We are here today to celebrate the achievements of a group of people who have just completed an important phase of their education. Today's celebration is...a step forward toward being a participant in a world of chemistry that has done much to improve our quality of life. Unfortunately, chemistry's contributions to modern society are not widely recognized or well understood. This is rather surprising when you consider the fact that economists now say that advances in science and technology produce 75% of all economic growth. Chemistry and chemical engineering have played a dominant role in creating this growth. What chemistry has accomplished is cause for celebration so let's spend a few minutes talking about it.
Paul Anderson, Senior Vice President of Chemical and Physical Sciences at DuPont Pharmaceuticals Company, and 1997 president of the American Chemical Society.
Today, in the U.S. more than 10,000 corporations develop, manufacture, and market chemical products and processes....Chemicals are building blocks for products that meet our most fundamental needs for food, shelter, clothing, and medicines as well as the products vital to our worldwide communications and transportation systems.
The outstanding success of the chemical process industries is largely due to scientific and technological breakthroughs and innovations brought about through R&D. Because it depends on innovation and discovery for growth and competitive advantage, the chemical process industries invest nearly $60 billion per year in research and development and employ over 100,000 chemists and chemical engineers. In fact, the Institute for the Future notes that the chemical process industries are among our most research-intensive industries.
Let me illustrate this point with a couple of examples. Some of us are old enough to remember some characteristics of cars in the 1950's. After a few years exterior finish could oxidize and could rub off on your clothing. Plastic interior material could change color and crack. Tires were worn-out after 15,000 miles. Oil changes were supposed to occur every 1,000 miles. If you went through a large mud puddle, there was a good chance that your car would stall. Batteries died with great regularity. Advances in engineering and chemistry-based materials have solved all of these problems.
Let's look at my own field - pharmaceutical research and development. When your doctor opened his medicine cabinet 50 years ago, he found morphine for pain, aspirin for inflammation, sulfa drugs and penicillin for infection, insulin for diabetes, and a variety of low efficacy patent medicines. Obviously, these were useful medicines but the scope of utility was quite limited relative to what your doctor has access to today. Doctors now have safe, effective medicines for managing high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, peptic ulcer disease, inflammation, allergy, most mental diseases, osteoporosis, glaucoma, a variety of deadly infections, some forms of cancer, several viral diseases including AIDS, and organ transplants. It was possible to discover all of these new medicines in a relatively short period of human history because of our nation's commitment to scientific research and the training of scientists to do the work. New knowledge that derived from this commitment has brought the biochemical basis for many diseases into focus and has allowed chemists to design medicines that can correct problems. Many of these new medicines are disease modifying rather than just treatments of symptoms.
Here is an example. In the 1970's Michael Brown and Joe Goldstein at the University of Texas Med School published a series of papers that revealed how the body controls its supply of cholesterol. They showed that an enzyme called HMG-CoA Reductase is key to this process. Their discovery led to the hypothesis that inhibition of this enzyme would lead to lower blood cholesterol level. This was really important because too much cholesterol is a factor in heart disease and cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States. In our laboratory at Merck, we set out to design an inhibitor for this enzyme starting from a natural product. Our research effort eventually led to a drug called ZOCOR that is a potent, selective inhibitor of HMG-CoA Reductase. This class of drugs now has been used to reduce deaths from coronary heart disease by 30%. This example of disease modification also is an example of how university-based research that is federally funded sets the stage for new drug discovery in industry.
Many of the useful products in our world-- synthetic fibers, coatings, pharmaceuticals, etc.-- are made from non-renewable petroleum feed stocks by processes that consume a large amount of energy and produce significant amounts of waste material....We must develop the science and technology that will allow us to consume at a rate that is in balance with what earth can produce and dispose of waste in a manner that is in balance with what the earth can process and assimilate.
To achieve this goal new environmentally friendly technologies are being developed that will reduce risk and enhance cost effectiveness by creating products and using processes that are environmentally beneficial or benign. This field of chemistry is now called "Green Chemistry."
Let me illustrate [a] scientific advance in the field of "Green Chemistry" that will improve quality of life in our world. Over 30 billion pounds of organic and halogenated solvents are used worldwide every year as solvents, and cleaning agents. These processes produce significant emission of solvents into the environment. Thus, we have the dilemma that solvents required to dissolve and remove contaminants themselves have a contaminating effect. It has long been known that liquid CO2 would be a good substitute for halogenated organic solvents because it is nontoxic, nonflammable, energy-efficient, and reusable. The reason it has not been used is low solubility of most materials in CO2. Recently, a surfactant system was designed that greatly improves the solubility of many materials in liquid CO2. This system permits the use of liquid CO2 in the precision cleaning and garment care industries. Thus, in the future when you send your clothes to the dry cleaner, they may be cleaned in liquid CO2 instead of halogenated solvents and you will be helping to protect the environment from further contamination by organic solvents...
The examples that I have used were intended to illustrate how chemistry has been...used to improve health care, provide materials for our homes and workplaces, and make food more abundant. Because we have learned how to do these things with less risk to our environment, the potential for further gains in quality of life through chemistry is very real....Federal support for research in our university system and the national laboratories [following World War II] produced new scientific knowledge and a cadre of highly skilled, well-trained scientists and engineers. Industry provided opportunities for this skilled work force to use new knowledge to create new products and new businesses. The end result was that academe, industry, and government became partners in a powerful research enterprise that propelled the United States into a position of global scientific and economic leadership. This partnership has kept our science and technology dependent industries at the cutting edge of what is possible. Our challenge in days of curtailed federal spending and reduced budgets is to articulate to Congress and the Administration the value that comes from academe, industry, and government working together to achieve national goals that require chemistry and chemical engineering input.
Academe and industry need to jointly advocate the importance of federal support for academic research and training in sciences such as chemistry as a vital component of what is needed to stimulate economic growth and maintain U.S. competitiveness in global markets. The message is straightforward. Government looks to industry for job creation and economic stimulus. The chemical industry can deliver jobs and economic growth, provided that investment opportunities are favorable, sound science-based environmental policies are in place, a well-trained work force is available, and there is a flow of new chemical knowledge. A healthy academic system can deliver the work force and new knowledge. To do that, it must have adequate federal support for its research and training efforts. We need to sustain and nurture this partnership as we move toward the 21st century. It is key for future progress toward making this a safer, cleaner, and healthier world and giving us new cause for celebration.
Let me leave you with one final thought. Two hundred years ago, Ben Franklin worried that he had been born too soon. He feared that he would miss all of the exciting things that science would reveal in the coming years. He was right. Franklin's thought is still valid today. Our world is becoming more rather than less dependent on science and technology. Over the past 50 years as the pace of technology development has quickened, we have learned that good business results follow good science. The innovative aspects of good science derive from the creative energy of freely thinking individuals. Our nation with its freedom emphasizing values has done the best job of creating an optimal environment for creative thought. Let's keep it that way because there still is much to do on our way to a cleaner, safer, and healthier world. The one thing that we can be certain about is that today's graduates will help us get there, and that, too, is cause for celebration.