By many measures, chemistry is the central and most successful of all sciences--in the world at large and supremely in the United States. America boasts an enviable record of Nobel laureates in chemistry over the past three decades; the chemical process industries routinely compile trade surpluses of billions of dollars; and the American Chemical Society is the world's largest single-discipline scientific society. And yet, and yet...

Chemists see themselves as beleaguered, unloved, unappreciated. Undergraduates turn away from a chemistry major, and graduate assistantships go begging. Chemistry possesses no federal project on the order of the genome initiative or superconducting supercollider, and industrial chemists in midcareer find themselves the object of corporate "repositionings" and other euphemisms for unemployment.

Meanwhile, for the rest of the world, "chemical" has become a synonym for "bad" (as in chemical dependency, or chemical additive), lawsuits multiply on issues like Agent Orange, and it is difficult for...

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