Show Me The Money

NSF Chemistry Division Director Luis Echegoyen announced a proposed sweeping realignment of the division’s chemistry programs at the foundation’s ACS Town Hall meeting on Monday evening in Salt Lake City. During the Q&A that followed Echegoyen’s presentation, all anyone wanted to ask about was the $3 billion NSF will receive as part of the Obama Administration’s economic stimulus package. slc_nsf.jpg“Most of what I am at liberty to talk about on the stimulus, you already know,” Echegoyen told the packed house at the outset of his presentation. Didn’t matter. The first question Echegoyen took after his presentation was, “Will the stimulus allow anything that has been canceled to be revived?” Six or seven more questions on the stimulus followed. Before he adjourned the session, Echegoyen asked, “Does anyone have anything to say about the realignment?” No one seemed to. The goal of the proposed changes, Echegoyen said in his presentation, is to realign the chemistry division “to guarantee that the very best projects in research, education, training, and infrastructure development are supported and to anticipate and respond to new developments in chemistry.” The new structure would abandon the traditional program delineations such as the “Organic and Macromolecular Program” and the “Physical Chemistry Program.” In their place would be eight new programs in the following areas:
  • Chemical Synthesis
  • Chemical Structure, Dynamics & Mechanisms
  • Chemical Measurement & Imaging
  • Theory, Models & Computational Methods
  • Environmental Chemical Sciences
  • Chemistry of Life Processes
  • Chemical Catalysis
“This represents a substantial departure from the current structure,” Echegoyen noted, adding that the only word that survives from the old structure to the new is “theory.” The Chemistry Division handed out a nifty brochure that describes each of the proposed new programs. It doesn’t look like it is available yet on the division’s website, but I’m sure someone will send you one if you ask. You can submit comments about the proposed realignment to chemplans@nsf.govchemplans@nsf.gov. Photo: Madeleine Jacobs (left), Ronald Breslow (center), and Luis Echegoyen at the ACS Town Hall meeting. Credit: Rudy Baum/C&EN

Author: Rudy Baum

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5 Comments

  1. Does it really make a difference or is it purely cosmetic? It looks to me as a rearrangement of the same things under new titles. I don’t know maybe I am too cynical…

  2. Could be cosmetic. Echegoyen clearly doesn’t think it is, however. I talked to him for about half an hour a few weeks ago, and he is determined to move the chemistry division into a more multidisciplinary mode of operation, not just through this realignment, but also through the division’s interactions with other elements of NSF.

    If you can get a copy of the brochure I mentioned at the end of the post, there’s an interesting decision tree in it that suggests that things will be done differently as proposals are considered. We’ll post it later today.

  3. Traditional words like inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry no longer exist in the decision tree. It will take some time for the researchers who seek NSF funding to get use to the new system. Same may be for NSF/CHE program directors and officers too. The CHE division should have a good plan to get the message out to avoid possible confusion and delay.

  4. Rather than a semantic re-alignment of science funding I would favor a re-distribution of the financial pie. Too much funding is concentrated in too few science institutions, which stifles competition and stunts the development of new research lines.

    Along similar lines, the financial shot-in-the-arm of the Obama Administration for US science should be geared at stimulating employment for currently unemployed scientists -e.g., chemists- instead of supporting the status quo of the major science universities. Specifically, the funding should be used to hire unemployed US chemists, as opposed to pouring more water in the soup by recruiting yet more PhD students and post-docs from abroad. There is already a skilled and willing scientific workforce in the US, who are eager to contribute to our national intellectual capital, as opposed to being sidelined into menial jobs.