Younger Chemists Committee

Serving the Needs of Early Career Chemists

ACS Presidents Column

Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D. 2011 ACS President-Elect

Posted on August 19, 2011 at 4:35 PM


(by Peter Cutts Photography)


I am looking forward with great anticipation to serving as your president in 2012 and I am thrilled to have this opportunity to share with YCC members some important convictions regarding your role and the role of chemical sciences insociety. I invite you to join me so together we can do our best for ACS, for science, and for society. Please contact me directly with your ideas, questions, concerns on all matters related to your professional development and to the welfare of our chemical enterprise. My direct e-mail address is:

For 2012 I have selected the theme: Advancing Chemistry and Communicating Chemistry. It is through research, education, and innovation that we contribute to advancing the chemical sciences. Basic research can greatly increase our understanding of nature, expand frontiers of inquiry, trigger creative waves of invention and innovation, and prompt technological breakthroughs--all to serve society. Chemical scientists can make major contributions to improve the quality of life in society and to advance the human condition around the globe. Chemistry is the key to eradicating disease and reducing poverty. Our research and our technology can provide clean water and nutritious food, meet energy demands, and help lead to sustainable development everywhere. And, just as important, chemists can help society develop the will to improve the quality of life on the planet.

Chemistry brings a wide range of goods and functions to everyone and thus is vital to our democracy. Science literacy is necessary for the democratic process to work. By science literacy I mean an appreciation of science, an understanding of the benefits of technology and the potential rewards and risks associated with advances in both, as well as a recognition of what science is capable of achieving and what it cannot accomplish. Science literacy enlightens and enables people to make informed choices; to be skeptical; to reject shams, quackery, and unproven conjecture; and to avoid being bamboozled into making foolish decisions where matters of science and technology are concerned. Science literacy is foreveryone--chemists, artists, humanists, all professionals, the general public, youth and adults alike. The level of science literacyin any society is a measure of what it values and its resolve to put these values into practice.

Communicating chemistry to fellow scientists and to the world is one of the ACS core functions. The quality and prestige of our publications, including 41 journals, are second to none. The effectiveness of our electronic research tools and databases, the services of Chemical Abstracts Service such as SciFinder, establish the standard for all others. I am committed to advancing all of our information services to broaden the ability of our members to address society’s greatest human challenges.

Communicating the values and role of the chemical sciences to non-specialists is another of our important responsibilities. To me, the goals of communications are to inform, educate, engage, advocate, and persuade. We have experienced various degrees of success with different target audiences, and we must continue to work hard to achieve our goals with each audience. We must reach out to the general public and show that the chemical sciences are a major part of the engines that drives our economy.

For those of you who are Ph.D. students I want to make a specific suggestion. When the time comes to complete your thesis please consider including a chapter in your thesis explaining your research to non-specialists. The goal is to explain your scholarly research and its significance to a wider audience that includes family members, friends, civic and religious groups, print and electronic media reporters, program officers at appropriate funding agencies, state legislators, and members of the U.S. Congress. Please discuss and consult with your thesis advisor and with other students and faculty about the benefits of including such a chapter in the documentation of your scholarly work. For more please visit

I will close by sharing with you two of my major initiatives for 2012 and beyond.

The year 2012 is the Sesquicentennialof the Morrill Land Grant Act. Both public and private institutions have been greatly affected by this Act and have, in turn, contributed to transforming our society. My programming plans for the San Diego and Philadelphia meetings include celebrating this anniversary by publicly affirming the ACS mission and showcasing ACS and chemistry’s contributions to society. One goal is retrospective, by examining the accomplishments of chemistry and contributions of chemists to ourcountry. The more important goal is prospective, by articulating the critical role of ACS as a scientific and educational Society engagedin shaping the future of society as a whole. Be on the lookout for more about this initiative.

Secondly, I will shortly announce the appointment of an ACS Presidential Commission on Graduate Educationin the Chemical Sciences. The main charge to the Commission will be to address the question, “What are the purposes of graduate education in the chemical sciences and what steps should be taken to ensure that they address important societal issues as well as the needs and aspirations of graduate students.” The answers to this question are important in order to make proper and efficient use ofour university and industrial resources, to provide exciting and meaningful careers to those in the chemical sciences, and to provide society with trained and inspired leaders who can improve the human condition.

I have selected highly thoughtful and influential leaders to serve on this Commission and asked them to make recommendations for improvements, and to help in implementing those recommendations. The Commission will discuss concerns that are common to other fields in both the sciences and engineering, and I anticipate that the Commission’s work will not only influence graduate education in the chemical sciences, but in other disciplines as well.

The Commission will report on specific issues and/or hold focus-group discussions with stakeholders such as students, postdocs and younger faculty members. The outcome of the Commission’s deliberations will be the recommendation of coherent strategies for improving graduate education in the chemical sciencesby suggesting choices among viable models that can be adopted by avariety of institutions. Some models will be more appropriate than others for any particular institution. The choice among them and the distribution of these choices will affect research universities, comprehensive universities, graduate students, industry, and fundingagencies, such as NSF, NIH, DOD, DOE, and NIST, as well as private foundations.

If you see me at an ACS meeting or anywhere else, please introduce your self and tell me that you are aproud YCC and ACS member. I thank you, as members of YCC, for joining me, in working together to do what is best for ACS, forscience, and for society.


Bassam Z. Shakhashiri

2011 ACS President-elect

Professor of Chemistry

University of Wisconsin-Madison


August 19, 2011


Categories: ACS Presidents Column