Arnold Thackray in Chemical & Engineering News

Arnold Thackray - President, Chemical Heritage Foundation

December 6, 1999 - Washington, DC

By Arnold Thackray

Three truths about the chemical enterprise will not alter in the future. The first is that no matter how esoteric, diversified, and specialized the chemical sciences become they will continue to share a single heritage. Only two short centuries separate the molecular biologist, the materials scientist, the practitioner of molecular electronics, and the petrochemical engineer from their roots in the worlds of John Dalton and Antoine Lavoisier. This makes our common chemical heritage a powerful tool. The second reality is that as the pace of technological change continues to accelerate both the public at large and members of the chemical community will seek with increasing urgency for "master narratives" that can make sense of that change. The third reality is that the whole chemical and scientific enterprise will continue to rest on the informed consent of ordinary citizens. Hence the stakes, already high, will grow higher as scientific and economic progress continue, theories grow more recondite, and change becomes ever more obtrusive in the daily life of the ordinary citizen. The need for a master narrative, and for human stories that display the power and legitimacy of the chemical sciences, will therefore grow--a need that the scientific and business community will seek to meet through museum exhibits, television specials, published biographies, educational materials, interactive web sites, and myriad as-yet-undreamed-of formats. Public relations has grown into a necessary part of the scientific enterprise during the past generation, but the chemical community was slow to see the need to explain itself. In another 30 years, we will again look back and be astonished that, as the new millennium dawned, the chemical community had barely begun to understand the urgency of its newer need to establish a master narrative of its centrality to world history that would meet the public's growing appetite...

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