Luis Echegoyen, PhD: ACS Presidential Candidate
By Alan Marnett on September 4th, 2012
We recently interviewed American Chemical Society Presidential candidate Dr. Luis Echegoyen in order to understand his positions on the current and future states of science ahead of the election this fall. In fairness, tomorrow we will share our interview with his opponent, Tom Barton, PhD.
Luis Echegoyen at a glance
- Years in academia: 35
- Years in industry: 3
- Years in government: 5
- Most memorable event in the lab: discovering the reductive retrocyclopropanation and isomerization reactions of methano-fullerene derivatives
- Most memorable science-related event outside of the lab: my sabbatical years at Strasbourg (with J.-M. Lehn) and ETH in Zurich (with F. Diederich)
BenchFly: What do you see happening in ACS/Science/USA/World that compelled you to run for president? What’s your vision for improving the current situation?
Echegoyen: The World is definitely flat and the “Asian Gathering Storm” is very strong right now. Science and technology are developing quickly in Asian countries and the US is differentially lagging behind. Unless the US invests aggressively in scientific and technological development we will become followers instead of leaders and our national economy and security will be compromised. I use the word “invest” and not “expend” when referring to funding scientific and technological developments, since history has clearly shown that strong economic growth derives from these investments. As president of ACS I would dedicate considerable efforts to advocate on behalf of science, to try to convince all US players that investing in science is a sure bet and the best way towards national security and prosperity.
We elect our nation’s president to 4-year terms to provide stability and give the leader time to implement their ideas, since change generally happens slowly. ACS presidents, on the other hand, serve for a year. Is the continual turnover at an organization as large as the ACS the best format for the organization and it’s members?
I believe a longer presidential term would benefit the Society and its members in the long run, since it would improve the chances of implementing new ideas by elected presidents. However, the time commitment is considerable even as it is for a one-year presidential term and balancing an existing career with a longer term presidency would be very difficult. As a candidate for president-elect, an alternative two-year presidency would be something I would need to think very carefully about before agreeing to serve.
Given the term, how do you balance your vision for the society against what is reasonable to accomplish within a year?
Although the presidency is a one-year term, the president-elect and past-president years provide a reasonable framework to plan and execute the top priorities. By necessity it means limiting the number of high priority initiatives to a reasonable and manageable number and starting the work process on Jan. 1 of 2013, if elected. I do believe that a lot can be accomplished during the three-year period given the resources provided by the ACS and the very highly competent people who work for the Society and their dedication and willingness to help.
“Innovation” is a popular buzzword these days – what does it mean to you in the context of science and the laboratory?
Innovation has always meant “discovery” to me, doing something “new”, but these days the word is used to refer more to translational research, or the development of useful outcomes and products from fundamental science. Either meaning conveys a sense of scientific or technological “newness” and originality. From discovery to innovation is a process that works well and frequently within chemistry, where many serendipitous findings, initially not sought or designed, eventually lead to technologically important applications.
Technology, globalization, economics and a host of other factors will undoubtedly result in significant changes in the way science is performed, shared and even funded over the next 20 years. What do you think is the single most important change that needs to be made, and how do you see the “new” system working in 20 years?
Just as Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century eloquently and somewhat shockingly presented how the World has evolved into a borderless community where remaining competitive requires fast access to information and the ability to manipulate it, science is increasingly becoming more internationalized (globalized?). Open access to scientific information is a hot topic that sits at the center of both controversy and competitiveness. My vision is that 20 years from now scientific information will be available instantly from all sources and international collaborations will become the norm not the exception. This will in turn result in Science to progress at an accelerated pace, with important discoveries happening more frequently than today. These developments will provide across the board benefits for everyone and will necessarily lead to decreased geographical and historical barriers, not without considerable political consequences. Of particular sensitivity will be issues of intellectual property given the increased collaborative nature of the scientific work, where competition and collaboration will have to be delicately balanced.
For many postdocs and graduate students, ACS dues come out of an already tight personal budget. Why is it important they continue to support the ACS and how will their support of the society directly impact their lives as scientists?
The ACS provides innumerable benefits to all of its members, ranging from special rates for insurance and other items to multiple educational opportunities in many different forms; from formal to informal webinars. Compared to the dues, the benefits are seriously amplified and this is especially true for graduate students and postdocs, who benefit greatly from employment clearinghouse opportunities provided by the ACS. They also get educated in terms of interview practices. If students and postdocs make use of many of the resources offered by the ACS, they are getting a bargain for their dues. Belonging to the Society will also provide the social and scientific environments that will help them grow and develop and eventually mature, both scientifically and personally. It’s definitely done that for me.
If elected, what’s one promise you can make to research scientists that you can guarantee you’ll fulfill as ACS president?
I can promise all my fellow members that I will try very hard to represent them and to advocate on behalf of the profession. How effective I would end up being is always difficult to assess but I believe that my extensive and productive record as an academic chemist, as a university administrator, as a government employee and as an industrial chemist, suggests that I should be able to accomplish a few of my stated goals effectively.