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The ACS What Chemists Do short videos profile chemists and the diversity of careers in the scientific profession.


Fred Jaeger, Ph.D, is Scientist II at Bayer CropScience. Fred was involved in researching proteins that could neutralize HIV and his team discovered one called Tenascin C. Watch Fred's interview as he explains about what he loves the most about being a chemist and the skills students should have to be successful in the industry.




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Protectionism is on the rise around the world, as the above map shows from Global Trade Alert (GTA).  Thousands of new measures have been introduced since the start of the financial crisis in 2008.  This is not good news for chemists, who have already suffered from the major R&D cutbacks made by companies who are pressured by investors to boost their share price in the short-term, at the expense of their long-term earnings potential.


Protectionism has also come to the fore in the U.S. presidential election, with both the main candidates expressing doubts about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which involves 12 Pacific Rim countries including the U.S.  It is also on the rise in Europe, where leading politicians in Germany and France have come out against the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an agreement being negotiated between the U.S. and the European Union.


These views parallel the plateauing that has taken place in global trade itself.  Trade has been a key driver for global economic growth, helping U.S. GDP per capita—a good proxy for living standards—to rise threefold between 1950 - 2010 from $9,651 to $30,491 (in Geary-Khamis dollars) .  Similar improvements took place in the emerging economies, with China’s GDP/capita rising 17-fold over the same period from $448 to $8,032. Even India, which has been far less successful in promoting economic growth, saw a 5-fold increase from $619 to $3,371.


One worrying fact is that this plateauing of global trade, and its likely impact, is still not widely recognised.  Most people still think in terms of a slowdown, which would be bad but at least manageable. Instead, countries are closing in on themselves, seeking to preserve local jobs by imposing new restrictions on foreign imports. As Justin Trudeau, Canada’s premier, has warned:


When the middle class are anxious about their economic realities in their future, it’s easy to get trapped in demagoguery and protectionism.”


Trade has now plateaued for 15 months according to the latest GTA Report, something not seen since before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This means we are looking at a world where the potential market for a new drug or other product or service could be many times smaller than in the past, due to the new barriers that are being put in place on a day-by-day basis. In turn, this makes it more likely that companies will further reduce their R&D activity creating a vicious circle.  Bill Gates recently commented on how protectionist policies will impact R&D:


“I wish for a week that we could shut down trade and then, you know, Boeing, Microsoft, Hollywood, pharma would resize their R&D departments for a couple of weeks for fun. And then two weeks later people would go ‘Holy smokes, that was not a very good deal’.”


The growth of protectionism is therefore a very serious issue for chemists and ACS members, as well as the wider population.


As Gates warns, closing down R&D automatically reduces jobs, something that the industry can ill afford, given the poor job market that chemists have endured in recent years.  And these are not the jobs of the “gig economy,” poorly paid, with few benefits. These are the skilled jobs which have previously been the engine of growth for the economy, and the mechanism by which individuals can create a better life for themselves and their families. Importantly, these are also the jobs that drive improvements to everyone’s standard of living – whether by providing better healthcare or in countless other ways.


Of course, the trend to globalisation had its critics, and many of their complaints were justified.  In China, for example, economic growth was accompanied by widespread pollution and a vast increase in corruption.  In the U.S., too many of the gains have gone to a small proportion of the population – which helps to explain why populist pressures are now growing in society.  But the risk in implementing widespread protectionist measures is that we end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  Instead of resolving the problems that have been created from free trade agreements, we could find ourselves going back to a world where trade and tariff barriers rule.


Yet as we know from history, trade wars stifle innovation, and help to create a vicious circle where opportunities for individuals and society become more and more reduced.


So how do we break out of this potential vicious circle? R&D is still vitally needed – not just in pharma, but in the vast range of areas that are critical to the continuing improvement of living standards, here and abroad.  I would welcome your ideas on this critical topic.



Paul Hodges is chairman of International eChem (, trusted advisers to the chemical industry and its investment community. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Industrial Council on chemicals, advanced materials and biotechnology, and presents the ACS ‘Chemistry & the Economy’ webinars.

ACS Industry

Going in Circles

Posted by ACS Industry Sep 16, 2016

There was a time when circular was bad.  Going in circles was considered a bad thing.  You had lost your way.  Circular reasoning?  Also not good.  Those times are gone.  The circular economy is popular today, embraced by many, and like so many concepts that have entered the popular psyche quickly, it has no exact definition. Its use is exploding even though most using it and most hearing it don't know what it means. They know it sounds good. But many of the implications of a circular economy are left largely unexamined, as talking points are cherry-picked to support an agenda while ignoring aspects that do not.



The foundation of the circular economy is that the earth’s resources are finite.  Sustainable use of these finite resources dictates that we leave them for future generations, that we leave Earth with the resources she had at the time of our birth.  From an atomic standpoint, this is easy.  The mass of the earth is changing imperceptibly slowly, with some light elements lost into space, very heavy elements being lost to radioactive decay, some man made elements being conjured, and some elements being delivered from the cosmos by meteors.  The number of atoms of each element – nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, and the rest of the periodic table – remains imperceptibly changed from what it was when I was born, or from when the dinosaurs roamed.  The circular economy is not about atoms, but molecules and oxidation states.  That makes it fundamentally a chemical issue.


Most elements are not found as lone atoms, they are found as compounds. Society’s use - my use- takes resources present as compounds and chemically transforms them.  We take iron oxide, add energy to convert it to iron, use it in a way that inevitably takes it back to iron oxide.  That is already a circle, but it isn't quite that simple.  First, we take rich ores at the start.  Entropy wins, as entropy always does, and we take a low entropy source of iron and turn it into a high entropy distribution of iron around the planet, leaving it in low concentrations in landfills, by the roadside, or other places.  We also use energy in the process, energy that we can't recover to use again.  This isn’t for lack of trying.  We continue to push energy efficiency, energy recovery, co-generation and other technological solutions.  Entropy wins, as entropy always does, and makes perpetual motion impossible.  We can't start with a Joule and use it endlessly like we can with iron.  We do a really great job closing the circle with iron, if you forget about the energy. Iron is easy to sort magnetically and easy to recycle, provided you have energy. Keeping materials in the economy at the highest value use is what the circular economy strives to do, with materials like steel being successes. With almost all cases, our gaze is on the mass flow, little on the energy flow.


Energy can’t be ignored in the circular economy.  Again, it is a chemical problem.  A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. Our problem is that we use materials as energy  sources and, through extraction of that energy, we make them useless.  We take hydrocarbon compounds from reserves and react them with oxygen.  The combustion reaction powers and moves the world.  The reaction products are heat, water and CO2.  Photosynthesis will take the carbon dioxide and water back to carbohydrates and other materials, and geology could take it back to hydrocarbons again.  The problem is that the circle is too big.  It takes too long.  Future generations won't have the high utility resource.  A truly circular economy requires renewable energy.


Earth is largely a closed system when it comes to mass, but an open system when it comes to energy.  Energy flows in from the sun, nuclear decay and from gravity.  It flows out as heat radiated to space.  Entropy wins, as entropy always does, and energy is lost during our use.  Try as we might, we can't truly conserve energy.  Chemical energy converted to heat is used for work, light, and warmth, but can't be turned back into chemical energy.  The same holds for nuclear energy.  We can't get it back.


The chemical industry, like all other industries, burns hydrocarbon reserves for power.  Future generations are robbed of fossil energy resource, just as they are when we drive our gasoline-powered cars or turn on our gas heat. Unlike most industries, the chemical enterprise covets the hydrocarbons too, keeping more than are burned in the products made.  The largest volume products of the industry are plastics and plastics are, as Paul Hodges pointed out in his recent blog, at the heart of the circular economy discussion. Plastics are used because they cost effectively solve many problems.  They are so cost effective that they allow single use.  The single use, disposable economy is the opposite of the circular economy.


The weight of the world is really on us, fellow chemists.  Chemistry is the central discipline in crafting a sustainable future. It is up to us to find the ways that preserve resources and the planet for future generations.  It is not an issue of atoms, it is an issue of molecules and we are the masters of molecules.



Mark Jones is Executive External Strategy and Communications Fellow at Dow Chemical since September 2011. He spent most of his career developing catalytic processes after joining Dow in 1990. He received his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at the University of Colorado-Boulder doing research unlikely to lead to an industrial career and totally unrelated to his current responsibilities.

Bevin.jpgBevin Parks cant tell you where her hometown is. Born to a homemaking mother and an educator father whose job frequently changed locations, Parks had gone through 17 physical addresses before she was 17, attending 7 different schools before graduating from high school.


The constant moving didnt negatively affect Parks in the way that some might expect, instead it helped shape her love for adventures, ability to face challenges, and confidence in working with people from different backgrounds.


A senior scientist at Afton Chemical Corporation, Parks still enjoys adventures today. And the skill set she has acquired over the years is helping her handle challenges that often come along with adventures with ease.


But it wasnt all rosy in the beginning.  


A bumpy start


Many chemists fell in love with chemistry at a young age, but not Parks. A self described non-traditional student, Parks completed her first two years of college study while still in high school. She thrived in all chosen subjects, except for chemistry. It just didnt click, says Parks. 


Fortunately, a turning point came when she had to retake general chemistry for her proposed biology major. Thanks partly to the instructors enthusiasm, the course made more sense to her this time around. The positive experience propelled her to take an organic chemistry course, and she was hooked. She loved the subject so much that she subsequently changed her major from biology to chemistry.


It just made sense in a way that math and physics never did to me, Parks recalls. Organic chemistry felt at once more like an art and an untapped talent.


Pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry, with a push


Once she realized that chemistry was actually fun, Parks was all in. While studying for her bachelors degree in chemistry at Western Washington University, Parks worked multiple jobs for the Chemistry Department, as a stockroom clerk and a teaching assistant.


Noticing Parks drive and passion for chemistry, professor James Vyvyan encouraged her to get involved in research at his lab. Parks jumped at the opportunity and studied the total synthesis of heliannuol C and E, a work that helped her win the Chemistry Departments first Barbara French Duzan scholarship. 


Parks enjoyed her early research experience, but she didnt think about furthering her study in chemistry until Vyvyan one day asked her why not.


If he hadnt asked me where I was going to grad school and then challenged my reasons for not considering it, Id not be here now, Parks admits with a profound gratitude.


When asked why he encouraged Parks to pursue an advanced degree in chemistry, Vyvyan says, Bevin was one of my most enthusiastic students from that time period. It was her passion for all things chemistry that led me to encourage her to pursue graduate studies.


Striving to make an impact


By this time, Parks was deeply in love with everything associated with organic chemistry, but for her graduate study, she wanted to focus on research that could potentially make a real-world impact. Her desire to find her place in both synthesis and application fields led her to James Hutchisons lab at the University of Oregon, where she synthesized and studied the physical properties of bicyclic malonamide ligands preorganized for binding f-block metals.


With the support of the National Science Foundations Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, Parks also worked two summers as an intern at the Radiological Processing Laboratory at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and taught a chemistry course at Central Oregon Community College while working on her dissertation. The unique, multidisciplinary program helped Parks acquire essential skills that could help her start a career in either research or teaching. By the end of the program Parks was well positioned to make the real-world impact she had dreamed of.


From academia to industry


Upon graduating from the University of Oregon, Parks taught full time at California State University in Chico for one semester before deciding that she wanted to give industry a try. In 2007, Parks moved to Houston to work for Champion Technologies.


Today, Parks believes a career path in either academia or industry can be satisfying, but back then, the decision of switching her career path from academia to industry was made easier by the perks that came with an industry position, such as more time to interact with her family.


After working for Champion Technologies for about 2 years, Parks in 2010 moved to Richmond to work for Afton Chemical Corporation, where she has been joggling multiple tasks as a senior chemist, a group leader, and a project manager.


Currently she is helping her company develop new chemicals for industrial applications, and commercialize two novel products, one of which is new to the company and the other new to the industry.


Open to new adventures


Parks says she loves chemical research and product development, either alone as an individual contributor or working with others as a team member. But in recent years she has realized that she may love the latter even more.


Reflecting upon her work, Parks says, the successes I have had have stemmed from my love of people and the joy I get from figuring out how we best work together to achieve our goals.


And that seems to be a recipe for successfully managing scientific projects.


Would she switch her career focus from R&D to project management then?


I absolutely could see my career bending in that direction, given the opportunity, Parks admits.




Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.