Chemists are concerned with the physical properties of substances. Are they solids, liquids, or gases? How much energy do they contain? Chemists are also concerned with chemical properties. Can they be transformed to other substances on heating or irradiating? What are the detailed mechanisms of these transformations?

Chemical scientists also seek to understand the biological properties of both natural and man-made substances. They strive to understand the molecular basis of life processes. Furthermore, chemical science is integral to all of bioengineering and biotechnology. Biosystems, from molecular assemblies to cells to organisms, require insight from synthetic and physical chemistry as well as analysis of complex chemical networks if they are to be understood and exploited for the benefit of society.

The Beyond the Molecular Frontier report provided a list of “Grand Challenges for Chemists and Chemical Engineers” that highlights modern issues in the chemical sciences. (See Box 2-1.)


Chemists have historically specialized in standard subdivisions: analytical, biochemical, inorganic, organic, physical, and theoretical. Increasingly, the boundaries between areas of chemistry and between chemistry and other disciplines are blurring. While some chemists focus on fundamental problems in core areas, an increasing number of chemists are using multidisciplinary approaches to solve problems at the interfaces with biology, physics, or materials science. For the purposes of this report, chemistry has been divided into 11 areas, most with multiple subareas, to assess the U.S. strength in modern chemistry. (See Box 2-2.) The report from a related benchmarking study of chemical engineering should be seen for more information on the U.S. standing in green chemistry/engineering, sustainability, and energy production.

Academic chemists have traditionally operated as single investigators with a team of graduate students and postdoctoral research associates, but increasingly academic chemists are joining larger multidisciplinary teams that bring together chemists and scientists from other scientific and engineering areas (see Figure 4-1). Partnerships between industrial, university, and government laboratories are becoming more common. International collaborations made possible by improved Internet communications also are becoming more common.

Research in chemistry is often capital intensive and involves increasingly sophisticated instruments and equipment for synthesis, processing, characterization, and analysis. Such equipment ranges from simple labora-

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