As I prepared my poster presentation for the 4th EuCheMS Chemistry Congress in Prague, Czech Republic, I was struck by the large size of my “acknowledgements” section. It contains references to collaborators and instrumental experts without whom I would have had a very difficult time collecting and analyzing my data. It also mentions infrastructure which supports my work – grants, characterization facilities, and chemical societies. I spent a fair amount of the plane ride to Prague reflecting on the fact that my research was made possible by the interconnectedness of the field of chemistry.
Later, at the opening ceremony and first plenary talk of the congress, I was reminded again of the network which exists within chemistry. Several distinguished chemists were given awards for a lifetime of achievements. As these achievements were listed, I thought of all the chemical principles which were discovered or refined by these people, and how much I owed to them – despite not having heard some of their names previously. I suddenly became aware of the relative smallness of my knowledge of the history of chemistry. Truly, I stand on the shoulders of giants, even if I don’t realize it all the time.
After the opening ceremony, I was fortunate to spend some time with Madeleine Jacobs, the Executive Director of the American Chemical Society, and some of her colleagues whose work relates to the publication of chemistry journals. As we talked about alternative careers for chemists, she said that she greatly values those who work in chemistry publishing and journalism. She contended that those employees were chemists, just not at the bench. “They still support the mission of ACS, to improve the quality of human life through the transforming power of chemistry.” I thought about how my research and my career as a chemist are supported by infrastructure and societies such as ACS.
During my undergraduate career, I sometimes felt like I was learning chemistry in a vacuum. I was just one person among thousands, maybe even millions of chemists around the globe learning a very well-established, immobile field. As I grow, however, I am learning about the active and evolving nature of chemistry – how I as a student can impact the science with my research, and how that impact could not be made without the extensive network that I am now a part of. I gratefully acknowledge that my discoveries and successes are only possible because of the people around me: the founders and teachers who came before me, the collaborators who move alongside me, and the societies and infrastructure which support us all.