|Sadly, these "scientists" were not|
included in the '98 roundtable
Credit: Universal Pictures
Regular readers recall that Chemjobber and I recently teamed up to bring you two perspectives on the inaugural Organometallics roundtable (2012). Of course, this wasn't the first time wily ACS Editors tried this tactic: check out Chemistry's Golden Age, a panel organized to commemorate the 75th anniversary of C&EN by (not-quite-yet-Editor-in-Chief) Rudy Baum in 1998.
Moderated by blog mainstay Ron Breslow, the distinguished group included heavy hitters from a wide sweep of the field: Allen Bard, Richard Zare, Stephen Lippard, Koji Nakanishi, Robert Langer, and Nobelist Richard Smalley (RIP). (I especially enjoyed seeing the "young whipper-snappers" on the panel: Dan Nocera, Barbera Imperiali, and Jacqueline Barton.)
Since we're only about a decade away from affirming their predictions, I figured we'd peek back to see what yesteryear's chem blogs - no doubt on AOL, Prodigy, or GeoCities - might have covered.
#Chemjobs - Optimism reigned, as you might expect from the biotech boom of the late '90s.
Bard: "I think as long as chemists keep getting jobs, there will be chemistry departments...as long as we can turn out students who can find employment, we'll be okay." Yikes. Anyone else?
Barton: "I predict there will be fewer chemistry departments, but not fewer chemists." Well, don't mention that to CJ or Derek.
Langer: "Some universities have gotten rid of departments, sure. But chemistry? If they're going to get to the point where they're going to get rid of chemistry, that just seems to me like a very long way to go." Reminds me of a funeral procession I saw recently, for a country closing many of its departments...
Energy - Smalley: "Twenty-five years from now the internal combustion engine will be found in museums, battery technology will finally have solved the problem of how we transport electrical power, and fuel cells will be practical devices...We may have solved the problem of cheap solar energy"
I'll agree with the fuel cell argument, but I don't think we've advanced batteries or solar far enough (yet) to mothball our gas-guzzling autos...though Lippard correctly presages the rise of electric cars. Fossil fuels were "hot" topics: Stuart Rice and Bard both favored (pre-Incovenient Truth) investigation of alternate energy sources to combat global warming.
|Young Danial [sic]|
Origin of Life - Dan Nocera, he of water-splitting 'pacman' and 'hangman' catalysts, didn't mention anything about them, but instead placed his chips behind artificial membranes and building functional cells; Zare and Breslow both jumped right on board! Maybe they all hung out with Venter back in the day?
Times-are-a-changin' - The terms "bionic man," "Pentium chip," and "electronic publication" all sneak into the discussion.
Computers - "Unfettered optimism." This panel had grown, published, and worked with computers. They envisioned stunning things ahead.
|"We can rebuild him,|
using a 56K modem and
an Apple IIe!"
Credit: jackm's blog
Theodore Brown: "The combination of combinatorial chemistry and computational methods may lead us to the point where we actually have a library of catalysts designed to do specific things." Uh-huh.
Smalley: "One of my favorite dreams is developing true spectroscopies for individual molecules..." Check.
Publishing - Funny, for computer-literate panelists sponsored by a magazine, group members remained stodgily entrenched in printed paper.
Bard (then Editor of JACS), referred to online papers: "I don't think it is going to be popular among chemists." Imperiali, who must have been plagued by pop-up ads: "The volume of material on the Internet is getting out of control. And the quality control has to go down because of the volume."
Smalley, ever the visionary, really sees what's coming: "In 25 years, we will be getting our journals transmitted directly to a little thing that will feel like a book...I can't imagine waiting for a piece of paper to arrive in Texas before I read it." He would have loved Nooks, Kindles, and iPads.
Bold Move - From Allen Bard, wise words:
"If I have to make a prediction about the future, I would predict that five of the most important things that will be developed in the next 25 years have not been discussed at this table."Truly a statement for all seasons. I've searched the text, and I find no mention of quantum dots, organocatalysis, MOFs, C-H activation, or even the reactions knocking on the Nobel Committee's door: palladium cross-coupling and olefin metathesis. I'll certainly keep this bon mot in mind, so I can conclude future roundtables this way...
Final Thought - You could easily criticize this roundtable for being strongly academia-leaning. The OM collection, though more well-rounded with Dow and DuPont reps, still lacks enough industry involvement. What do the folks in startups, "new energy," or science writers think about the future of our field?
*Readers, do you have recommendations for a different kind of panel?