Heads turn everywhere he goes. Mouths gape when he walks in the room. Your heart may skip a beat. No, it’s not Brad Pitt or George Clooney. It’s Ajay Bhatt, co-inventor of USB. And he’s one of the heartthrobs at the center of Intel’s new ad campaign “Our rock stars aren’t like your rock stars.” On a similar theme, the June issue of GQ features a six-page spread called “Rock Stars of Science,” which featured cancer and HIV researchers posing alongside, well, real rock stars. (I will reserve judgment for the choice of Josh Groban as a “rock star.”)
It seems everywhere I look these days, people are trying to sexify science. And by science, I mean everything but chemistry.
Over at “In the Pipeline,” Derek Lowe asked readers this week, “Does it bother you, or by contrast make you a bit proud, when you tell someone that you’re a chemist and (as happens in about seven out of ten cases) they say ‘Oh, that was my hardest/least favorite/most boring subject when I was in school’?”
I’d put the proportion closer to 9.8 out of every 10 cases. I’d say 7 out of 10 times I get a much more—how to put it delicately?–visceral response. So why is chemistry such the red-headed stepchild of the scientific community? Why does chemistry seem so impervious to any attempts to make it more appealing?
We’ve made efforts. The American Chemistry Council and Dow Chemical have both focused on how chemistry is essential to everyday life. BASF’s ad campaign points out that they don’t make the products you buy, but make them better.
They all work well to soften the image of the discipline and separate it from the general population’s negative associations with the word “chemical.” But maybe we need to push it a little further. After all, an awful lot of the drugs people take were discovered by a medicinal chemist. I’m also going to make a wild prediction that chemists will play a critical role in eventually solving our energy woes. Is the problem that chemistry is just too behind the scenes? Why aren’t our rock stars getting as much attention as, well, Intel’s rock stars?
Well, there’s still time to get the word out. The Rock Stars of Science website claims you will soon be able to nominate your own. Suggestions on who might capture the public imagination as the face of chemistry? Other thoughts on how chemistry can bring sexy back?