“A year like no other.” I have heard many people describe 2020 in these terms. Few of us at the beginning of the year imagined our current state of social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sacrifices are real: We are separated from loved ones, we can no longer enjoy “normal” activities, and we largely work remotely, missing those serendipitous hallway encounters that often lead to new ideas and collaborations. Many people have lost their jobs as their workplaces have been shuttered. Most tragically, almost 1.5 million people across the globe have lost their lives due to the virus as I write this column.
Science is at the forefront in dealing with this terrible pandemic. Scientists and engineers are playing an essential role in developing the vaccines and therapeutics needed to prevent and treat COVID-19. The incredible speed at which vaccines have been developed reflect global collaborations between scientists, engineers, medical experts, epidemiologists, and government entities, among others. A sense of optimism is emerging as we anticipate an end to the pandemic through access to effective vaccines in 2021.
Technology continues to play a key role in enabling scientists and engineers to share science since we can no longer meet in person. I was thrilled that almost 5,000 attendees from 99 countries participated in this year’s Green Chemistry & Engineering Virtual Conference in June. The virtual format brought green chemistry to many more attendees than usual because the costs of flights, hotel rooms, and registration fees were no longer a barrier. I sincerely hope that this expansion of the green chemistry community will accelerate the adoption of green and sustainable chemistry across the globe.
The pandemic has also brought a new sense of gratitude. I am grateful that I can effectively do my job from home and that the American Chemical Society has been so supportive of its employees throughout the pandemic. I have tremendous admiration for my colleagues who are juggling work and family responsibilities, and I have enjoyed meeting your spouses, significant others, children, dogs, and cats during our many video calls.
I am grateful for all of you, the green chemistry and engineering community, as you continue to develop greener and cleaner technologies that address the challenges articulated in the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Focused effort and an unprecedented level of collaboration have resulted in the development of COVID-19 vaccines in record time; an equally dedicated and collaborative effort will be required to achieve a sustainable future for the almost eight billion inhabitants of planet Earth.
Difficult days lie ahead, but hope is on the horizon. Please stay safe and remember the 3Ws: Wear your mask, Watch your distance, and Wash your hands. May your holidays be filled with joy as we reflect on the blessings in our lives and anticipate better days ahead in 2021.