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Chemistry World

 

Policy: Top spot not guaranteed for US chemists


Katharine Sanderson/San Diego, US

Scientific research in Asia could be pushing the US into second place, according to a US public policy expert.

Rising numbers of postgraduate degrees, publications and patents in China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan mark 'an emerging new era in knowledge creation,' said Diana Hicks from the Georgia Institute of Technology,

The number of foreign students awarded science and technology doctorates in the US rose in the 1980s, but the trend has seen a marked decline, dropping by over 80 per cent in the second half of the 1990s. At the same time, PhDs awarded in China rose by almost 60 per cent.

US nationals awarded science PhDs dropped by about 10 per cent between 1998 and 2001. 'Our native students are less and less interested in pursuing engineering and science PhDs,' said Hicks, speaking at the American Chemical Society's 229th national meeting in San Diego. 'The danger is that US scientists might miss the emergence of foreign scientific strength,' she cautioned.

IT companies in the US are benefiting from Asian growth by developing and patenting more products overseas. But US chemicals companies are lagging behind, which Hicks attributes to the different way intellectual property is handled in Asia and the misapprehension that Asian patents are not as important as those from the US. Growing numbers of patents filed by Asian scientists cannot be dismissed. 'When it comes to science and technology, the US is never number two, so this is a new era,' Hicks said.

Hicks' concerns echo those of US industrialists and academics that the nation's position as world leader in science and technology innovation is slipping. Nils Hasselmo, president of the Association of American Universities is concerned by the lack of federal funding. 'If the federal government does not recommit itself to robust funding of research in these areas, we will lose students and our nation will surely suffer,' he said.