The purpose of this report is to identify and illustrate key contributions of chemical and chemical engineering research to the development of technologies that have been deemed critical to the economy, security, and well-being of our nation. It was commissioned by the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology (BCST) of the National Research Council (NRC) in response to the March 1991 report of the National Critical Technologies Panel (NCTP), assembled by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The BCST believed that it would be beneficial to examine the impact of research in chemistry and chemical engineering on the critical technologies, thus highlighting the significance of these fields to our society. Although the discussion of research funding priorities was not an explicit objective, it is hoped that the report will indirectly benefit the funding of chemical and chemical engineering research.

The report surveys a wide range of vital technologies that are heavily reliant or even critically dependent on chemical or chemical engineering research. Examples were taken from the fields of materials, manufacturing, energy, transportation, public health, information and communications, and the environment. While loosely following the structure of the critical technologies report of the NCTP, our committee decided on a different approach, that of using examples backed up by extensive illustrations.

The work started in October 1991 with a planning meeting of a group of six Academy members invited by the BCST. Subsequently, a leadership group evolved and was formally appointed by the NRC. Its members were J. L. Beauchamp (California Institute of Technology), L. L. Hegedus (W. R. Grace & Co.), L. C. Krogh (3M, retired), R. S. Langer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), F. S. Rowland (University of California at Irvine), and L. F. Thompson (AT&T Bell Laboratories). After two meetings, the leadership group agreed on the nature of the task at hand and on the format of the report, leading to the selection and assembly of the full committee of twenty-four. The full committee met twice, and several subcommittee meetings were held as well; the effort was supported by extensive electronic communications and text editing.

The committee expresses appreciation for the important contributions of a number of organizations and individuals. Contributors of the illustrations, taken largely from the annual reports of technology-intensive companies or institutions, are acknowledged on page 70. D. J. Raber, BCST staff director, is thanked for his dedication and substantial personal commitment. The project was assisted by consulting from J. D. Idol and M. La Brecque. Helpful technical discussions were held with many; these include J. W. Raksis (food packaging), R. W. Rice (ceramic engines), and J. F. Roth (petrochemicals).


Chairman, Committee on Critical Technologies: The Role of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering in Maintaining and Strengthening American Technology

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