By comparison, computers and peripherals are “Important” in 8 of the 15 industrial sectors and “Core” in only 4. Additionally, all industries’ technologies rely on chemical technology, as is demonstrated by data that indicate that each industry builds on chemical technology as prior art. The evidence is in industry-to-industry patent citation counts; patents granted to companies in all industries build on patents granted to companies in the chemical industry.
Our national defense and security will continue to depend on providing the most advanced diagnostic systems and weapons to our military and police forces. Advanced materials for soldiers’ gear, diagnostic devices, portable production or storage of energy, long-range and effective telecommunication devices, and biomaterials and biomedical devices for the wounded, are some of the products to be affected by the results of chemical engineering research to come. Biomaterials are used to make artificial organs, joints, and heart valves, pacemakers, and lens implants, and the range of their applications will continue to grow—impacting treatment processes and delivery of health care in profound ways. Tailored pharmaceuticals and personal care products with minimal side effects, custom design of artificial biological implants that last a lifetime, and processes that make the manufacturing of all of these safe and cost-effective are some of the benefits we can expect. The sustainable supply of chemicals, materials, and energy with minimal impact to the health of the environment and at costs that can be afforded by society is a grand challenge that requires marshalling all of the creative genius of researchers in chemical sciences and engineering.
It is now possible to design new chemicals and materials atom by atom. It is now possible to deliberately and safely engage biological processes to supplement the chain of chemical processes in making the needed materials, chemicals, and devices. The possibilities are seemingly unbounded, but if the United States is to exploit these possibilities, strong national research capabilities by single investigators and multidisciplinary teams are required. Maintaining excellence across the dynamic range of chemical engineering research is essential.
An engineering research enterprise has multiple objectives. Assessing it is a complex and multifaceted task. Benchmarking it against similar enterprises in other parts of the world is hindered by problems with information sources, which are not necessarily compiled in a comparable manner in other countries and are not readily available in the United States. Valid and useful comparisons are also complicated by the different disciplinary boundaries found in different countries.