About the American Chemical Society

  • The American Chemical Society — the world’s largest scientific society — is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

About this Blog

  • The ACS News Service Weblog is for journalists who cover science, medicine, energy, environment, food, and other chemistry-related topics. Your reporter is Michael Woods [profile], a senior science writer in the ACS Office of Communications.

    We also invite chemists, chemical engineers, and other scientists to participate. The blog will bring you sights, sounds, and news bytes from major scientific conferences, and occasionally delve into other areas of interest.

    The opinions expressed at or through this Weblog are the opinions of the individual author and not those of the American Chemical Society.

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News Media Special

A scientific link between a sip of good Scotch whiskey and stronger bones.  A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine that fits in a brief case and works without intense magnetic fields.  A futuristic effort, dubbed the Helios Project, to create nanotech systems that mimic plants and convert sunlight into renewable fuels that reduce our dependence on imported oil.

Those topics were not among the 10,000 research papers presented at the ACS National Meeting this week.  However, they were on the agenda for a select group of reporters who took advantage of an ACS News Service innovation at this meeting.  It was a nanotechnology media briefingBriefing_room  and tour hosted by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory’s Molecular Foundry.

Construction crews have just put the finishing touches on that six-story research center, carved into the rugged hills above the East Bay. The $85 million facility will become the modern version of a foundry for scientists who study and seek applications for ultra-small materials.

About two dozen of us boarded a special bus outside the ACS Press Room in the Moscone Center Tuesday for the ride to LBL.  It was a diverse group, with media ranging from dailies like USA Today to Chemical & Engineering News to niche technical publications.

A security escort vehicle met us at the LBL gate, and led the way to briefings from Mark Alper, Mark_alper_light deputy director of the foundry, and other scientists.  Among them was Paul Alivisatos, who heads thePaul_standing  Helios Project and is co-editor of the small science’s leading scientific journal, ACS’s Nano Letters.

During the event, we split up into smaller groups for a tour of the labs. Scientists from each of the major research explained their goals and demonstrated instrumentation, some of which is one-of-its-kind in the world.Group

You could almost sense the excitement of working in this edge-of-the horizon facility.  Staffers are still moving into the 95,000 square foot building.  Some of the rooms are waiting for Nanoparticles occupants.  Everywhere is the fresh smell of new paint on walls in an atmosphere almost tingling with new ideas and approaches for understanding and exploring uses for nanomaterials.Group_lab1

As if the science was not enough, we capped the day with food, beverages, and a spectacular view of the sun setting over the bay area.  The scientists who gave briefings and led tours joined us to sip wine and field additional questions.

If you missed the tour and have questions about the foundry, drop an email to Ron Kolb (rrkolb@lbl.gov) head of the LBL communications office.

--Michael Woods

News Mixing Bowl

After covering a few ACS national meetings as a reporter, you get to know where to find news. I tracked down good stories at about 50 of these science extravaganzas in my career as a newspaper science writer. You winnow Img_1512through the abstracts, attend scientific sessions, check the news releases Img_1522and news briefings, and even patrol the exposition.

I never expected to uncover a hidden gem now – a potentially excellent source of stories that most reporters overlook. It happened Monday night, when I discovered an event called Sci-Mix.Img_1523

Sci-Mix is an interdivisional poster session usually held on the Monday night of a national meeting. It is an amazingly popular event with attendees, especially younger scientists and students. I stopped counting as the crowd swelled toward the triple digits.

As the event’s name suggests, Sci-Mix is part science and socializing and networking. Students get a chance to present results of research projects done with senior scientists. Img_1514 These presentations are "posters," which summarize the research. The presenter stands near the poster to explain and field questions.Img_1513

That mouth-watering aroma of fresh popcorn filling the huge assembly room in the Moscone Center tonight contributes to the "Mix" part of the name.  So do the plastic cups of beer and other beverages. Sci-Mix is a fun event, with a lot of socializing. Senior scientists also use Sci-Mix to spot and evaluate potential students.Img_1509

I chatted with one of them, Doug Neckers, who heads the Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University. Doug was impressed by several posters and talked with the presenters about their future education.Img_1516

The poster topics span chemistry’s horizons, from agricultural and food research to toxicology. Check out the Sci-Mix topics and presenters in the meeting program. I spotted potential Img_1523_1 news among those topics, and some of those presenters may be future Nobel laureates.

Hot Story: Cigar Breath

With 110 scientific sessions underway at the same time Monday, reporters often did not know which way to turn in that unending search for a good story. Sophie Rovner, a senior editor with Chemical & Engineering News, found one winner involving cigar breath.

"The breath of a cigar smoker isn't exactly sweet," Rovner wrote. "The odor can range from a musty smell to something akin to burning yard waste. Chemists have now identified the strongest-smelling compounds in cigar-smokers' breath in the hopes of developing breath fresheners to neutralize these odors."

Follow this link for the full story: (http://feeds.feedburner.com/cen_latestnews).

Michael Woods

Big Future for the Small Science

Nanooutsideposter One of the keynote events at this meeting is a 4-day symposium on single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs), those sheets of graphite rolled up into tubes 80,000 times thinner than a human hair. The symposium honors Nobel Laureate and nanotube pioneer Richard Smalley, who worked at Rice University in Houston. Smalley died of cancer last year at age 62.

Smalley’s students introduced each speaker at this morning’s session of the symposium in the Moscone Center, which dealt with possible commercial applications of SWNTs. One student gave a nice mini-bio of the first speaker, Yates_slide the University of Pittsburgh’s John T. Yates Jr., and concluded noting that Yates is "an avid amateur astrologer." She caught Yates_4 the gaff immediately, and said Yates actually is an avid amateur astronomer. Everyone laughed it off.

Yates used it as an opening, however, when he stepped to the podium and remarked that an astrologer’s skills might be quite useful in predicting the future market for SWNTs.

Smalley’s work on SWNTs in the 1990s spawned an enormous amount of research. Consider that more than 130 research papers were presented at this at this symposium alone. Issue after issue of journals like the ACS’s Nano Letters are packed with new discoveries about SWNTs.

Predictions about multi-billion-dollar-per year markets for SWNT products have been flying for years now. When some researchers gaze into those crystal balls, they see SWNT and other nanomaterials revolutionizing industries that include electronics, medicine, energy and plastics.

Smalley expressed that optimism in 2002: "The impact of nanotechnology on the health, wealth, and lives of people will equal the combined influences of medical imaging, microelectronics, aging, computer aided engineering, and man-made polymers in the 20th century."

The presentations in this symposium honor Smalley’s optimism, just as they honor a great scientist and teacher. All the indications point to a huge commercial and industrial impact from the small science.

Michael Woods

One Basic Scientific Session

My candidate for the most unheralded scientific session at this gigantic meeting – with 10,000 papers and 15,500 attendees – began at 9 a.m. Sunday in one of the more obscure meeting rooms in the Marriott Hotel.

Barely two dozen people were in the audience. One, however, found time to open the half-day session despite an unimaginably busy schedule filled with competing priorities. That individual was E. Ann Nalley, ACS president. Img_1477_7 Another was a reporter from Chemical & Engineering News who sensed the significance of the topic.

The symposium topic? The final words of a somewhat unwieldy title say it all: "Health Materials and Techniques: Research and Development Over the Past 25 Years: Investment in Basic Research Leading to Benefits for Society."

"I want us to tell the story of basic research and its role in making society better and the relationship of basic and applied research," Nalley said.

It’s a story that science journalists should tell more often. I certainly gave it short shrift during several decades as a newspaper science writer. After all, the biggest news usually involves events that connect with the lives of readers. I mean discoveries that will make life healthier, happier, longer, and easier. Applied research does that. It gets most of the increasingly small news hole in print publications, airtime in the broadcast realm, and space online.

Research done to expand scientific knowledge, with no immediate practical application, plays second fiddle in the news symphony. That is one definition of basic research.

With basic research’s potential benefits often sidelined by discoveries that have immediate practical impact, public and political support for basic research funding can weaken.

"Basic research pays off with incredible leaps into the future," noted Mary Virginia Orna, Img_1474_2  who organized the symposium for the ACS Division of the History of Chemistry. Orna noted that history has a lot to teach us about the value of basic research. Basic research discoveries with no apparent use led, for instance, to new diagnostic instruments including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and medicines that save countless lives.

Helen Free detailed one classic example. Free (namesake for a major ACS Img_1482 award) and her husband used basic research discoveries to develop the "dip-and-read" tests that first enabled diabetics to easily and accurately monitor their blood glucose levels at home.

Other such tests followed. Today they account for global sales of almost $30 billion annually. One the horizon, Free noted, are products that once seemed fantasy. They include diagnostic chips based on pharmacometabonomics that may enable physicians to personalize medical care, determining how individual patients will respond to specific medications before writing the prescription.

This small part of a huge scientific program made me recall a famous quotation from Mary Lasker, the philanthropist and advocate for medical research. "If you think research is expensive," Lasker said, "try disease."

-- Michael Woods

The News About News Releases

The meeting rooms here in Moscone Center are empty and silent today, awaiting tomorrow’s influx of perhaps 17,000 scientists and other individuals who will attend the ACS national meeting. Registration1

However, the first wave of reporters began hitting the ACS News Service Press Room just after the noon opening. They left with a precious resource for informing the public about new advances in chemistry that will be reported at this scientific extravaganza during the next week.

It is the news release. Pressroom_sign_1

News releases pour down on journalists like snowflakes in a blizzard. In the pre-Internet days, scores of news releases bulged in the canvas sacks of U. S. mail delivered every morning to my office in the National Press Building. The Internet shrunk the Snail Mail deliveries. But it fostered an even-heavier downpour of emailed news releases and online collections like Eurekalert and its European counterpart, AlphaGalileo.

In 30+ years of daily journalism, I probably received 25,000 news releases. Some were invaluable in helping me research, report and write stories. Not until 6 months ago, however, did I begin to appreciate the effort and care that went into producing those news releases.

That’s when I crossed over into media relations as a science writer with the ACS Office of Communications (OC). During the last few months, the OC staff has devoted much of its time to preparing resources that will help the news media during the next 5 days of this meeting.Poster1

Reporters in the Press Room can get paper news releases and a CD-ROM called the ACS News Service Press Book. It is one of several innovations we’ve introduced to help news media cover this national meeting. More are in the works, as you will see when we unveil a new electronic pressroom for the next national meeting (March 2007 in Chicago).

The Press Book contains two dozen news releases on presentations at this meeting, more than 600 non-technical summaries of scientific papers, and a press briefing schedule. We’ve include an audio dial-in feature for the press briefings this year for reporters unable to attend in person.

Preparing the Press Book involved reviewing all the scientific abstracts submitted for the meeting. There were nearly 10,000. OC science writers worked for weeks to identify several thousand potentially newsworthy papers. Each presenter got an emailed request for more information and for a non-technical summary of the paper. From the responses, we chose topics for full-length news releases, tips sheets, news briefings, and podcasts.

That’s one side of the news release that I never appreciated – the effort. I could devote an entire post to the other – the care that goes into preparation of each news release to assure accuracy and balance.

Whether on paper, a CD, in an email or posted online, these most basic of resources for communicating science to the public deserve more respect.

Tomorrow these meeting rooms will be crowded with scientists, and I'll be Empty_meet_room2_12 reporting from several scientific sessions. Please tune in, and remember that this weblog is open for comments, and yours certainly are welcome on the news release and other posts.

-- Michael Woods

Crossing Over

For the first time in 30-something years, I’m working an ACS national meeting from the other side. Many science writers have made this same passage in the past ― from daily journalism into public affairs, public information, public relations. More journalists will do so in the future as the new media continues to take its toll on the old. Newspapers and other old media are downsizing as readers and advertisers turn to the Internet for news and entertainment. Newspapers are singing the budget blues and shedding employees. Cutting a whole bureau – in the state capitol, Washington, D. C. or overseas – saves a bundle of money in one swoop.

I crossed over to the ACS Office of Communications as a senior science writer in March, after my company closed its Washington Bureau and fired the employees. This company was very good to me, especially during the reign of a publisher who held a Ph.D. in chemistry and did research in his own laboratory. Paul Block Jr. synthesized analogs of thyroid hormones and was the world authority in this niche in synthetic organic chemistry.

How many science writers work for an individual who publishes newspapers and his own articles in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, the Journal of the American Chemical Society and even gets cited in the New England Journal of Medicine? To me, it was the best science writing job in the country, and continued as such even after Block died and his son assumed control. It offered rare opportunities that included travel on assignments literally from the South Pole to within a shiver of the North Pole.

So what is it really like here on the other side of this critical endeavor of communicating science to the public? This is the perfect time to share that experience, with the ACS Office of Communications approaching one of its busiest periods in preparing news media resources for a national meeting.

My next post will be a view from the other side of the ACS’s 232nd National Meeting in San Francisco.  It will be a prelude to my reporting from national meeting events, including some exciting technical sessions at this scientific extravaganza.  Tune in tomorrow when I raise the curtain on the distinctly different culture over here.

-- Michael Woods

Sign Up for Nanotech Lab Tour

During more than 30 years in daily journalism, I realized how rarely science writers have an opportunity to experience scientific research. Science writers usually work in a virtual environment. We experience journals, teleconferences, webcasts, press conferences, briefings, telephone and email interviews while seldom having any contact with the people, the cultures, the mindsets, or the instrumentation.

My own breaks from that isolation were invaluable – and memorable. I joined scientists on three expeditions in Antarctica; on an ice station near the North Pole; a deep-sea drilling voyage off the coast of Japan; and several ancient Maya archaeological expeditions to the Central American rainforest.

So I’m delighted that the ACS Office of Communications is offering reporters a more convenient opportunity to experience one of the most important fields of science.

With nanotechnology affecting so many fields, reporters who cover chemistry, materials science, medicine, health, environment, and business are following the small science in a big way.

How many of you have actually set foot in a nanotech laboratory? Have you ever seen nanoparticles or nanodevices or the instruments used to create and investigate nanomaterials?

We’re offering reporters an opportunity to do all that with some of the world’s foremost nanotech researchers standing by to answer questions. We’re planning a nanotech tour for news media on September 12 in San Francisco. The tour is open to news media attending the ACS National Meeting September 10-14. We’ll also welcome other members of the media from the Bay Area.

We’ll join Paul Alivisatos, University of California-Berkeley, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s new Molecular Foundry. Paul is a renowned nanotech pioneer who edits the premier scientific journal in the field, ACS’s Nano Letters. We’ll tour the Foundry and hear presentations by researchers. After a Q&A session, we’ll adjourn for beverages and other refreshments and a chance to chat informally about this exciting field of science. An email (m_woods@acs.org) or phone call (202-872-6293) will put your name on the sign-up sheet.

Due to space limitations, we’ll be able to host a limited number of reporters, so sign up early. An email (m_woods@acs.org) or phone call (202-872-6293) will put you on the guest list.

-- Michael Woods

Science, September & San Francisco

During a thirty-something-year career as a science writer in daily journalism, I looked forward to autumn almost as much as my colleagues in the sports department. Baseball writers had their big event of the year every October — the World Series;. science writers had their big event every August or September — the American Chemical Society’s national meeting.

The ACS autumn meeting is a “must” for science writers from major news outlets. Like its spring counterpart, the autumn ACS meeting offers thousands of reports on new advances in a science so interdisciplinary that it includes astronomy, zoology and almost everything in between. ACS national meetings offer an amazingly rich variety of spot news, features and background for media who cover science, medicine, health, food, energy, environment and business. There’s plenty of material for spot news, features, background for in-depth projects and the opportunity to develop contacts and sources in the scientific community.

Despite a transition from daily journalism earlier this year, I’m just as excited about the upcoming 232nd ACS National Meeting, which will be held September 10-14 in San Francisco. I’m working in a new role now, helping the ACS Office of Communications (OC) help the news media with preparations for covering this science extravaganza. In San Francisco, I’ll be putting on my reporter’s badge again and covering scientific sessions and other events for this weblog throughout the meeting.

We’re expecting more than 17,000 scientists and other attendees at the San Francisco meeting, which  will feature almost 10,000 papers and posters. Those numbers are not typos. ACS, after all, is the world’s biggest scientific organization, with more than 158,000 members.

The OC staff has already been at work for weeks, sifting through abstracts of papers scheduled for presentation. Since late May, we’ve been reading abstracts, talking to researchers and symposia organizers, and contacting PIOs at research institutions across the country to find newsworthy papers that we can feature in news releases, tip sheets, lay-language summaries, press briefings and other resources for the news media.

If you bookmark our blog and return a few times, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at those preparations, and perhaps a tip or two about hot news to expect from San Francisco. Here’s one teaser from my own scan of the abstracts. Scientists have found a biochemical basis for centuries-old beliefs about a chicken used in traditional Chinese medicine. This is one odd bird. Supermarkets that dare to display the meat in clear plastic can expect screams from shoppers.

With hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters galvanizing public attention, ACS has chosen disaster prevention and recovery as the multidisciplinary theme of the meeting. Among other topics:

● Exciting advances in nanomedicine and other areas of nanotechnology
● Health threats from mycotoxins and allergens in food
●Nuclear forensic science and its role in detecting and tracking illicit nuclear material
● The next generation of solar cells and other renewable sources of energy.
● Continuing studies on the environmental impact of Hurricane Katrina.
● A symposium honoring the late Nobel laureate Richard Smalley that includes dozens of reports on single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) and their potential uses in nanotechnology, electronics, optics and other fields. One tantalizing report is entitled “The Strongest Fiber There Will Ever Be.”
● The latest progress in finding new biomarkers for killer diseases
● New protein-based drugs and delivery of genes for gene therapy

For reporters unable to travel to the beautiful Bay Area, the ACS News Service will offer an enhanced media kit with dozens of non-technical summaries of the presentations, news releases and other resources. The media kit, with embargoed content, will be available in mid-August. News Service staff will be available to arrange telephone interviews. Remote access will be available to daily press conferences, and the News Service’s weblog will provide the sights, sounds and news bites from the sessions.

Embargoed news releases will be available to reporters on EurekAlert! in mid-August. The ACS News Service will post the releases, once an embargo is lifted, on its public Web site:  www.chemistry.org/news.

For media registration and meeting information email newsservice@acs.org or go to: http://chemistry.org/news/acs_media_registration.html.
I’m drafting a list of sizzling hot news topics for the next post, so drop by again soon.

--Michael Woods


September 2006

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