ACS: Why we do the things we do

As I navigated the halls of the Georgia World Congress Center (yes, all three buildings!) on the first day of the ACS meeting, it was gratifying to see the large number of young faces in the crowd. Although I’m always impressed by senior scientists who share their youthful enthusiasm for chemistry, I am interested in what inspires the current generation of students to pursue careers in chemistry.

The people around us have a lot to do with our choices. I grew up in a family that included three generations of pharmacists. I recall fondly the science lore of the family—my great-grandfather mixing mentholated products in the basement of the house, my grandmother extracting compounds from garden plants right around the time quantum mechanics was making its debut, and my father’s adventures in chemistry lab in the era when NMR was the newest, greatest tool. Although chemistry was already part of my family, I was lucky to have excellent junior high and high school science teachers who nurtured my interests and challenged me scientifically and creatively.

A sense of wonder and curiosity seem equally important. I was fortunate to live in a place where I could enjoy the natural world by wandering off into a forest or sitting by a lake. In addition, when I was growing up, chemistry sets still contained interesting compounds, which allowed some reasonable level of experimentation. Although I was a big fan of crystalline cobalt (II) chloride, sulfur had to be my “go to” reagent bottle for basement experimentation. That easy-to-measure, placid yellow elemental powder made its way into many test reactions and provided hours of amusement for me, but not, I recall, for my parents.

Who or what inspired you to become a chemist? How can we continue to attract young people to chemistry? Tell us your story.

Terry L. Sheppard (Chief Editor, Nature Chemical Biology)