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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness Executive Summary This report highlights the main findings of a benchmarking exercise to rate the standing of U.S. chemical engineering relative to other regions or countries, key factors that influence U.S. performance in chemical engineering, and near- and longer-term projections of research leadership. Over a quarter of the jobs in the United States depend on chemistry in one way or another, and over $400 billion worth of products rely on innovations from this field. Chemical engineering, as an academic discipline and profession, has enabled the science of chemistry to achieve this level of significance. However, over the last 10-15 years, concerns have been raised about the identity and future of the U.S. chemical engineering enterprise, stemming from the globalization of the chemical industry; expansion of the field’s research scope as it interfaces with other disciplines; and narrowing of the field’s ability to address important scientific and technological questions covering the entire spectrum of products and processes—from the macroscopic to molecular level. At the request of the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council conducted an in-depth benchmarking analysis to gauge the current standing of the U.S. chemical engineering field in the world. The benchmark measures included: (1) the development of a Virtual World Congress comprising the “best of the best” as identified by leading international experts in each subarea; (2) analysis of journals to uncover directions of research and relative levels of research activities; (3) analysis of citations to measure the quality of research and its impact; and (4) the quantitative analysis of trends in degrees conferred to and employment of
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness chemical engineers, and some other measures including patent productivity and awards. The United States is presently, and is expected to remain, among the world’s leaders in all subareas of chemical engineering research, with clear leadership in several subareas. U.S. leadership in some classical and emerging subareas will be strongly challenged. The United States is currently among world leaders in all of the subareas of chemical engineering research identified in the report, and leads in both classical subareas such as transport processes as well as emerging areas such as cellular and metabolic engineering. Although the comparative percentage of U.S. publications has decreased substantially (see Figure 1), the quality and impact still remain very high and clearly in a leading position. For example, 73 of the 100 most-cited papers in chemical engineering literature during the period 2000-2006 came from the United States (see Figure 2). As a result, the United States is expected to maintain its current position at the “Forefront” or “Among World Leaders” in all subareas of FIGURE 1 Number of published papers in chemical engineering from various geographic regions. NOTE: Asia comprises China, Korea, Taiwan, and India, and the European Union includes 25 countries.
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness FIGURE 2 Contributions to top 100 mostcited chemical engineering journal articles. In recent decades, the United States has been a strong leader. It is noteworthy that in 2000-2006, 13 of the 100 most cited papers were contributions from Asia. NOTE: Asia comprises China, Korea, Taiwan, and India, and the European Union includes 25 countries. chemical engineering research, and to expand and extend its current position into subareas such as biocatalysis and protein engineering; cellular and metabolic engineering; systems, computational, and synthetic biology; nanostructured materials; fossil energy and extraction and processing; non-fossil energy; and green engineering. U.S. leadership in some classical and emerging subareas will be strongly challenged. U.S. leadership in the core areas of transport processes; separations; catalysis; kinetics and reaction engineering; process development and design; and dynamics, control, and operational optimization is now shared with Europe and in some cases Japan, as shown by decreases in U.S. journal articles and citations. Japan and other Asian countries are particularly competitive in the materials-oriented research, e.g., polymers, inorganic and ceramic materials, biomaterials, and nanostructured materials. Europe
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness is also very competitive in the biorelated subareas of research, while Japan is particularly strong in bioprocess engineering. The Panel views the current research trends as healthy. At the same time, it is concerned by the progressive decline of the U.S. position in the core areas, because it is the strength in fundamentals that has enabled generations of chemical engineers to create new and highly competitive technologies for new processes and products. A strong manufacturing base, culture, and system of innovation, and the excellence and flexibility of the education and research enterprise have been and still are the major determinants of U.S. leadership in chemical engineering. U.S. chemical, energy, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, biomedical, materials, and electronics companies are well positioned to maintain their effective global presence. Chemical engineering research in the United States is leading to the creation of new technologies and products. Additionally, the chemical engineering education and research enterprise in the United States is excellent, attracting talented people with desired expertise. As shown by the relative fraction of U.S. and non-U.S. publications from chemical engineers, the U.S. also contributes to new areas much faster than other areas in the world, and is better in tune with innovation. At the same time, there is a risk that some of these strengths could erode the traditional core of chemical engineering. Factors significantly affecting the leadership position of the United States in the future. The range of chemical engineering research over many spatial and temporal scales, across a broad range of products and processes, and throughout a variety of industries and social needs it serves, has led to innovation and competitiveness but is presently at risk. Most biotechnology and nanotechnology technologies being explored today rely on traditional chemical engineering for implementation. Creating conditions for a more balanced approach that safeguards the dynamic range of chemical engineering research is critical to addressing national needs in energy and the environment and preserving U.S. competitiveness in the future. Future U.S. leadership in chemical engineering is not guaranteed. Many factors could significantly affect the position of the U.S., and these include shifting funding priorities by federal agencies, reductions in industrial support of academic research in the United State, and decreases in talented foreign graduate students, among others.
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