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As I reflect on the 2016 ACS Spring National Meeting, I am now watching a gentle snow fall in Michigan. The San Diego meeting just ended, but it seems like oh so long ago and oh so far away.  San Diego did its best to taunt those of us that experience winter with its near perfect climate.  No rain of any note and temperatures in the 60s for the duration.  The weather and the waterfront location made the interminable walks between venues almost enjoyable.  Even in a city as compact as San Diego, the sprawl of an ACS meeting is always a challenge.

 

An ACS national meeting is largely chaos.  A crowd of 15,000 spread across a convention center and every nearby hotel means there is a certain amount of dilution.  I look through the program to find the speakers I really want to hear prior to arrival.  In the old days, this required looking through an issue of C&EN, highlighting the talks, jotting down the times and locations of all that were of interest, then struggling to see what overlapped and what didn’t.  Once at the meeting, it would become clear that only a fraction of the talks could be attended without a Star Trek style transporter.

 

Technology has improved, though the transporter is not yet an option.  Gone are the printed schedules, replaced by an app.  The app lets you browse and search, automatically moving things to a schedule it creates.   Thanks to the app, I could see the 7 concurrent talks that I wanted to attend on Sunday clearly and easily.  In the end, I made it to less than a quarter of the talks I desired due to the overlapping programming and impossible travel, but the app dutifully dinged to inform me of the upcoming events I had selected even when attendance was impossible.

 

I know that with each passing day, there are more people younger than me and fewer that are older. The crowd at an ACS meeting really reinforces this simple math.  The crowd has always trended young.  Excited graduate students are a staple at ACS meetings.  This is nowhere more evident than at one of my favorite events, the opening of the expo.  The expo hall is filled with vendors, all with something to show, many with something to give away.  On opening night,  there is also food and the expo hall takes on an air of Pamplona.  A largely student crowd collects at the doors, jockeying for position more than half an hour before opening.  When the doors open, the crowd sweeps into the hall surging to find the food stations set about, grabbing free pens and other giveaways as it sweeps through the aisles.  I enjoy watching the sheer spectacle at every meeting.

 

On my last afternoon, I was lucky to have a single session home to several speakers I wanted to hear. No moving around, just sitting in one place and taking in Science and Perception of Climate Change.  No transporter needed.  It was a lively session with a very interactive audience and many insights shared.  The hypocrisy of a session focused on climate where all present wrecked their personal climate footprint with travel to San Diego was noted.  Nonetheless, the session talked through many issues of controlling emissions and the continuing need for education that leads to societal action.  The impact of diet was also mentioned.

 

I attended meetings earlier in the conference where I was put on the horns of a dilemma.  I avoid beef as a matter of course, as it is one of the most resource intensive foods.  At my meetings, the lunch buffet inevitably featured beef, more beef than the room could consume.  Bad as it is for the planet to choose beef over another protein, throwing away beef is worse. I elected to eat other options and later watched woefully as the unfinished beef was carted away, its embodied fossil energy and greenhouse gas footprint having been spent for naught. I attended other social events where the spreads of food clearly exceeded the appetites of those present. Lots of cheese, fruit and other food wasted.

 

Sitting there in the Science and Perception of Climate Change session, a glorious idea came to me. The ACS convention is a perfect place to attack food waste and its negative climate impact.  There are several companies using mobile apps to reduce food waste, allowing rapid responding food banks to get to surplus food. My years of watching the running of the graduate students at the opening of the expo brought the  solution to ACS National Meeting food waste issue into focus. The solution is app wielding graduate students.  The ACS already has an app that could be modified to “ring the dinner bell”, calling the locust-like swarm of graduate students that sweep through the expo hall to any platter, table or spread of food about to be tossed.  Graduate students were hungry in my day, devouring any meeting crumbs placed in hallways after meetings.  That hasn’t changed.  What has changed is that we weren’t carrying sophisticated communication devices in our pockets 30 years ago.  Today, hungry graduate students can be radio-dispatched.

 

The Greek proverb was shared during the Science and Perception of Climate Change: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”   I won’t be bellying up to the trough when the ACS implements my suggested modification to the meeting app to promote food scavenging.  I am giving this to the world, seeking no future royalties.  I will be responsible for what is likely one of the biggest impacts on sustainability that the ACS could implement, far bigger than badge recycling or biodegradable cutlery.  I am the big picture guy with the vision to see a connection between need, demand and the ACS desire to be more sustainable.  It is an idea I won’t implement myself.  I won’t have to fight through the logistics of making this happen in a way that avoids food fights as multiple hands reach for the last muffin.  I won’t have to deal with caterers that simply want to leave as quickly as possible. I won’t have to figure out how to keep the refined ACS evening affairs from being overrun with throngs of food seeking students.   I will just have the satisfaction of having done my part for the planet and future generations of chemistry graduate students.  It will be shade I never sit in.

 

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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.

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Jaime Curtis-Fisk’s plan in graduate school was to become an organic chemistry professor. She was passionate about education, had the needed communications skills, and was well prepared — she had earned her certification in college science and math education while completing her PhD program.

 

It was no surprise that upon graduating from Michigan State University in 2009 with a PhD in chemistry, Curtis-Fisk successfully landed an assistant professor position at Grand Valley State University, where she had received her undergraduate education.

 

The dream job, however, didn’t last long. In 2010, Curtis-Fisk’s husband accepted a position at the Dow Chemical Company, and the family needed to relocate. Curtis-Fisk had two options: keeping her dream job and splitting the family, or staying with her family and leaving her job. Having just started a family, Curtis-Fisk chose the latter.

 

To stay close with her family, Curtis-Fisk also applied for a position at Dow and was offered a senior chemist position in Dow’s Core R&D Division. She accepted the position and switched her career path from academia to industry.

 

But she kept her passion for education alive.

 

A Chemist’s Two Tales

When Curtis-Fisk joined Dow, employee volunteerism was already part of Dow’s culture. Several groups of Dow employees were actively engaging in outreach activities in their communities. But it was not an organized effort.

 

Recognizing her interest in education, Curtis-Fisk’s supervisors created a unique position that would allow her to conduct technical research as a R&D scientist and support Dow’s outreach programs as a STEM program leader, all at the same time. Without hesitation, Curtis-Fisk took the opportunity and started to make marks in two drastically different areas. 

 

Implementing Dow’s STEM Ambassadors program
Upon accepting the dual-role position, Curtis-Fisk was asked to transform Dow employees’ grassroots efforts into a coordinated program. The goals were to create opportunities for Dow employees to best use their skills and passion, to ensure that the time and resources are well spent, and ultimately to generate the biggest impact possible.

 

And Curtis-Fisk didn’t disappoint. With the support of her colleagues and supervisors, she started the now well-known Dow STEM Ambassadors Program, an employee engagement program that trains and connects Dow employee volunteers with students, teachers, and local communities. To achieve the best result, she created an effective organizational structure for the program, developed resources to support the outreach efforts, and removed barriers that could potentially affect volunteers’ involvement. As a result, the number of volunteers increased from about 400 to 1600 within a year.

 

Today Curtis-Fisk and her STEM ambassadors have developed programs in multiple locations around the globe, and they have successfully built partnerships with a number of organizations, including the Smithsonian, the Chemical Education Foundation, and the American Association of Chemistry Teachers. Noticing the program’s impact, Dow has tied the educational program to its corporate initiatives.

 

“I always knew she'd make an excellent teacher, she is that special type of person that conveys things clearly and with all her focus on the person she is communicating with, she just draws you in,” says Witucki, Curtis-Fisk’s undergraduate research advisor who sparked her interest in chemistry. “I am certain she is doing the same as a STEM ambassador, passing on her love for chemistry to an audience of all ages.”

 

Thriving as an industry scientist

Curtis-Fisk’s research interest at Dow is mainly focused on drug delivery technologies. Her main responsibilities include using polymers’ unique properties to design new ways to deliver drugs, and designing corresponding formulations that are safe and effective. In another word, she is responsible for turning active drug ingredients into final products. As a project leader, she also helps her team develop research plans, analyze experiment results, and communicate the relevance of their findings to stakeholders.    

 

Despite the amount of time and energy that Curtis-Fisk devoted to the STEM outreach program, her technical performance didn’t suffer. Since joining Dow, Curtis-Fisk has authored 26 corporate technical reports, submitted 17 invention concept documents, and filed 13 active patent applications. She also has published 4 peer-reviewed research publications, and presented at 7 national conferences.

 

Recognizing Curtis-FISK’s research excellence, in 2015, the American Chemical Society’s Women Chemists Committee awarded its Rising Star Award to Curtis-Fisk, along with nine other women scientists approaching mid-level careers.

 

Making It All Work

To many people, staying competitive in just one field is challenging enough. How could Curtis-Fisk thrive in two totally different areas?

 

Planning ahead

“At times it was difficult to balance both worlds, particularly since I had two sets of stakeholders,” Curtis-Fisk admits. But from early on she realized that it helps to have a detailed plan for each engagement, maintain a well defined timeline for every project, and communicate clearly with both teams about expectations and work processes.

 

Communicating well

Curtis-Fisk’s skills in scientific communication proved invaluable, too.

 

“My talent is telling the story of science in a way that others can understand the technology, and appreciate the value,” says Curtis-Fisk. In the early days, her talent helped her successfully connect with her students. Today as a scientist and project leader, the ability helps her clearly communicate the needs of her teams, and effectively share their research results and potential impacts with stakeholders.

 

And the teaching certification that she earned in graduate school? Well, that turned out to be extremely helpful, too, especially when she speaks with the teachers her outreach programs support.

 

Keeping the passion alive

A first generation college student, Curtis-Fisk attributes her success to a large group of people who have supported her over the years. She credits her college professors with spurring and nurturing her interests in chemical research and education. She appreciates her husband for fully supporting her career growth. And she thanks her mentors and leaders at Dow for not only helping her create the dual-role career opportunity but continuing to help her to grow.

 

Her determination in keeping her passion alive, however, has no doubt played a great role in her success as well.

 

Reflecting on her unique career path, Curtis-Fisk admits that she would not feel completely fulfilled should her career were focused solely on doing technical work in the lab. Fortunately, she has learned that “there’s always a way to follow your passion.” “Even if it doesn’t seem at first like it’s something that fits with the rest of your career, you can still develop the right support system to make it happen,” says Curtis-Fisk.

 

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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.

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I pay attention to my ecological footprint.  I can’t say that I’ve tried them all, but I have completed most of the footprint calculators I can find.   I can’t recall one that did not calculate my greenhouse gas impact, labeling it my greenhouse gas footprint.  Many report the amount of energy I use, turning it into an energy or fossil fuel footprint.  Some point out my water use, calling it my water footprint.   Footprint is a metaphor for the mark I make on the planet, my impact.  My energy use is tough on the planet.  I take depleting hydrocarbon resources and I convert them to energy, CO2 and water.  I use the energy, wasting a lot of it, and release the CO2 and water.  I destroy hydrocarbon resources, resources that don’t replenish on a time scale close to my use.  I make CO2, releasing it to the atmosphere where it will not be removed on a time scale close to my use.  I use more water than I make, but I actually don’t destroy water.  The hydrological cycle returns every drop of water I use back for re-use on a time scale close to my use.  I don’t destroy the elements or even the molecule of water, I just borrow it from the ecosystem, only to return it at a later time where it is pretty quickly returned to me.   I have a wood footprint.  Trees are cut down somewhere everyday so that I can use paper. Society makes a lot of paper and my footprint for trees is larger than what goes into the paper I touch. I have to take some credit for society’s use of paper, hoping that attempts that I make to conserve and recycle paper dominate my footprint.  I haven’t bought any concrete recently, but I drive on roads made from concrete, roads that are constantly been repaired.  Limestone is  fossilized shells that are a depleting resource that does not replenish on a time scale commensurate with society’s use.  I own part of society’s limestone or concrete footprint even though I am not personally mixing the concrete.  I own some part of the CO2 emissions, adding to my greenhouse gas footprint.  None of the footprint calculators I’ve found report my limestone footprint.   For most people, it would be the society’s use divided by the population.  Some footprints you control, others are determined by society.  Some are a mix of the two. 

 

I hadn’t thought about my platinum footprint until about a month ago.  New contact lenses brought new advice:  ditch the multipurpose solution and use a peroxide cleaner.  A new case comes with each bottle of peroxide cleaner with instructions to throw away the old case including the platinum neutralizing disk.  Could a throw away disk really be platinum?  Platinum group metals are, after all, a finite and depleting resource, on many lists of critical metals, and a resource that is already widely recycled.  It turns out that my new contact cleaner comes with a disposable platinum catalyst. 

 

My platinum footprint is a mixed footprint.  I buy some platinum containing things, but most of my platinum use is baked into society. Using national consumption, my platinum footprint is about 90 mg of platinum per year.[1]  I believe my personal platinum footprint is only about a third of the per capita national consumption. I don’t buy platinum metal for investment or jewelry.   The largest use is in cars, but that is recycled very effectively and my car is 7 years old. My personal use is more on the order of 37 mg per year[2].

 

Changing my contact lens cleaner increases my platinum footprint by over 15%.  Peroxide cleaning solutions have performance advantages. They are very effective at killing pathogens that cause severe eye issues. Peroxide supposedly stings like crazy in your eye, and must be “neutralized”.  Hydrogen peroxide is neutralized by catalytically decomposing it to water and oxygen, creating visible bubbles.  Enzyme tablets were once used[3], now replaced with a platinum catalyst disk in all products I found on store shelves.  Deactivation of the neutralizing disk, though I’ve yet to observe it, requires that it be replaced monthly.

 

The platinum on each disk is around 600 micrograms[4], covering a plastic support weighing about 0.8 grams[5].  The platinum on the disk is worth less than 2 cents at current prices, or about 20 cents for a year’s worth.  There are a lot of contact wearers, almost 41 million in the United States[6]. 93% now wear soft contacts9 and recent data indicates 20% use peroxide cleaners[7], a number that is growing.  Contact users trash 1,700 troy ounces of platinum per year. They trash over  $1.5 million per year. 

 

I am amazed that platinum is being trashed when it appears recycling it would be relatively easy.  I am also confused that platinum is being used in this application at all.  Homogeneous enzymes were replaced with heterogeneous platinum in contact care, presumably to eliminate the possibility that forgetful users would fail to introduce the enzyme.  The platinum disk attached to the contact case is pretty fool-proof.  There is a rich literature on immobilizing enzymes, including peroxidases derived from a number of plant and fungal sources.  If there is a reason immobilized enzymes wouldn’t work for neutralization, I can’t find it.  It could be that the chemistry to immobilize the enzymes actually makes them more expensive than platinum.  Many metals decompose peroxide.  The less expensive platinum group metals do.  So do supported catalysts of iron and copper oxide.  If there is a reason cheaper metals wouldn’t work for neutralization, I can’t find it either.  I am left scratching my head in disbelief that platinum is used in such a disposable application, one that now dominates my platinum footprint. Finding another solution or finding a way to recycle would make a big difference. 

 

I wish a 15% decrease in my carbon footprint was so easy.

 

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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.

 


[1]  using 29,800 kg  of Pt demand for North America from the Johnson Matthey PGM Market Report for November 2015 and 318.9 million people in the U.S. from the 2014 World Bank statistics

[2] Using  Pt demand for North America from the Johnson Matthey PGM Market Report for November 2015 and subtracting automotive, investment and jewelry

[3] Christie, Caroline L., and John G. Meylerr. "Contemporary contact lens care products." Contact Lens and Anterior Eye 20 (1997): S11-S17.

[4] Kasey Jon Minick, Manal M. Gabriel, Leroy Wainaina Muya, Walter Lee Nash, George Edward Minno (Novartis); WO 2011062959 A1, "A hydrogen peroxide solution and kit for disinfecting contact lenses", published 26 May 2011 (filed 17 November 2010).

[5] average weight of disks from Alcon Clear Care, Equate and Bausch+Lomb PeroxiClear.

[6] Cope, Jennifer R., Sarah A. Collier, Maya M. Rao, Robin Chalmers, G. Lynn Mitchell, Kathryn Richdale, Heidi Wagner et al. "Contact lens wearer demographics and risk behaviors for contact lens-related eye infections—United States, 2014." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 64(32), 21 August 2015, pages 865-870.

[7] Chalmers, Robin; "A Fresh Look at One-Step Hydrogen Peroxide Lens Disinfection", Review of Opt. Published August 2014. (Supplement, reprint CCS14015AEi).

1386343097288.jpgThe entry deadline is fast approaching for the Heroes of Chemistry award program. The program honors industrial chemical scientists whose work in various fields of chemistry and chemical engineering has led to the development of successful commercial products.

 

Each year, private and publicly owned companies from around the world are invited to nominate their employees to recognize their talent, creativity, and innovation.

 

The award recipients will be honored during a black-tie dinner ceremony on August 21, 2016 in Philadelphia, and will be recognized in online sites and print publications.

 

The deadline for submissions is March 21, 2016.

 

For more information, please visit www.acs.org/heroes, or send questions to chemhero@acs.org. If you are currently working on a nomination, please notify us at chemhero@acs.org, so that we may anticipate receiving your entry. We hope that you won’t miss the opportunity to nominate your colleagues for this prestigious award.

 

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For many in the chemical, pharmaceutical and related industries, comprehending and complying with Environmental Protection Agency regulations—which span across a wide range of areas--can present challenges.

 

ACS Industry Member Programs is putting together a short video to serve as a centerpiece for industry “Network & Learn” events to be held within local sections and other venues across the U.S. in May. The video will feature experts who will answer EPA-related questions from ACS industry members and others in small and large businesses.

We invite you to submit the EPA-related questions that are foremost on your mind using this form. If one of your questions is chosen to be featured in the video, we will contact you for permission. Survey closes on March 21st.

Immediate Past President Diane Grob Schmidt invites you to an exciting symposium on the future of energy

 

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Research Opportunities for Future Energy Technologies

Sunday, March 13, 2016: 1:30 pm – 5:10 pm

San Diego Convention Center, Room 4 (Upper Level)

Sponsored by ACS Division of Energy & Fuels (ENFL), ACS Energy Letters, ACS Publications Division, Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) & ACS Immediate Past President Diane Grob Schmidt

 

Michelle Buchanan, Symposium Co-organizer and Presider

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

 

Presenters at this symposium will include the following: the Honorable Franklin M. Orr, Under Secretary for Science and Energy; Donald J. DePaolo, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Krishan L. Luthra, General Electric; Jeremy T. Busby, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Peter D. Olmsted, Georgetown University; Tom F. Jaramillo, Stanford University; and George W. Crabtree, Argonne National Laboratory.

 

You can find more information in the Technical Program.

 

C&EN Presents: Evolution of Industrial R&D: Driving Growth Through Innovation and Productivity– a conversation with Dr Douglas Muzyka

C&EN is presenting a special feature – a conversation with Dr Douglas Muzyka, DuPont's chief science and technology officer, on the future of R&D. Following a brief presentation by Dr Muzyka entitled 'Evolution of Industrial R&D: Driving Growth Through Innovation and Productivity', C&EN Editor-in-Chief, Dr Bibiana Campos-Seijo will conduct an interview with him followed by questions from the floor. This event will take place on Monday March 14th from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m., in Room 4 of the San Diego Convention Center.

 

"Big Draws" for Industry Members in San Diego

We've taken the time to curate for you a short list of presentations by some of the leaders in the field who will be presenting in San Diego. Our list of "Big Draws" was selected based upon projected session attendance, topics, and citation indices. This list should come in handy as you prepare your travel justifications to attend the meeting. The list is arranged by presentation date.

 

Industry Networking Event

The ACS Committee on Corporation Associates, the Polymer Division's Industry Advisory Board, and ACS Industry Member Programs are teaming up to bring you an Industry Networking Event. This industry-only networking reception will held the evening of Monday, March 14th, during the ACS 2016 National Meeting in San Diego, CA. 

This is your chance to network with colleagues in the industry. By filling out this RSVP form, you will be added to our list to receive an invitation with official details. 

 

          RSVP NOW!

 

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

 

Other Industry-Related Symposia & Events

 

New Reality of the Chemical Enterprise:

Traditional and Non-traditional Career Paths

251st ACS National Meeting • San Diego, CA

Monday – Tuesday, March 14 – 15, 2016 • 8:30 AM

Sponsored by the ACS Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Division

 

ATTEND THIS SYMPOSIUM TO LEARN:

■ Alternate career paths available to chemistry professionals.

■ Strategies for _ nding employment in the chemistry _ elds.

■ Ways to think ‘out of the box’ when planning your educational and career paths.

■ How to become an entrepreneur and start your own business.

 

PRESENTATIONS INCLUDE:

■ Zeroing in on opportunities: Common job titles for

  1. B.S.-level chemists

■ Discovering chemistry careers outside the lab

■ The path to success in the chemical industry for

  1. B.S.-level chemists

■ Keys to career advancement using your bachelor’s degree

■ Regulatory careers

■ How to make career Transitions

■ Food, and pharma career options for

  1. B.S. chemists

■ How to embrace change in the workplace

■ Building a distillery from scratch

■ Student Q&A Session with Panelists

■ AND MUCH MORE!

 

 

ACS on Campus Event

251st ACS National Meeting, San Diego

“Careers in Chemistry” Panel Discussion

 

ACS on Campus, an initiative of the American Chemical Society dedicated to helping students, postdocs, and faculty members advance in their careers, will host an event on Monday, March 14th at the 251st ACS National Meeting.

 

The Opportunity: ACS on Campus will host a panel discussion on careers in chemistry. We are looking for 3-4 panelists to participate and talk about the different career opportunities available to undergraduate and graduate students in life after graduation. During the hour and 15 minute panel, you will have the opportunity to address an audience of chemistry students who are preparing to enter the workforce. The main objective is for students to leave the event with a better understanding of the current professional landscape in chemistry and confidence to pursue their career aspirations after graduation.

 

Panel, Date and Time: March 14th, 1:45-3:00 pm

Location: San Diego Convention Center, Room 15B

Audience: Graduate and Undergraduate Chemistry Students

 

If you are interested in participating on the ACS on Campus “Careers in Chemistry” panel, please contact Shannon O’Reilly at s_oreilly@acs.org.

Many scientists relate chemistry to arts. Some to cooking. But to Wendy Young, drawing chemical structures and synthesizing new compounds is like speaking a unique language.

 

“Being able to speak this chemical language with other chemists feels, to me, like being part of a special club,” says Young.

 

And Young loves being in the club, even when she is faced with enormous challenges.

 

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A chemically wired brain

Growing up in South Salem, New York, Young was surrounded by STEM enthusiastic family members. She naturally fell in love with math and science at a young age. In high school she frequently competed in math and science contests, and won many awards, including the New York Math League Finalist Award and the New York State Scholarship for Academic Excellence.

 

After graduating from high school, Young went to Wake Forest University to pursue her interests in science as well as music – her musical talent won her a scholarship. In the beginning she was taking both music and science courses, but soon decided to focus on science and kept music as a hobby.

 

“My brain is just wired to connect the dots and put the pieces together in chemistry,” Young recalls her decision. So much so that even reading music notes in spatial arrangements appeared scientific to her.

 

A solid start

The second year at Wake Forest, an organic chemistry course taught by Professor Huw M. L. Davies exposed Young to organic chemical research. It started with a practical decision. The university at the time just started a graduate program in chemistry and was trying to attract more students to research. Young’s initial plan was to participate in an accelerated bachelor’s/master’s degrees program and use the compensation to help pay for college tuition. Her ultimate goal at the time was to attend medical school after the research program. But she soon changed her mind about her career path.

 

“I ended up being totally engrossed in the organic synthesis research and realizing it could be a challenging yet rewarding career,” Young recalls one of her most important career decisions.

 

Her drive, positive attitude, and aptitude for chemical research showed. And Davies, Young’s advisor, noticed.

 

“Wendy stood out because she had such a positive attitude about everything she did,” Davies comments. “She started a very significant program for my group, a reaction between vinylcarbenes and pyrroles to make tropanes, which continued to be very productive for many years after she left.”

 

Young credits Davies for her solid start in the field. “He was a fantastic mentor, and was incredibly patient and encouraging,” Young remembers. And “I owe a lot to him for having gotten me off to such a solid start.”

 

Gaining experience and honing skills

After graduating from Wake Forest University, Young entered a PhD program at Princeton University, studying drug design and development under Professor Edward Taylor’s guidance. It was in Taylor’s lab, Young started to experience the real challenges as well as rewards associated with drug discovery.

 

Taylor’s group at the time was working with Eli Lilly to develop anti-cancer drugs. As part of the drug discovery team, Young collaborated with industry chemists at Lilly, designed and synthesized multiple novel folate-derived anti-cancer agents. Her dissertation, titled “Design and Synthesis of Folate Analogs as Anti-Tumor Agents,” won the prestigious H.W. Dodds-Princeton University Honorific Fellowship award. And the collaboration between Taylor’s team and Eli Lilly eventually led to the invention and launch of Alimta®, one of the most effective chemotherapy drugs for the treatment of lung cancer and mesothelioma.

 

The research experience, along with the amazing outcome of the collaboration between Taylor’s drug discovery team and Lilly, further spurred Young’s interest in chemical research.

 

After graduating from Princeton University in 1993, Young received two years of postdoctoral training in Professor Samuel Danishefsky’s group at Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital, where she was part of the team that successfully completed the total synthesis of taxol® in early 1995.

 

“It was a heroic effort of many people that really strengthened my passion for solving tough chemical problems,” Young recalls her experience at Danishefsky’s lab.

 

Today Danishefsky still vividly remembers Young’s contribution to his lab, how her courage, technical and leadership skills helped overcome the major obstacles associated with the taxol synthesis project. “She is absolutely outstanding,” says Danishefsky. 

 

A stellar career path

After completing her postdoctoral training, Young wanted to do something different. While most of her colleagues were joining large pharmaceutical companies on the East coast, Young decided to go west and join the burgeoning biotech industry – another key decision Young believes has worked out in her favor. In 1995, Young landed her first biotech job at Celera Genomics (formerly Axys Pharmaceuticals), and started to make marks in the biotech industry.

 

At Celera, Young worked on the discovery of protease and kinase inhibitors, and explored their potential therapeutic applications in a variety of clinical indications. As the project team leader for the factor VIIa program, she and her team overcame many obstacles and successfully moved their products into clinical trials for both oncology and thrombotic indications.

 

Drawn by Genentech’s great reputation in the biotech industry, Young joined the company in 2006 as an associate director of medicinal chemistry. Since then, she has played a significant role in building and growing the company’s small molecule drug discovery unit. Under her leadership, her teams have discovered more than 17 clinical candidates.

 

With her noticeable achievements, Young’s career flourished and her responsibilities increased. As a vice president for discovery chemistry at Genentech, today Young oversees multiple drug discovery projects, and manages 110 internal chemists and many more external full-time contract employees.

 

Perseverance pays off

But it wasn’t all easy.

 

“Drug discovery and development is extremely challenging,” Young admits. “There are a lot of failures before you hit on success.” To succeed in the field, Young believes perseverance is a must.

 

At Genentech, Young is well known for her leadership on multiple projects, especially the one on small molecule kinase inhibitors, where her determination and perseverance paid off.

 

At the time, Young was the team lead of the project. Competition in the area was tense, and obstacles abound. Some colleagues understandably doubted the odds of success of the project. But Young believed in the project, and she refused to give up. For 8 years, she championed the project and tackled the challenges with her team. After much hard work, the team eventually solved the core problems and developed a promising product accordingly. The product is currently in clinical development, and has shown potential for medical as well as commercial successes.

 

Davies, Young’s undergraduate advisor, is not surprised to see Young’s success.

 

“I am not surprised to see her being a vice president of discovery chemistry at Genentech because even as an undergraduate she was driven and had great leadership potential,” Davies notes.

 

 

Focusing on what really matters

To succeed, Young believes one needs to have achievements. But to achieve, one must stay focused.

 

“Every day I aim to focus on what really matters,” Young says. And to her, what really matters is “our programs, our people and the patients we are aiming to serve.” 

 

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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.

A couple of recent articles in the New York Times attracted my attention, particularly given the base business of my former employer, Occidental Petroleum.  “Oil Patch Deals With New Threat: Rising Debt” appeared February 10.  “This Time Cheaper Oil Does Little For US Economy” appeared January 21.

 

Given numerous advances, non-traditional oil recovery methods, including hydraulic fracturing, became more economically attractive in recent years, and with oil prices around $100/barrel, they were quite profitable.  While individual company, country and technology costs differ, it still takes an investment of millions of dollars to drill a well, and all-in costs are in the $30-$60/bbl range.  If you’re selling for $100/bbl, that looks like a good bet.  Consequently, that price drew lots of production, with companies large and small investing and drilling.

 

So, where did the investment money come from?  Most of it was borrowed—from traditional sources like banks and non-traditional sources like hedge funds.  The amounts are kind of staggering.  Yahoo Finance reported that the total secured and unsecured debt of oil producers—not including Exxon and Chevron—was more than $200 billion.

 

As Warren Buffett once said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.” And when oil is sub-$30/bbl, the tide is certainly out.  Smaller companies in this business became highly leveraged in order to take advantage of the boom. At a point where they will be losing money, their liquidity and ability to service loans is highly compromised and they go bankrupt, sticking lenders with a loss.  You may have heard of something like this before.

 

Now, while there has been a lot of cost-cutting, it is highly unlikely that shale oil--unconventional oil produced after hydraulically fracturing oil-bearing shale formations--can be recovered and profitable at current prices.  Oilprice.com reports that 42 exploration and production companies filed for bankruptcy in 2015; the Times quotes an industry analyst as saying that 150 companies are at risk.  Companies as big as Chesapeake are looking to restructure billions of dollars in debt. For those who have cash, there are assets to be had, and there have been at least some sales.  In the Times article from February 10, there is a discussion of one company essentially selling itself off to pay its debt.

 

How did this happen in a world where not too long ago people were predicting $200/bbl oil?  Two words: Supply and Demand.  Perhaps the biggest new supply in the game is US shale oil. US production in 2015 had grown nearly 50% since 2008, and more is coming.  At the same time, global demand has been pretty flat, and inventories have been increasing.  It was just a matter of time before the price responded in the second half of 2014.

 

The reason things have become so dire in the just the past six months has to do with the way commodities are hedged.  Let’s say you’re an airline company and fuel is a huge part of your costs.  Now, let’s say you value stability and price increases ruin your earnings story for Wall Street.  You might take out a contract to buy oil for the next year at the current price.  Both you and the supplier both get stability.

 

Now, if—as has been the case for the last 18 months or so—prices fall abruptly and you’re the airline, your quest for stability netted you higher prices than you would have enjoyed on the spot market.  You bet wrong. 

 

But if you are the oil company, the supplier, you get a reprieve from the price decline.  Oil company profitability stayed reasonable until the fall of last year when one-year hedges at the last of the high prices expired and companies were forced to sell at market price.  Or, said another way, when the tide went out.

 

The reason you care about this? Look back at the article about why cheaper oil hasn’t helped the economy.  In the past, lower oil prices looked like a tax cut to consumers because all of a sudden we weren’t paying so much to foreign countries who supplied us 60% of our needs.  But now, when we import only 27% of our needs, that tax cut for one sector inflicts huge pain on another sector and the whole thing literally nets to about zero. Oil and oil related stock prices go down.  Capital expenditures in the oil business and everyone who supplies them have all but dried up.  Boom towns in North Dakota became much quieter overnight, and nearly 100,000 jobs have been lost.

 

While this situation won’t change in the very short term, it is true that non-traditional production acts like swing production. It can be turned on when prices are high, and yet, it is still relatively easy to shut down when prices are low.  But the traditional production world plays an enormous game of chicken: no one wants to unilaterally disarm, which is why the Saudis have been adamant about maintaining production.  Many oil producing countries need an oil price near$100/bbl to fund the social initiatives they have put into place.  And it will probably take a demand increase to snug prices back up to something higher than the current rock bottom.

 

…Which is why the oil business is rooting for the Chinese economy.

 

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William F. Carroll, Jr. holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.  He received an M.S. from Tulane University in New Orleans, and a B.A. in chemistry and physics from DePauw University in Greencastle, IN. He holds two patents, and has over sixty-five publications in the fields of organic electrochemistry, polymer chemistry, combustion chemistry, incineration and plastics recycling.

Today’s dark clouds could have a silver lining for the US petchem and polymer industry.

 

The commodities “bubble” and China’s economic downturn have become front page news since my warning last September.  Oil prices have now returned to $30/bbl and as I warned then, this will have very serious consequences for the US petrochemical industry.

 

Companies have so far committed $155 billion to new investments in petrochemical and polymer capacity, based on the twin myths that:

 

  • Oil would always sell at a premium to its energy equivalent value versus natural gas
  • China was becoming “middle class” by Western standards, and needed vast quantities of polymer imports to satisfy demand

 

But there was never any rational reason why oil should sell at a premium to natural gas.  And official data shows that China’s average 2015 disposable incomes were just $5000 in the urban areas, and less than $2000 in rural areas – far below the US poverty line.

 

So what is to be done, now that these myths have been exposed?  Hopefully, those plants planned for 2019 onwards will now be cancelled.  Unfortunately, it is probably too late to stop construction of all the new plants that have been sanctioned, as some of the major investments are due to come online next year.

 

This means the industry now has to tackle the problem of what to do with this 40% increase in US ethylene capacity.  US demand has been flat for a decade, so where will it all go, now that China’s demand growth has stalled?

 

There is only one option for companies.  They will have to make major changes in their business models and develop new markets for their products.  And they will have to do this immediately.  Time is not on their side, with all the new capacity about to come online.

 

The good news is that opportunities do now exist for new sales to be made in large volumes.  Even better is the fact that the US itself could be a key market for much of the new volumes about to be produced.   Water and food crises are both in the top 5 listing in the new Global Risks report from the World Economic Forum.  The need for new thinking is clear, as is the opportunity for the US plastics industry.

 

current_usdm.png

 

Think “out-of-the-box” for a moment about the key challenges facing the US?  What comes to mind?  Drought is probably one of the first ideas.  The US General Accounting Office warns that 40 states will suffer droughts over the next 10 years.  And the chart above from the US Drought Portal shows the major problem areas today.

 

What has over-capacity in ethylene production to do with all this, you might ask? Everything.

 

Ethylene is the raw material used for both polyethylene (PE) and for PVC – both of which have potentially major roles to play in both conserving existing water supplies, and in reducing the volume of water used in critical applications such as agriculture:

 

  • The US currently loses around 30% of all the water produced by the utilities – PVC and PE pipes could have a major role in reducing these losses.  A CIRES study suggests that 1 in 10 US watersheds are stressed, with demand for water outpacing supply.
  • California’s agricultural sector, the largest in the US, has been hit by a 5-year drought – a more widespread use of PE-based drip-feed irrigation systems could have a major impact in helping farmers adjust to lower water availability.

 

And there are plenty of other opportunities. Water loss is not just a US problem, nor is the need for better irrigation systems.

 

Of course, this new business model will increase costs.  Companies will have to recruit techno-commercial teams to go out into the market and talk to customers, to discover exactly what could be done.  They will also have to recruit R&D teams to develop the new product grades that will likely be needed.   But what is the alternative?

 

The collapse of oil prices and China’s economic downturn are unlikely to reverse in the near future.  And the good news about low energy costs is that it will help to make plastics such as PE and PVC more affordable.  So there is more chance of being able to develop the major new markets that will be needed to absorb all the new production, and of course, it is potentially good news for many ACS members, who may find their skills and expertise in strong demand once more.

 

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Paul Hodges is chairman of International eChem (www.iec.eu.com), 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.

 

 

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A few weeks ago, Josh Kurutz posed a question in response to Jeff Seale’s article: How do we go about effectively communicating about science without inspiring fear?  I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately, how the unknown can inspire us or make us cover our eyes.  I’ve been thinking about fear because of a television show’s recent return.  I am talking about The X-Files.

 

For those that don’t know, the show involved two FBI agents investigating the paranormal.  Fox “Spooky” Mulder was the seminal conspiracy theory nut at the bureau, and his foil Dana Scully was the physics-major-turned-forensic-pathologist assigned to the X-Files to disprove Mulder’s half-baked ideas.  Though there was an overarching plot, most episodes could be described as having a “monster of the week” structure:

 

  1. The monster is revealed to the audience.
  2. Scully & Mulder investigate the strange phenomena.
  3. Scully posits a logical explanation.
  4. The monster is revealed to Scully & Mulder thereby disproving the logical explanation.
  5. Corroborating evidence of the monster’s existence is inexplicably destroyed before Scully & Mulder can submit a final report to their supervisors.

 

This being the most common of the show’s episodic structures means that the better part of the show’s existence was dedicated to showing off monsters followed by another 40 minutes of pounding home to the audience that the monster was real.  Science and rational thought were allowed their rebuttal halfway through each episode, but only so that the inherent truth (from the show’s perspective) could shine through: monsters will always triumph over rational thought.

 

Occasionally, the show would take a different approach (in fact, one of the new episodes is an excellent example).  Instead of presenting the monster as an adversary lurking in the shadows, the monster would reveal itself to the FBI agents and seek their help so that together they might overcome some other obstacle (extra-government organizations, mad scientists, alien bounty hunters, etc.).  Once this relationship was established, the monster would be transformed from a “monster” into a “Regular Joe” just trying to get by in the world.

 

By now many of you are wondering what any of this has to do with industrial chemistry, and I’d like to thank you for your patience in making it this far.

 

I believe most scientists if asked “Who from the X-Files do you most identify with?” would answer Agent Dana Scully.  Historically speaking, her character has been credited with a surge in women enrolling in STEM programs in the 1990’s and 2000’s (you can google “the Scully effect” if you want to know more about that).  While we all would love to be perceived as impossibly well-rounded pragmatists, there are some who would rather write chemists into a different role: the monster.

 

Let’s be clear.  You are not a monster and the work that you do is not abominable.  Nor is it “a triumph over rational thought,” to quote myself above.  In reality, the work of industrial chemists is a triumph of rational thought.  It is the dispersion of the possible; it is a test of limits we believed to be true; it is a great number of things.  When you think about it, your work really is…an X-File.

 

There’s been a lot of talk lately among the Industry Member Programs team about the public perception of chemistry. There is a lot of concern that the public views the chemical industry in a negative light. What can we do to change this perception—to make them better understand just what it is that chemists do?

 

Let’s start with what not to do! As satisfying as it is to instantly launch the debate-ending authoritative final word on a subject in 140 characters, don’t believe the lie! Social media, while a powerful communication tool, is not a magic bullet.  Mulder and Scully might be able to close cases in 42 minutes plus commercials—but that’s science fiction.  In the real world, it takes much longer to change hearts and minds.

 

Changing public perception requires thoughtful positioning and no sudden movements.  It is important to not only frame your message properly, but also to direct it at the right audience.  Remember that your goal isn’t to “shut down the X-Files.”  When you talk about chemistry with the public, your real goal is to aid in their investigation of the truth.  You can be an authority without being an authority figure.

 

Maybe you think that there’s nothing that you can do—your company has a P.R. department and that’s their job, not yours.  In some cases, that might be true, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.  Maybe your company already has an outreach program that you can get involved with or maybe your company has been waiting for an individual like you to start the program.  If not within your own company, ACS offers plenty of opportunities for you to get involved with your community.  Real messages delivered by real people are more likely to be perceived as true than messages delivered on behalf of a faceless corporation.

 

The public has a fear of the unknown, but like Mulder, they “want to believe.”  Unfortunately, they aren’t always going to seek out their own answers (we aren’t all scientists).  When Scully and Mulder’s monsters remained in the shadows, they were seen as predators.  If you want to change the public perception, you have to put the science out into the light and give them something to believe in.

 

If you give the public the resources they need, they will solve the case, but if you try to close down communication lines, don’t take time with your message, and choose the wrong audience, you’ll give the public an excuse to trust no one.  If you treat people with respect and gain their trust, a grassroots campaign, while taking more time, can have more impact than you believe.

 

As my title states, the truth is what you put out there.

 

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Nathaniel Janick works with Industry Member Programs at the American Chemical Society.

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Chemistry and politics again collided.  On January 16, President Obama declared that an emergency exists in the State of Michigan, the city of Flint to be exact.[1] He authorized the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide disaster relief efforts.  FEMA, a group associated with hurricanes Katrina and Sandy relief efforts, was not in Michigan dealing with a natural disaster. Obama stopped short of a disaster declaration because the emergency is man-made.  National Guard troops are on the ground in Flint.  They are not battling the elements.  They are not keeping the peace.  They are handing out water.

 

Flint is in crisis because of chemistry, or more exactly, a lack of knowledge of chemistry.  I live near Flint but well outside the emergency zone. Anyone not connected to the Flint municipal water supply is out of the zone.  The Flint municipal water supply was turned into a lead delivery system.  It was no act of terrorism.  It was an act of ineptitude made possible by thinking that rules of law are more important than rules of nature.

 

Flint, by all accounts, has seen better days.  Michael Moore shone a light on Flint in his 1989 documentary, Roger and Me.  Things haven’t gotten a lot better in Flint since then.  Flint’s finances are in tough shape, so tough that it stopped purchasing water from the Detroit water system, its water source for half a century.[2]  Flint was disconnected from Detroit and began taking water from the Flint River.  The Flint River is a dark and muddy river, a far cry from the sources of clear lake water used by Detroit.  It is not, however, a lead contaminated river.

 

The lead creating the crisis is not in the river; it is in the pipes, old pipes dating to a time when lead solders were the norm.  The source of the lead is the chemistry occurring in the water pipes.  A small change in water chemistry made the lead mobile. Elevated lead levels are being measured both in the water and in the blood of Flint residents.  Lead contamination is clearly due to the switch from the Detroit water to the Flint River.

 

The Detroit system adds ppm levels of phosphate to the water as a corrosion inhibitor.  Phosphate for corrosion inhibition is not new science. I found a reference that dates back to the mid-1800s.[3]  Phosphate forms a corrosion resistant coating on copper and lead, but the coating is reversible.[4]  Systems must continually feed phosphate or risk corrosion.  Flint did not add phosphate when it switched to the Flint River water.  Pipes corroded, and lead entered the water, contaminating the entire system.

 

A mistake was made. Emails have come to light that show a clear focus on the law, not the science.[5]  At the foundation was that a switch in water allowed for a six-month determination of correct corrosion control, apparently hinging on whether the change constituted a new system or a new source.  Others have concluded that once corrosion controls were in place, as they were in the Detroit water, they should have never been stopped. [6] Once lead was identified in the water, rather than searching for and implementing solutions to the technical problem, the response was to follow the letter of the regulation and focus on who was to blame.

 

A focus on rules--rather than what the rules seek to accomplish--is shockingly common and is something that I have witnessed during my career.  The R&D safety culture in industry requires that you review your work plan with others in a pre-startup inspection.  In my experience, this is the best way to insure safety in the lab; it requires careful thought prior to attempting something new or different.

 

We have lots of rules in industry. It is said that every safety rule is a response to an event. Someone gets hurt and the system responds by adding a rule written in the form of “thou shalt not….”  Actions allowed are those not explicitly excluded by a rule.

 

Employees, especially young ones, can get bogged down going through safety regulations in an attempt to find an island outside the areas forbidden by rules, an island where operation is possible.  I always hated the tendency to mindlessly go through the rules as a way to determine what can be safely done.  The rules don’t teach how to approach something safely, they only point out what you can’t do, leaving the zone of safe operation to be determined by exception and exclusion. “Thou shalt not use a cell phone while driving” is a rule because accidents occurred.  “Thou shalt not read a book while driving” will become a rule if accidents are observed.  Just because it isn’t a rule today doesn’t mean it is a safe activity.

 

I strongly believe that the correct approach, and the one I observed most often, is to actually think about how the activity you want to perform can be done safely.  Discuss it with others and get them to constructively challenge assumptions.  Boundaries are always being pushed in R&D, so by extension, it is only natural that we would want to venture into an area outside of the rules.  Clearly articulate the dangers, the steps to be taken to minimize them, and then look at the rules to insure compliance. Safety comes from understanding. Safety does not come from obedience to rules without understanding their origin and where they apply.  Making safety the most important goal was forgotten in Flint.

 

Flint may not have been officially declared a disaster, but it is certainly a tragedy.  Those in charge of the city and the water system put residents at risk.  Thousands are suffering for the lack of simple chemical knowledge and adherence to the letter of the law rather than the intent.

 

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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.

 

1. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/16/president-obama-signs-mic higan-emergency-declaration

2. Daisy, Michael, ed.; "Detroit Water and Sewage Department: The First 300 Years", downloaded from http://dwsd.org/downloads_n/about_dwsd/history/complete_history.pdf on 17 January 2016.

3. Greenwood, N.N. and Earnshaw, A.; Chemistry of the Elements, 2nd Edition (Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1997)  ISBN 0- 7506-3365-4, page 520.

4. The Phosphate Forum; "The Use of Phosphates For Potable Water Treatment", file dated 19 January 2007 downloaded from http://orendatech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Potable-Water-Treatment-phospha tes.pdf on 17 January 2016.

5. Smith, Lindsey, "State admits Flint did not follow federal rules designed to keep lead out", Michigan Radio, 18 October 2015, http://michiganradio.org/post/state-admits-flint-did-not-follow-federal-rules-de signed-keep-lead-out-water#stream/0 downloaded on 17 January 2016.

6. Meegan Holland, 24 December 2015 in https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/2695541/Emails-Released-By-Michigan-G overnor-Rick-Snyder.pdf

 

Additional sources:

Brunning, Andy. "Lead in the Water-The Flint Water Crisis." Compound Interest, 25 January 2016. http://www.compoundchem.com/2016/01/25/flint-water/ on 1 February 2016.

 

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An article in the New York Times last week caught my eye.  It described recent actions by the China State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), which is basically the antitrust arm of the government. Last year, SAIC agents stormed the offices of Microsoft, confiscating computers and other records related to its business strategy in the country.  Microsoft was suspected of causing “computer compatibility problems” by not fully disclosing details regarding its operating system and Office applications.

 

Microsoft is not alone as a target.  Qualcomm, Volkswagen and Chrysler also fell afoul of SAIC in 2014.  It takes very little internet digging to find other actions taken by the Chinese government in the past few years against US-based companies. Perhaps the most prominent company targeted was Google, who was ordered to assist the Chinese government in censoring the internet.

 

Google tried to be accommodative without outright censoring, but after five years of adventure, including cyber intrusion into its facilities, in 2010 the company refused to cooperate further.  This, of course, means that access to Google is censored—by someone else.

 

Fortunately the Chinese people were not left without search capability.  A home-grown company called Baidu, which already had significant market share was happy to step into the vacuum.

 

And the Times reports that Dell is now shipping computers to China with a Chinese operating system called NeoKylin.

 

So why am I telling you this in a chemistry-related blog? Because I think there may be ramifications for chemistry-related industry.

 

I started doing business in China in 1986, when it was still relatively unusual to be doing so.  We were licensing PVC resin technology and I had some responsibility for sales as well as implementation.  I learned early on how the deal worked:

 

You bring the technology and some money, and we’ll bring the site and the market.

Then we share.

 

On one level, a fair trade. On another level, a loss of protection of your technology, and at least in those days, no right to take profits out of the country.  This was not just the deal in chemistry, it was the same for everybody, and everybody who was there took the deal.

 

I also felt the regulatory environment was two-tiered.  It seemed to me that the rules on us as a foreign licensor were way more stringent than the rules on our competitors, which were largely government-owned enterprises.  Perhaps this is not a bad thing: to this day the foreign joint ventures have a much better safety record than their competition, and spectacular news events bear that out.

 

What all this speaks to is a strong Chinese government preference for Chinese businesses.  That may not be headline news to you, but it does have ramifications, and seems to me to be accelerating.  The government of Xi Jinping has, since taking over in 2012, become more assertive militarily and more restrictive socially—including restrictions against foreign non-government organizations.  While government purchase preference for indigenous enterprises is no longer the official policy, it was for some time and may well still be an unspoken one.  I don’t believe you compete against Chinese companies, I believe you compete against the entire Chinese team.

 

Ten years ago the driver was the China price.  But China’s become a more expensive place—both on a transactional basis and a “total cost of ownership” basis.  Many industries that can move are moving.  But chemical industries may have large capital or intellectual property investments that don’t move or are difficult to protect and are kind of stuck. If I were in that circumstance, I’d be a little concerned.  Speaking as a frog, I think the water’s getting warmer (if that’s not too oblique). In the New York Times article, Robert B. Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, notes “I think the strategy is basically de-U.S.A.”

 

I don’t know that Atkinson’s statement is totally correct, but it’s hard to argue that the business climate is as welcoming today as it was ten to twenty years ago, and I think it’s an intentional repositioning by the current government.  I loved my time in China; my great-grandfather did business there, and my father was stationed there in World War II.  I have good friends there, and Chinese have been very kind to me personally.  But this isn’t personal.  I think China will be a tougher place to work the next few years, and maybe not the safest place to invest.  According to Atkinson: “This is about business—that’s all it is.”

 

That and a strong preference for the home team.

 

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Dr. William F. Carroll, Jr. holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.  He received an M.S. from Tulane University in New Orleans, and a B.A. in chemistry and physics from DePauw University in Greencastle, IN. He holds two patents, and has over sixty-five publications in the fields of organic electrochemistry, polymer chemistry, combustion chemistry, incineration and plastics recycling.

 

Editor's note: If you're interested in reading more on this topic, check out IndustryWeek's recent article: US Firms Eye China Exit as Conditions Worsen, Survey Says.

The following multi-part blog series was inspired by a conversation among a few friends about scientific communication, the current state of education in science and scientific integrity. To adequately cover such a broad topic, I’ve chosen to break it up into smaller, connected parts.

 

Happy 2016! My New Year's resolution is to finish up what I promised you back in July of last year: to publish a second entry in this blog series.

In the first entry of this series, I discussed scientific integrity and its vital role in changing the atmosphere of mistrust in corporate science. In this post, I’d like to focus on another component critical to improving the perception of corporate science: clear and honest communication with the general public.


As scientists, it is foremost in our training and perhaps even in our nature to obsess over details, for it is in the details where we find the observations that lead us to that “Eureka!” moment (or more likely that “huh?” moment) that can change the world. Yet, when it is time to tell this story, we fail to drop the scientific details and jargon. We further compound this problem by forgetting that most in our audience don’t always have a deep understanding of our field, and we fail to bring the conversation down to an understandable level. When we have the occasion to talk about our science with friends or family, we talk as if we’re giving a seminar or a presentation at a scientific conference. It is little wonder that we are often greeted with blank stares when talking about our work. Those of us who work in industry are faced with the added burden of secrecy in the name of intellectual property. The very nature of much of our work cannot be freely discussed lest we jeopardize the commercial potential of our discoveries. This leads to accusations that we must be hiding something sinister (see part 1 of my series for more on “shills”).

 

If we are to change the perception of corporate science, it is imperative that we change the way we communicate. We must become better storytellers. Humans naturally relate to stories, good stories.

 

A few years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a storytelling workshop. The most shocking thing I learned was that the content of a story is important to only 7% of the audience. What matters most to audiences? The CHARACTER of the presenter; this is what is remembered by 60% of the audience. (That’s related to part one of my blog series, which focused on scientific integrity.)

 

It’s important to note, too, that a significant portion of the audience – 33% - cares most about the actual craft of telling the story – how we tell it.

 

A good story has the following parts:

 

  1. Beginning – context is given, characters are set.
  2. Conflict – without this, there is no story.
  3. Struggle – what will I do?
  4. Victory – literal or figurative.
  5. Resolution – something has changed.

 

When you think about recent incidents involving the most vocal anti-science advocates, you can see they are good storytellers. People opposed to vaccination caused great harm by using pseudoscience to pull at the heartstrings of moms. They gain credibility with their target audience by making an emotional connection through the parents’ concern for their children. Many in the anti-genetically modified organisms (GMO) movement have used the same connections between mothers and their children. They played to parents’ concern over child nutrition and health to advance a pseudoscience agenda. After gaining the trust of the like-minded parents, they legitimize the struggle over the safety of their children, and present a path for victory against the corporations out to harm their children or control their food choices. Anti-science advocates craft GREAT, albeit scientifically incorrect, stories.

 

We lose the battle when we try to counteract their great stories with what amounts to nothing more than a technical seminar or a conference presentation. We MUST learn to craft great stories about our science, on a level the general public can easily understand if we want to change the public discourse about science.

 

Of course, these great stories make the biggest impact when presented to a scientifically literate audience, yet another major challenge. Promoting scientific literacy will be the focus of the final part of this series.

 

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Jeff Seale is a Science Fellow at Monsanto where he has worked for 18 years building world-class protein engineering platforms and developing the next generation of science leaders. Outside of work he enjoys watching his children's artistic and athletic endeavors, sailing with friends and working to end extreme global poverty with the ONE Campaign. (The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Monsanto.)

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ACS Webinars is kicking off the new year by teaming up with Industry Member Programs and C&EN to bring you the 2016 Materials Science Series.  The series will highlight the innovations in materials science that are changing the landscape of the industry and reshaping the way that we interact with the world.  The series starts on Thursday, January 14, broadcast LIVE from 2-3pm EST, with Timothy Gross, the primary inventor of Corning ® Gorilla® Glass 4, and new webinars will debut on the first Thursday of every month.

 

In the first webinar of the series, Making the Glass of Tomorrow, Timothy Gross will explain the chemistry that made Corning the number one name in glass for portable electronics. You will learn the basics of glass chemistry and ion-exchange strengthening as well as the damage resistance of ion-exchanged Corning ® Gorilla® Glass in terms of fracture mechanics.

 

Industry Member Programs will be identifying the trendsetting chemists in the materials science industry to be presenters in the series, and we will enhance the discussion through our Industry Voices blog. C&EN will be supplementing each webinar through a curation of related C&EN articles with their “Dig Deeper with C&EN” feature.

 

The Materials Science Series will be broken up into four thematic modules:

  • The Chemistry of Hello
  • The Chemistry of Go
  • The Chemistry of Comfort
  • The Chemistry of Life

 

The Chemistry of Hello, the first module in the series, will focus on the technological advancements that have transformed mobile communication from science fiction into tools that have become indispensable in our everyday lives.  Following the first webinar in the series, Making the Glass of Tomorrow, Tobin Marks will present a webinar focused on transparent electronics circuitry, and the module will conclude with a presentation on the science behind lithium-ion batteries.

 

Later in the year, the Chemistry of Go will look at the materials science behind transportation. The Chemistry of Comfort will examine technologies that keep us cozy.  Closing out the Materials Science Series, the Chemistry of Life will focus on materials science applications that have improved human health.

 

Registration is now open for The Chemistry of Hello, and check out the ACS Webinars website for more information about upcoming webinars in the series as well as the rest of their exciting programming.  Keep following the Industry Voices blog for additional coverage.

Today’s low oil prices ought to be a major boon to the global chemical industry.  They mean that consumers have more discretionary income to spend on our products, as they reduce heating and transport costs for consumers. They also helpfully destroy the myth that claimed oil was always going to be priced above its relative energy value to gas.  As I argued in my first ACS post back in February and in the Chemistry and the Economy webinars, this was never a realistic scenario.

 

But every silver lining has a cloud.  And in this case, the cloud is the negative impact of these lower prices on the renewable energy industry and green chemistry.  Will this mean the current, albeit halting, process towards a more sustainable future will be thrown off course?  What will become of the new agreements only recently reached in Paris at the COP 21 Conference after so much effort?

 

I think the key is to look forward, not back, and create new business models that prioritise affordability alongside sustainability.  In turn, this will enable us to take a long hard look at current technologies to determine which will have a realistic future. We can all accept that early-stage development is going to be expensive, but given that, which of today’s proposed  solutions really have the potential to deliver technologies and products at a price that the broad mass of people can afford?


This question challenges us to think ‘outside of the box’. Could the best solutions stem from conservation and efficiency? Could ExxonMobil be right, for example, when it argued that the most important ‘fuel’ of all, will be energy saved through fuel efficiency,“ and went on to suggest “that efficiency gains of about 300 quadrillion Btu a year can be achieved by 2030, equal to twice the growth in energy demand over the period. 

 

One of the disappointing trends of recent years, for me at least, has been the relative loss of focus on energy conservation.  Initiatives in this area drove major efficiency gains during the last period of high oil prices in the 1973 – 1985 period, with insulation becoming a top priority.  But whilst government has driven change in some key areas, such as auto fuel efficiency, the general public does not seem to have embraced the opportunity to conserve energy as they did in the past.

 

The chemical industry has also not taken the lead in the way I would have expected. New data from the American Chemistry Council shows that the metals and glass industries have actually regained market share over plastics in the battle to reduce the weight of cars.  As the chart below shows, the gains plastics made before 2009 have mostly been lost.  Competitor industries have clearly done a much better job of understanding auto manufacturer needs and creating new products such as Gorilla Glass and lightweight steel to meet them.

 

plastics.png


What can be done to reverse these trends?  Must we rely on people such as Bill Gates to carry the flag for innovation in this critical area?  Much to my surprise, I discovered from an interview in the New York Times that he was the person prodding the climate change conference to put energy innovation on their agenda, commenting: “Honestly, I’ve been a bit surprised that the climate talks historically haven’t had R&D on the agenda in any way, shape or form.”

 

The good news is that the COP 21 talks reached an agreement.  And thanks to Bill Gates’s leadership, there is money available to help develop the affordable solutions that will be needed to reach the targets set. But from our industry’s vantage point, what are the most viable solutions? 

 

  • Should they be product oriented and, if so, which renewables can become competitive on a global or regional scale to reduce carbon footprints? 
  • Should they relate to energy storage - better batteries, smart grids, or more efficient transmission systems? 
  • Could they involve new ways of working – reducing energy use by nudging people to reduce costs and usage?

 

These are just a few of the questions and possible solutions running through my mind at the moment. What are yours? Could we develop an innovation forum to brainstorm about some of these concepts?  And could we then find a way of leading proposed solutions into practical development, perhaps via our own employers or the American Chemical Society?

 

These issues are simply too important to be ignored.  And collectively, as members of ACS, we must have more than enough brainpower and practical skills to turn ideas into action.  Maybe Bill Gates would be keen to hear from us, if we could put together credible business cases. 

 

Please give me your thoughts below in the comments box, and let’s see what we can come up with over the holiday season.  Thanks!


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Paul Hodges is chairman of International eChem (www.iec.eu.com), 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.