Attending some scientific conferences can be as frustrating for the career-driven researcher as a stroll through a bookstore is for the book-starved browser. With offerings so vast, one simply may not have the time or the energy to satisfy the intellectual appetite.

In the spring of 1990, the advisory committee to the NSF chemistry division decided to conduct its annual meeting a little differently. Instead of devoting one hour to one topic before moving on to another, committee members decided to hold the meeting like a retreat. Says NSF chemistry division director Kenneth Hancock: "We decided to sit back and literally ask where the intellectual frontiers in chemistry are and where we think our science is and ought to be going in the next few years."

Out of that "retreat" came a set of priorities that are used by NSF management when it makes its case for research funding appropriations....

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