Focus on practical applications stifling innovation, finds survey


Chemistry is not considered as innovative as other sciences such as biology and physics, according to a survey of Elsevier’s Reaxys. 

The survey was carried out on 186 chemists. A total of 78% of chemists believe other scientific fields have more ‘newsworthy’ breakthroughs, which in turn has become a contributing factor for potential chemists opting for other disciplines. While 80% of respondents agreed that the too much emphasis is put on research with practical applications, restricting innovation in the field.

More than three-quarters (76%) of chemists answered there is a long-standing or growing problem with regard to attracting new talent as innovation in medical research is more associated with biology than chemistry.

Given that scientific breakthroughs are increasingly happening at the boundaries between disciplines, 21% of chemists asked agreed that there are not enough opportunities to collaborate with researchers in other fields.

Elsevier Professional Services vice president Time Hoctor said: "These findings highlight that one of the most conflicting challenges chemists face is the demand to deliver practical applications while at the same time achieving breakthrough discoveries that raise the bar for society.

"The chemists graduating today are digital natives that expect to be able to access information wherever and whenever they need it, in a format that works for their needs."

"Scientific innovation inherently needs the space to explore, collaborate and seek multidisciplinary partners, but the speed at which innovations become practically impactful is still often insufficient to the demands of stakeholders from a business and funding perspective.

"The question is, how should current and future chemists adapt and be trained for this environment? In addition, many chemists seem to believe that there is a lack of recognition for chemistry innovation, which is negatively impacting the field’s reputation. The industry as a whole needs to do more to highlight the role chemistry plays in our lives, from improving the batteries in our phones, to providing clean drinking water and combatting climate change, in order to attract the top talent.”

To attract the best talent and facilitate chemistry innovation, data, digital tools and new technologies will have a key influence. 

Hoctor said: “The role of the chemist is adapting to the digital age. The chemists graduating today are digital natives that expect to be able to access information wherever and whenever they need it, in a format that works for their needs.

"A key part of transforming the reputation of the chemistry community and presenting it as more innovative is ensuring these expectations are met. Institutions and businesses need to make sure they are providing chemists entering the industry with the right tools for the job.”