To chemists arriving in San Francisco for next week's American Chemical Society meeting, Arnold Thackray, director of Philadelphia's Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry, suggests something to keep in mind.

If you check into a hotel room today, he says, and you're wearing a polyester suit, "odds are everything in the room is composed of chemically processed polymers except for your body--and we're on the verge of decoding [even] that."

During a time of remarkable advances, one might conclude that now is a great time to be a chemist. Yet today's bleak economic conditions and a growing awareness of occupational hazards lead others to conclude the opposite.

Layoffs by companies throughout the chemical industry, low salaries, hazardous working conditions, and few changes on the horizon make optimism difficult. Says chemical consultant Mordecai Treblow, who has worked with employment issues as a member of the American Chemical Society (ACS), "The...

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