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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness Summary According to the American Chemistry Council, over a quarter of the jobs today in the United States depend in one way or another on chemistry, with over $400 billion of products that rely on innovations from this field flowing through the economy.1 Chemical engineering, as an academic discipline and profession, is a U.S. invention with significant influence from Great Britain that has enabled the science of chemistry to achieve this stunning impact. However, over the last 10-15 years, we have witnessed the following three developments, which have raised many discussions and concerns about the identity and future prospects of the chemical engineering enterprise (education, research, employment): drastic restructuring of the global chemical industry and its strategic business philosophy continuous expansion of chemical engineering’s research scope at the interfaces with several sciences and engineering disciplines such as fluid mechanics, solid particle technologies, polymers, nanostructured materials, protein engineering, biocatalysis, and biomedical devices continuous narrowing of chemical engineering’s “dynamic range”—or its ability to address important scientific and technological questions covering the entire spectrum from macroscopic to microscopic, to nanoscale, and eventually to molecular scale products and processes, and offer complete solutions 1 See http://www.americanchemistry.com/s_acc/bin.asp?CID=381&DID=1278&DOC=FILE.PDF. Accessed February 6, 2007.
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness The discipline is perceived by its members as being at a crucial time of change, and is presently in the midst of serious and substantive debates on how it should be positioned to meet the needs of the future. STUDY CHARGE AND PANEL APPROACH Before addressing questions of whether or not and how chemical engineering should change to meet future needs, it is imperative to understand where the discipline currently is with respect to health and international standing. To that end, a benchmarking exercise was proposed, based on the process established in Experiments in International Benchmarking of US Research Fields (COSEPUP, 2000). The discipline has been benchmarked by a Panel of 12 members, 9 from United States and 3 from abroad, with expertise in each of 9 selected areas and an appropriate balance from academia, industry, and national labs. In addition, all the Panel members have extended familiarity of and experience with chemical engineering research not only in Europe but also in Asian countries. Several of the Panel members have setup industrial research centers in Asia (China, India, Japan, Singapore), and all of the Panel members have developed close collaborations with industrial and academic research centers in Europe. The nine areas of chemical engineering covered in the report are engineering science of physical processes; engineering science of chemical processes; engineering science of biological processes; molecular and interfacial science and engineering; materials; biomedical products and biomaterials; energy; environmental impact and management; and process systems development and engineering. The Panel has considered both quantitative and qualitative measures of the status of the discipline in the above areas and corresponding subareas in response to the following three questions: What is the position of U.S. research in chemical engineering relative to that of other regions or countries? What key factors influence U.S. performance in chemical engineering research? On the basis of current trends in the United States and abroad, what will be the relative future U.S. position in chemical engineering research? The Panel was asked only to develop findings and conclusions—not recommendations. The Panel focused on leading-edge research, intermixing basic and applied research and process, product, and applications development. The measures used by the Panel include:
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness development of a Virtual World Congress comprising the “best of the best” as identified by leading international experts in each subarea; analysis of journal publications to uncover directions of research and relative levels of research activities in the United States and the rest of the world; comparison of journal submissions by U.S. authors with those by non-U.S. authors; analysis of citations to measure the quality of research and its impact; patent productivity by academic and industrial research activities; analysis of trends in prizes, awards, and other recognitions received by chemical engineers; evaluation of leadership determinants such as recruitment of talented individuals to the discipline, funding opportunities, infrastructure, and government-industry-academia partnerships; and quantitative analysis of trends in degrees conferred to and employment of chemical engineers. In an effort to filter out numerical inaccuracies, the Panel opted to rely more on trends than absolute values of these measures. It also based its overall conclusions on the combination of the measures rather than on any single measure. The resulting report details the status of U.S. competitiveness in chemical engineering, by area and subarea. The benchmarking exercise determines the status of the discipline, and extrapolates to determine the future status based on current trends. The Panel does not make judgments about the relative importance of leadership in each area, nor does it make recommendations on actions to be taken to ensure such leadership in the future. KEY FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS Based on the various benchmarking measures described above, the Panel’s principal findings and conclusions can be summarized as follows: 1. 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, and enjoys a leading position in both classical subareas as well as emerging areas. It is expected that the United States will enhance its relative position in the near future in the following subareas of research:
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness biocatlysis and protein engineering; cellular and metabolic engineering; systems, computational, and synthetic biology; nanostructured materials; fossil energy extraction and processing; non-fossil energy; and green engineering. However, the strong past U.S. position in the follwing subareas, several of which constitute the core of chemical engineering, has been weakened and is expected to continue to weaken in the near future: transport processes; separations; heterogeneous catalysis; kinetics and reaction engineering; process development and design; and dynamics, control, and operational optimization. Leadership in these subareas is now shared with Europe and in specific instances with Japan, as shown by decreases in 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 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 erosion 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. 2. 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. The U.S. chemical, energy, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, biomedical, materials, and electronics companies are well positioned to maintain their effective global presence. This is an essential prerequisite for the continued success of U.S. chemical engineering research. At the same time, chemical engineering research in the United States is creating new platform technologies that may define and propel new classes of products in the market place. This is a relatively new experience for chemical engineering researchers; in
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness the era of commodity chemicals, researchers were concerned with issues of operational efficiency. The U.S. culture and system of innovation are very supportive of these developments. The chemical engineering education and research enterprise in the United States is excellent. It is diverse, flexible, and agile to competition and attracts talented, young people with experimental, theoretical and computational, academic, industrial, policy-making, and financial and commercial bents. As shown by the relative fraction of U.S. and non-U.S. publications from chemical engineers, the U.S. enterprise also defines or contributes to new areas much faster than its counterparts elsewhere in the world, and is better synchronized with the culture of innovation. Some of the strengths discussed above are presently at risk with the most important being the risk of progressive erosion in the traditional core of chemical engineering. In this report, the reader will be able to identify the areas at risk, understand why they are at risk, and reach conclusions on what needs to be done. 3. Shifting federal and industry funding priorities, a potentially decreasing ability to attract human talent (domestic or foreign), and a narrowing of the discipline’s breadth could diminish the United States’ ability to turn today’s scientific and technical discoveries into tomorrow’s leading jobs in industry and education. U.S. leadership in the various areas of chemical engineering is not assured for the future. The following factors could have significant effects on the U.S. position: shifting funding priorities by federal agencies reductions in industrial support of academic research in the United States in favor of academic support in other countries potential decreases in the supply of talented foreign graduate students reduced attractiveness of chemical engineering as a career path for the most talented U.S. citizens and permanent residents shrinking of U.S.-based research laboratories by major chemical companies lack of attention to research into methods for shortening the development and implementation cycle for new chemicals, materials, processes, and products The dynamic range of chemical engineering research over many spatial and temporal scales, across a broad range of products and processes, and throughout the vast variety of industries and social needs it serves, has been
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness a profound force of innovation and competitiveness but is presently at risk. Virtually all of the modern options in biotechnology and nanotechnology being explored today will rely heavily on traditional chemical engineering for implementation. However, if the United States becomes a nation of “nanomaterial-makers,” it may be the first to exploit nanomaterials for new energy sources, but the country will lack the wherewithal to implement a total solution. At best, this weakness will only delay implementation; at worst the United States will need to “buy” technology from abroad and suffer the economic consequences. The Panel believes that this issue is of critical importance to addressing national needs in energy and the environment and preserving U.S. competitiveness in chemical engineering in the future. ASSESSMENT OF CURRENT U.S. POSITION The current standing of U.S. leadership in chemical engineering research is summarized below in terms of the U.S. position at large and by area of research. Character of the U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Enterprise (Chapter 2) Chemical engineering research in the United States covers a spectrum of basic and applied questions, which is far broader than that addressed by chemical engineering researchers in other parts of the world. It is extensively multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary—spanning the conception, design, and development of systems that are primarily based on chemical and biological phenomena. These systems include novel products (chemicals, materials, formulations, and devices) and the processes for making them and using them in various applications. It also includes devising new ways to measure, effectively analyze, and possibly redesign complex systems involving physical, chemical, and biological processes, as in environmental and human health-related research areas. Chemical engineering research is modestly capital intensive, is deployed through a variety of research modes (e.g., from small single-investigator teams to large multidisciplinary teams), and is supported from a variety of funding sources (e.g., U.S. government, foreign governments, chemical industry,2 venture capital, and private gifts). Cellular and molecular biology has become an integral core science, and computational approaches are 2 Chemical industry, for the purposes of this report, is the aggregate of companies involved in the production of chemicals, materials, and devices, whose manufacturing or usage involves physical, chemical, or biological processes.
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness ubiquitous in all areas of research. Chemical engineering research relies substantially on foreign graduate students, who make up from 30% to 70% of the student body at various universities in the United States, and foreign-born research directors at academic institutions and industry. Assessment of U.S. Position in Chemical Engineering at Large (Chapter 3) Overall, chemical engineering research in the United States has enjoyed a preeminent position for the last 50 years and is still at the “Forefront” or “Among World Leaders” in every area of research the Panel considered and analyzed. For the last 10 years it has been facing increased competition from the European Union, Japan, and other Asian countries, both in terms of volume of research output as well as quality and impact. Although the fraction of U.S. publications has decreased substantially, the quality and impact still remain very high and clearly in a leading position (e.g., 73 of the 100 most-cited papers in chemical engineering literature during the period 2000-2006 came from the United States). It is anticipated that competition will further increase in the future due to globalization and growth of economies around the world. Chemical engineering research in the United States is moving away from the traditional core research areas of the discipline and is increasingly focusing on subjects of interdisciplinary interest that interface with applied sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics) and other engineering disciplines. Within the scope of these interdisciplinary research activities, it is clearly at the “Forefront,” leading the output (volume and quality) of worldwide chemical engineering contributions. However, the fractional volume of output in the core areas of chemical engineering science has been losing ground, and there is serious concern about the discipline’s ability to maintain a sufficient number of highly skilled researchers in this area. Analysis of patents awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show that patent productivity of U.S. academic chemical engineering researchers is significantly higher than that of researchers in other countries, and has reached a rough parity with that of U.S. chemistry and materials science and engineering researchers. Also, the relative impact of chemical engineering research on industrial patents has increased. Assessment of U.S. Position by Area of Research (Chapter 4) The Panel divided chemical engineering into nine areas of research with three to five subareas in each area. The data indicate that U.S. research is strong and at the “Forefront” or “Among World Leaders” in all subareas of chemical engineering. U.S. research is particularly strong in fundamental engineering science across the spectrum of scale—from macroscopic to
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness molecular. In these areas of research, the primary competition in terms of quality and impact comes from other disciplines rather than chemical engineers from other countries. In the core areas of chemical engineering research, the level of output from European and Asian countries has increased significantly during the last 10 years, but the United States maintains a strong leadership position in terms of quality and impact. The degree of interdisciplinarity varies from subarea to subarea, but is significant in all areas of chemical engineering research and in recent years has been growing. Therefore, future competitiveness of U.S. chemical engineering research must be benchmarked against a broader spectrum of disciplinary contributions. KEY DETERMINANTS OF LEADERSHIP To determine the key factors which influence U.S. performance in chemical engineering research, the Panel collected and analyzed data on recruitment of talented individuals to the discipline, funding opportunities, infrastructure, and government-industry-academia partnerships. The data and their analysis are presented in Chapter 5, and the major findings are summarized as follows: Historical research leadership in chemical engineering in the United States is the result of many key factors, the most important of which are excellence and flexibility in education and research; different modes of research, from small, single-investigator teams to large, multidisciplinary teams; a flexible and effective culture and system of innovation; and a strong manufacturing base with global presence. Over the years, the United States has been a leader in innovation as a result of a strong U.S. industrial sector, a variety of funding opportunities (industry, federal government, state initiatives, universities, and private foundations), cross-sector collaborations and partnerships, and strong professional societies. Intellectual property policies, administrative support, and access to patent expertise are improving for U.S. academic researchers in chemical engineering. These policies are generally more flexible and advanced here than they are abroad. Major centers and facilities have contributed significantly to U.S. leadership by providing key infrastructure and capabilities for conducting research. Key capabilities for chemical engineering research include materials synthesis and characterization, materials micro- and nanofabrication, genetics and proteomics, fossil fuel utilization, and computing facilities. There has been an overall steady supply of chemical engineers in the United States, and job prospects and salaries for U.S. chemical
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness engineers are still favorable when compared to those of other sciences and engineering disciplines. However, with changes in U.S. citizenry interests and international capabilities, there is increasingly strong competition for international science and engineering human resources. Research funding for U.S. chemical engineering has been rather steady over the years, with an average funding level of approximately $200 million per year between 1993 and 2003. However, during this time the landscape for chemical engineering research has changed significantly and the competitive pressures have increased substantially due to shifting agency priorities. PREDICTION OF FUTURE U.S. POSITION AND PROJECTION OF KEY DETERMINANTS OF LEADERSHIP In assessing the future position of U.S. chemical engineering research the Panel took into consideration the following factors (Chapter 4): trends in publications and impact, revealed by the analyses in Chapters 3 and 4, which are likely to continue in the near- (2 to 3 years) and mid-term (5 to 7 years) future the composition of the Virtual World Congress intellectual quality of researchers and ability to attract talented researchers maintenance of strong, research-based graduate educational programs maintenance of strong technological infrastructure cooperation among government, industrial, and academic sectors adequate funding of research activities Prediction of Future Position U.S. chemical engineering research will remain in the near future strong at the “Forefront” or “Among World Leaders” in all subareas. The Panel foresees that U.S. leadership will be extended in some areas but may be weakened in others. Specifically, the Panel expects that the U.S. position will be strengthened and leadership will increase biocatalysis and protein engineering; cellular and metabolic engineering; systems, computational, and synthetic biology; nanostructured materials; fossil energy extraction and processing; non-fossil energy; and green engineering. The Panel has also recognized that certain developments, for example shifts in government and industry funding priorities and significant investments by European and Asian countries, may put the U.S. leadership position at risk in the following subareas of research: transport processes, separations, catalysis,
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness kinetics and reaction engineering, electrochemical processes, inorganic and ceramic materials, process development and design, and dynamics, control, and operational optimization. Current government and industry funding priorities will continue to have an impact on chemical engineering’s dynamic range, strengthening its molecular orientation in bio-, energy- and materials-related activities at the expense of research in macroscopic processes. Japanese and European research investments maintain a more balanced approach. Also, the growing product- and applications-centric character of the U.S. chemical industry with commensurably increasing levels of applications-oriented research will continue in the future, at the expense of basic research, if no major reorientation of funding priorities by the federal government occurs. Although the United States has enjoyed a research and funding environment that allows for the installation and operation of a diverse range of facilities to support leading-edge research in chemical engineering, this position is not assured forever. Projection of Key Determinants (Chapter 5) A steady future supply of highly qualified PhD students in chemical engineering is uncertain. U.S. chemical engineering departments are still the destination of preference for many foreign graduate students, but as the number and quality of opportunities for research in their home countries continue to improve, the number of talented foreign students coming to the United States may decrease. Also, the number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents pursuing graduate studies in chemical engineering may continue to decrease. Strengthening academic programs and keeping open and exciting research environments that stimulate the intellectual curiosity of young people is essential to attracting and retaining human talent. Salary incentives and more attractive career paths will also be necessary. The overall federal research and development funding strategy for chemical engineering research is currently unbalanced. As a result, important developments in key subareas could lag behind in worldwide competition. The dynamic range of the discipline, which has been a principal strength for more than 50 years, is threatened by decreasing support of the traditional core research areas. An important example of this is the inevitable need for alternative energy sources. Virtually all of the options being explored today will rely heavily on traditional chemical engineering for implementation. If we become a nation of “nanomaterial-makers,” we may indeed be first to exploit nanomaterials for new energy sources, but we will lack the wherewithal to implement a total solution.
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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness Industry-funded research may have a specific shorter-term focus, and some research projects are conducted under contract terms that capture intellectual properties, protect confidentiality, restrict publication, and require detailed planning and reporting of progress. These conditions may not attract the most talented of the young engineers to the research effort. Although the United States has enjoyed a research and funding environment that allows for the installation and operation of a diverse range of facilities to support leading-edge research in chemical engineering, this position is not assured forever. Major centers and facilities have contributed significantly to U.S. leadership by providing key infrastructure and capabilities for conducting research. Key capabilities for chemical engineering research include materials synthesis and characterization, materials micro- and nanofabrication, genetics and proteomics, fossil fuel utilization, and cyberinfrastructure. U.S. facilities have instrumentation that is on par with the best in the world. However, rapid advances in design and capabilities of instrumentation can cause obsolescence in 5-8 years. In addition, other countries and regions such as the European Union, Japan, Korea, and China are making heavy capital investments.
Representative terms from entire chapter: