C&EN's Trailblazers 2021 issue

Editor’s Desk: Celebrating Excellence

C&EN's editor in chief discusses this year's Trailblazers issue, why the annual feature was started, and why this year is dedicated to Black excellence in the chemical sciences.

By C&EN Media Group

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Bibiana Campos Seijo C&EN advertising

by Bibiana Campos Seijo | Editor-in-Chief and VP of C&EN Media Group | @bibianaCampos

This year we felt it was more important than ever to mark the annual observance of Black History month after the protests and social unrest we witnessed across the US last summer, catalyzed by the death of George Floyd while in police custody. 

Here at C&EN, we have a platform to celebrate the achievements by African Americans in the chemical sciences in a big way. So on February 22, C&EN published our Trailblazers issue entirely dedicated to showcasing Black chemists and chemical engineers, recognizing their central role in advancing our science.

C&EN’s Trailblazers was created as an annual issue in 2020 with the goal to celebrate chemistry’s diversity, each year with a different focus. We carefully select a guest editor and curator who actively champions the group or community we are highlighting, and work with them to identify the chemists – at all career stages – that will be profiled in the issue. (Last year, Jennifer Doudna helped lead our issue centered around women entrepreneurs in chemistry.) We solicit suggestions from many quarters: advisory board members, business leaders, and of course, our readers. 

I am delighted that our guest editor on this occasion is nanomaterials and drug delivery pioneer, and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT, Paula Hammond. Her opening remarks introducing C&EN’s Trailblazers is a compelling read. She eloquently explains why this issue is important:  

“In bringing into focus the unique lives of this set of accomplished Black scientists in chemistry and chemical engineering, I hope this issue opens the door to constant recognition of our presence in the field.”

“We have always been present in the sciences—but now more than ever, not only scientists but all citizens must appreciate and acknowledge the contributions of Black people and other people of color. We must find ways to continue to raise our voices and celebrate our work. As a nation, we all benefit from the huge talent gained when everyone is included in the scientific enterprise.”

For the scientists highlighted in this special issue, it is important to note that there is also diversity in terms of their area of research and field of work. Our Trailblazers work across the fields of biotechnology, solar energy, pharmaceuticals and more. Another deliberate detail about the C&EN’s Trailblazers issue is that Black writers created all original content, and all commissioned photos of the Trailblazers were taken by Black photographers. This is also part of a larger goal of ours to diversify our own newsroom and better champion the work of Black creators in journalism as well. 

We have always been present in the sciences—but now more than ever, not only scientists but all citizens must appreciate and acknowledge the contributions of Black people and other people of color.

– Paula Hammond

There is so much to explore in this issue: Some of the entrepreneurs featured in the Trailblazers issue include Karen Akinsanya on AI-driven drug discovery; Squire J. Booker on the catalytic moments of his career; Kristala L. J. Prather on harnessing the synthetic power of microbial systems; and Cato T. Laurencin on his twin passions for surgery and biomedical engineering. 

Readers can also hear directly from the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBChCe) with its president, president-elect, and immediate past president advocating for greater collaboration and leadership to improve diversity in STEM. 

While we celebrate the work of living chemists, there are also the legacies of Black chemists and chemical engineers that are no longer with us, and whose discoveries have changed our lives for the better. We encourage you to give these profiles a read as well.

In parallel, our custom content studio, C&EN BrandLab, partnered with pharmaceutical firm Pfizer to run a social media campaign so anyone can nominate the amazing Black chemists they know who deserve acclaim. The teams will then highlight 30 stellar Black scientists, one per week starting in March. 

We are thrilled to dedicate the 2021 Trailblazers issue to Black excellence in the chemical sciences. More broadly, we aim to always celebrate diversity, and to have the opportunity to recognize individuals for their distinguished contributions to their fields and their broader service to society.

Keywords: , ,