National Academies Press: OpenBook

Opportunities in Chemistry (1985)

Chapter: I. Introduction

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Suggested Citation:"I. Introduction." National Research Council. 1985. Opportunities in Chemistry. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/606.
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Suggested Citation:"I. Introduction." National Research Council. 1985. Opportunities in Chemistry. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/606.
Page 4
Suggested Citation:"I. Introduction." National Research Council. 1985. Opportunities in Chemistry. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/606.
Page 5

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CHAPTER I Introduction Two decades have passed since the publication of NRC Report 1292, Chem- istry: Opportunity and Needs, edited by Frank H. Westheimer. The frontiers that it envisaged in 1965 have indeed fulfilled their promise, and almost all of the report's optimistic expectations have been realized. In fact, the advances have been so rapid and so penetrating that the structure of chemistry and its interactions with contiguous disciplines have qualitatively changed. Physics has provided a panoply of powerful diagnostic tools that extend the experimen- tal horizons of chemistry. Chemical theory has advanced to full partnership in the discipline, substantially aided by the revolutionary advances made by computer scientists. Molecular biology has made remarkable progress in its elucidation of life processes and has placed before chemistry challenging problems that require explication at the molecular level. Hence it is timely for a new assessment of the status of chemistry, the opportunities that can be seen ahead, and the resources needed to pursue them. This report presents that assessment. Chemistry is a central science that provides fundamental understanding needed to deal with many of society's needs. It is a critical component in man's attempt to feed the world population, to tap new sources of energy, to clothe and house humankind, to provide renewable substitutes for dwindling or scarce materials, to improve health and conquer disease, to strengthen our national security, and to monitor and protect our environment. Basic research in chemistry will help future generations to cope with their evolving needs and unanticipated problems. Because of this responsiveness to human needs, chemistry has become a crucial element in the nation's economic well-being. The U.S. Chemicals and Allied Products industry employs more than a million people, makes annual manufacturing shipments totalling about $175 billion, and, currently, displays a $12 billion positive international balance of trade, second highest of all commodity groups. Our competitiveness in a range of international markets depends upon maintaining our present position of leadership in the chemical 3

4 INTRODUCTION sciences. There is no area of basic science that offers a more secure investment in the nation's future. Finally, our culture embraces the premise that learning about ourselves and our environment is an ample basis for encouraging scientific inquiry. Chemistry contributes substantially to this cultural enrichment. For example, nothing preoccupies humans more than questions about the nature of life and how to preserve it. Because all life processes are manifestations of chemical changes, understanding chemical reactivity is a requisite foundation for our ultimate understanding of life. Thus, chemistry, along with biology, contributes to human knowledge in areas of universal philosophical significance. Fortunately, we find ourselves in a time of special opportunity for advances on all these fronts. The opportunity derives from our developing ability to probe and understand the elemental steps of chemical change and, at the same time, to deal with extreme molecular complexity. Progress is epitomized by the striking fact that the number of new compounds continues to increase at a rate that is faster than exponential. Powerful instrumental techniques furnish a crucial dimension. They account for the recent acceleration of progress that now promises especially high return from the investment of additional resources in the field of chemistry. it, 8,ooo,ooo o £ 6 ooo ooo A 4 coo OOO a Z 2,ooo,ooO Of I ~ ~ ~ ~ I 900 1 950 2000 - tn o ~ 6.8 o o o A o o Doub I ing Time a,,,, 6.6 _ _ ,............ _ _ ~ (:. ..: .. . 62 _ ~ . Am''' "2-'1 l ~ . . . . .1 . . . . . .. 1 940 1 960 1 980 Year FASTER THAN EXPONENTIAL GROWTH IN CHEMICAL KNOWLEDGE It will be helpful to describe here the organization of this report. Following this introductory chapter, an Executive Summary of the report makes up Chapter IT. Each of the three Chapters Ill, IV, and V begins with three sections, A, B. and C, that focus on chemistry's responses to society's needs. Several of these sections are introduced, in turn, by a one-page vignette that presents in nontechnical language a case history illustrating chemistry's usefulness. The section then describes recent important accomplishments and identifies poten-

INTRODUCTION tialities for the future. The potentialities stem from intellectual opportunities and opening research frontiers that are described in a Section D, where the vocabulary must sometimes be pitched at a more technical level than that used elsewhere in the report. Most of the frontiers depend upon sophisticated and expensive instrumentation that is described in a Section E, which highlights trends in instrument capabilities that account for chemistry's accelerating progress. The trends are usually accompanied by escalation in cost caused by the increasing complexity and capability of the equipment; this escalation is quantitatively evaluated. Chapter Vl addresses issues of manpower and educa- tion and concerns itself primarily with factors that determine the effectiveness of doctoral education. Then, Chapter VIT assesses the resources needed if the United States is to maintain a position of international leadership in chemistry. The assessment finds current funding levels inadequate to secure the substan- tial societal benefits to be derived from such leadership. The current federal investment in chemical research is still historically rooted in a funding pattern appropriate to a test-tube and Bunsen burner era, an era long since eclipsed. The sophistication of a modern chemistry laboratory requires a much more vigorous and sustained financial commitment of both capital and supporting services. The cost is miniscule when weighed against the potential returns. We must encourage a scientific field brimming with opportu- nities for discovery that will advance human knowledge and strengthen the underpinnings of a critical industry, and we must attract a substantial share of our brightest young scientists to this rewarding task. This report presents a program that can accomplish these goals. 5

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Opportunities in Chemistry is based on the contributions of hundreds of American chemists in academia and industry and should be taken as the best available consensus of the chemical community regarding its intellectual frontiers and the economic opportunities that lie beyond them," says Science. This volume addresses the direction in which today's chemical research is heading, including recent developments, technological applications, and the ways advances in chemistry can be used to improve the human condition. In addition, the book examines economic and political implications of chemical research and lists resources for basic research and education in the chemical sciences.

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