A Celebration of 75 Years of Graduate Education in Chemistry

October 19, 2007 • 1:00 PM

Welcome from the Chair

Robert K. Boeckman, Jr.

Delivered by Professor Robert K. Boeckman, Jr. at the beginning of the Symposium.

Good afternoon! I am Bob Boeckman, Marshall D. Gates, Jr. Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Department of Chemistry. It is my pleasure to welcome you all back to Rochester on this, the 75th Anniversary Celebration of first doctoral degrees awarded in chemistry at the University of Rochester.

Since the founding of the University of Rochester in 1850, chemical education at Rochester has enjoyed a rich and fruitful history. In 1927, the Chemistry Department, under the leadership of its third Chair, Victor J. Chambers, was authorized to grant the doctoral degree. The first Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Chemistry, also representing the first Ph.D.'s from the College of Arts and Science, were conferred in June 1932 to Linus M. Webb and Bernard E. Landow. Notably, the first woman doctoral graduate at the College was also in Chemistry. Ethel French received her Ph.D. in 1936 and went on to be the first female faculty member in chemistry at the University of Rochester.

Generations of students have since gone through our educational program at the graduate level. More than 800 graduates have now earned their doctorates in chemistry in the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering at the University of Rochester. A large proportion of our graduates have gone on to become respected and distinguished leaders in academia, industry and government. All have been influenced by their formative years as graduate students at Rochester. A comparable number of postdoctoral alumni have also received advanced education at Rochester and their contribution to the quality of our graduate and undergraduate programs, by mentoring students and participating in research, can not be underestimated.

Our faculty has over the years been fortunate to include a substantial number of highly distinguished scientists who were pioneers and leaders in their individual fields of research, in all areas of traditional and modern research in chemistry. We count among our faculty ranks members of the National Academies of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Engineering, fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and members of the American Chemical Society.

Today, our current group of 21 full-time chemistry faculty at the University of Rochester is young and vigorous, with an average age of less than 40. Our young colleagues have been successful in winning prestigious young investigator awards, such as Sloan Research Fellowships, NSF Career awards, Packard and Beckman Young Investigator awards, Research Corporation Innovation awards, and Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar and New Faculty awards. Within the past few years alone, senior members of our faculty have won five national, and one local, American Chemical Society awards, as well as numerous University awards as outstanding educators. Editorial and Associate Editorial Offices of arguably, the three most prestigious journals published by American Chemical Society (Inorganic Chemistry, Journal of the American Chemical Society, and the Journal of Organic Chemistry) are part and parcel of the fabric of our Department. Our researchers have received wide recognition of their accomplishments through Federal and Foundation grants and awards, both for teaching and research. As a department, we have consistently averaged a total of 3.5 million dollars in grant expenditures for the past several years, in an extremely challenging external funding environment.

Many of you may not know that our faculty size has been constrained since the mid 1990s. Today, as the result of major strategic planning for the College, there are exciting developments afoot that will hopefully result in planned growth in the student body and faculty over the next 10 years. New initiatives in a number of areas, including science and engineering, are under active discussion and many will involve significant participation by the Chemistry Department. We expect that the University's new initiatives in Nanotechnology, Energy, and Biomedical Research and Engineering, as well as the more traditional disciplines of Optics, Physics, Chemical Engineering, and Biochemistry and Biophysics, will have excellent synergism with the Department of Chemistry. This planned growth is expected to result in a measurable expansion in the graduate program over the next 10 years.

In the past decade, the Department has added nine vigorous, young scientists to our faculty and our curriculum has evolved, based in part, on their research interests and expertise. Our future as a department depends vitally on continuing to recruit young and mid-career faculty who excel in research and teaching and will serve as our future leaders, both at the University and in the broader chemistry community. The market for top-notch faculty has never been more competitive, nor has the cost of initiating their research programs been as great. Faculty retention is also a continuing crucial activity and we have been fortunate to have the strong support of the College in our efforts.

The face of the graduate student body has also evolved since our earliest history. We currently have approximately 90 graduate students and 30 postdoctoral fellows studying in our Department. In the past, the majority of the doctoral graduates in chemistry were Caucasian men; today approximately 60% are men and more that 40% are women, and a large number of our graduate class now comes from countries all over the world. Last Spring, fourteen students received their doctoral degrees. This Fall, the Department welcomed the largest class in recent years, encompassing 22 new Ph.D. students. What has remained constant is our desire to attract the best and brightest young chemistry scholars to Rochester and to provide them with a quality education and the tools with which to pursue their educational careers.

The study of chemistry has become ever more complex, educational practices in the academy have evolved, and the College too has been transformed into the major research institution that it is today. Since first authorizing the award of the doctorate in Chemistry in 1927, the College has developed 24 doctoral programs covering a range of fields from the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering to the social sciences and humanities.

For all of our success, there are still daunting challenges ahead of us. Although in my opinion, American higher education in chemistry and in science in general, remains the best in the world, that position is clearly being challenged by developed countries in Europe and Japan, as well as developing countries such as China and India. The investment of resources by the government, private corporations, and foundations is lagging. The U.S. rate of Research & Development expenditure has declined as a percentage of the GNP, while increasing among our international competitors. Concerns have been raised at the national level regarding the decline in the number of science/engineering graduate students in the U.S. and currently, America also lags behind most developed nations in the rate of science/technical "first degrees" held by 24 yr. olds. Clearly, all of us, as educators, scientists, and stake holders in science and technology, have our work cut out for us.

At Rochester, our educational programs are continually crafted to provide transformative opportunities for our graduate students. Our goal is to promote the acquisition of scientific knowledge through experience, strong mentoring, rigorous training, and outstanding intellectual and physical resources, preparing students with the tools for scholarship, inquiry and success in their chosen fields.

In our view as Chemistry faculty, there are three or four main themes (in no particular order of importance) which will dominate research in the next several decades: 1) applications of Chemistry to understanding the structure and function in biological systems at the molecular level, 2) development of new sources of energy and new raw material streams without the use of fossil-fuel derived energy sources, 3) the development of new materials with new properties to permit the creation of cheaper and more powerful devices including computers, display systems, information storage devices, and energy production devices, and 4) fundamental studies of homogeneous catalysis and the development of new environmentally benign methods of chemical synthesis using homogeneous catalysis with applications to fine chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing, chemical feed stock production, and environmental remediation, among many others.

Great strides were made in the last 15 years of the 20th century in human biology. These advances laid the foundation for the opportunity to understand biological processes at an unprecedented level of molecular detail. The 20th century was the age of the antibiotic. The 21st century will be the age of the pharmaceutical, as our detailed knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis and other human diseases permit the development of safe small molecule chemotherapeutic agents to treat and sometimes cure these diseases. Significant progress has been made in the nascent stages of transforming our energy economy from one based upon fossil-fuels to one based on environmentally more eco-friendly energy sources. New materials transformed life in the 20th century - consider plastics, teflon, semiconductors, optics, etc. That transformation will continue apace in the 21st century. The modern day chemist has enlarged his vision of the scale of molecular entities from the angstrom to the nanometer range. Wonderful, fascinating, and in many cases, totally unexpected properties of nanometer scale molecular materials have opened up a host of new opportunities to explore and exploit these materials. Finally, chemical manufacturing, which was responsible for many 20th century environmental problems, must continue to be transformed, if we are to preserve our planet and be responsible stewards of the environment.

With this event, we celebrate the University of Rochester’s part in the exciting accomplishments of the past and in the future initiatives that lay ahead of us. With this celebration, we also commemorate and salute the alumni, students, chairmen, professors, and staff who have been vital to the growth and academic distinction of the Department of Chemistry. Our Department and the discipline of chemistry have changed in ways that its founders could have only dreamed of in 1927.

As alumni, you are an important, vital part of our community and history. I want to congratulate all of you today for your career-long accomplishments, which we trust were, in part, the result of the education and training you received in Chemistry at Rochester. You have reflected well on your Rochester education and we couldn’t be more proud of your success, your values, and your contributions.

By commemorating our history, connecting with our community, and recognizing the many contributions of those who have come before us, we strengthen our foundation and our legacy as a premier chemistry department, as we go forward.

And now, I will turn the symposium over to my colleague, Jack Kampmeier, who will introduce our first symposium speaker. We hope that you will enjoy today’s symposium, tonight’s banquet, tomorrow’s festivities at the Gates family home, and your weekend in Rochester - Meliora!