groups will have “listening sessions” with graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, early-career faculty, underrepresented groups, business groups, institutions of higher education, professional and educational organizations, and international leaders in science and education. From these meetings, the commission will develop recommendations to modify graduate education to successfully prepare students for their professional careers and to face changing human needs over the next 50 years.

ACS Presidential Working Group on Climate Science

Chemists are well-versed in the science underpinning their own specialties, such as developing new medicines, products to enhance food production, plastics and other materials that impact everyday life in positive ways. Many, however, may be less familiar with the intricacies of climate science, such as the number of gases (in addition to carbon dioxide) that can be greenhouse gases and, indeed, the fact that “greenhouse” is a misnomer for the actual mechanisms of global warming.

To equip chemists with a deeper understanding of the science of climate change, the working group is developing a Web-based toolkit that explains the topic for use by ACS members to educate themselves. The American Chemical Society Climate Science Toolkit© toolkit explains concepts, such as which gases are greenhouse gases, their sources, changes over time and other essential information.

“If, between now and the time I die, I don’t succeed in having an intelligent conversation with my neighbor about evolution, that would be very sad,” he says. “But if I don’t succeed in having an intelligent conversation with my neighbor about climate change, the consequences later in the century could be catastrophic.” Jerry A. Bell, Ph.D., a noted chemistry educator who is a faculty associate with the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, chairs the Climate Science Working Group.

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ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D.