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EDUCATING TOMORROW’S CHEMISTS



“Peace Through Chemistry” is the title of a lithography by Roy Lichtenstein [1]. This work and its title attracted my attention when I recently visited an exhibition of modern art. I can hardly imagine finding a current piece of art, which professes a similar gratitude and expectation to chemistry. Our society has changed so much since 1970, the year of origin of “Peace Through Chemistry.” To what extent did these changes in society influence our study programs? Yes, we now teach advanced instrumental analysis, quantum chemistry, nanochemistry, and much more. But are such added fundamentals sufficient to prepare young people for the new challenges in modern societies? A Presidential Task Force of the American Chemical Society (ACS) concluded in their brochure “Innovation, Chemistry, and Jobs—Meeting the Challenges of Tomorrow” on page 33: In chemistry departments (although not in chemical engineering and other fields), “professors’ words and actions promote the idea that basic research, and a career in academe, are the highest aspirations for topnotch students” [2]. How do such topnotch students themselves look at their status [3]: “As researchers, we are trained to workwithin a rational andmethodical framework. But when it comes to running our labs and managing people, we have to rely on our gut feelings, our limited know-how from mentoring a few students, or our observations of our previous advisers. We can often feel ill-prepared. Starting an academic lab is like launching a small business. But does scientific training really prepare us for success? As a young investigator just over a year into my job, I feel pressure.” Many young scientists look at working in industrial research as very innovative and not much different than in many academic labs. There are long-term industrial project goals in numerous areas—pharma and medical genetics, biofuels, materials, and others that push discoveries as much as academia does. The perspectives of how scientists look at industrial and academic research might be somewhat different in different parts of the world, but success requires similar skills and attitudes everywhere. My perspective is certainly a European one. In order to achieve a certain balance, I chose most of my references from outside Europe. In the history of analytical science, the deciding incentive for the birth of a novel and leading analytical technique often came from academic research. The self-conception of research and development in academia and industry is and must be significantly different. Schlemmer described this and listed some of the substantial differences in an earlier contribution to this column (Table 1 and [4]). Whereas academic research has to be predominantly interested in fields where white spots on the scientific map promise a fruitful research playground, most industrial topics exploit further developments of existing products rather than elaboration of a new procedure. These differences will always remain. The challenge consists in providing gateways from either side according to their current needs. The above-mentioned ACS Presidential Task Force emphasizes for the academic part: If universities are indifferent to what society needs, society may reciprocate that indifference. Educating the next generation of scientists and engineers to recognize and consider opportunities that have impact on society is essential for future cultural changes in the chemical enterprise.


EDUCATING TOMORROW’S CHEMISTS


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All Project Materials Inc. (2020). EDUCATING TOMORROW’S CHEMISTS. Available at: https://allprojectmaterials.com/department/paper-8691.html. [Accessed: ].

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