prior to its disintegration. Japan emerged as a potent competitor in the 1970s and continues to increase its prominence. Western Europe has always been a major scientific force, and the recent strengthening of science throughout the European Union has increased competition in the past decade. Most recently, there has been very strong growth of science in China and India. A recent article in Science reported that China is heavily funding a few strategic scientific areas, including proteomics and nanotechnology. The United States has recognized that the scientific world is becoming a flatter playing field and that this country will have to increase its efforts to remain competitive.
Industrial competitiveness relies on leadership in science. Increasingly, start-up companies exploit scientific discoveries made at universities with federal support. Technology transfer from universities to industry has been facilitated by the Bayh-Dole Act. New companies are continually being started to exploit innovations from biotechnology and nanoscience; chemists are often crucial players in these discoveries and new ventures. President Bush’s “American Competitiveness Initiative” proposal, which calls for a large increase in support for research in the physical sciences and for science and math education, could have a major impact on the health of chemistry research in the United States.
National Research Council (NRC) reports on the status of chemistry have been important in setting the direction of chemistry in the United States. The 1965 Westheimer report Chemistry: Opportunities and Needs, the 1985 Pimentel report Opportunities in Chemistry, and the 2003 Breslow-Tirrell report Beyond the Molecular Frontier: Challenges for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering have all highlighted opportunities in chemistry and helped explain the need for research in the chemical sciences. The 2007 NRC report Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future explains the national imperative for investment in science.
The process by which research ideas are developed and funded in the United States—our “innovation system,” is another key factor influencing U.S. leadership in chemistry, improving how rapidly and easily ideas can be tested, developed, and extended. The factors that influence the process are discussed below.
Leadership in chemistry research in the United States over the years has been strongly linked with the development of the U.S. chemical industry.