Friday, September 30, 2016

On celebrating my 11th and last Herty Medal Dinner as Host

The Georgia Local Section of the American Chemical Society has a deep history in recognizing research and service toward the advancement of chemistry in the nation’s service. The first of the Herty Medals was awarded in 1933 to Fred Allison. Charles Herty was honored with the award in the following year. As of September 16th of this year, we have now awarded 82 gold medals to deserving chemists in the southeastern United States. The most recent Medalist was Prof. Brooks Pate from the University of Virginia who was recognized for "his work in revolutionizing molecular rotational spectroscopy and its applications in astrochemistry and analytical chemistry and for his service in mentoring diverse students through a summer undergraduate research program.” His seminar illustrated how his key insight of spectral theory allowed him to develop an approach for capturing the spectra in a single experiment rather than using a series of single frequency measurements. The speed and accuracy of this technique has played a key role in reimagining the field of astrochemistry.

On a personal level, I was pleased to see Brooks again after we had been lab mates in Kevin Lehmann’s laboratory at Princeton. I was an undergraduate while I saw him sail through his candidacy exams. On a different personal level, this most recent Herty Medal dinner also marked the eleventh and last dinner for which I chaired the corresponding selection committee. The list of nominees is outstanding and this made settling on a finalist all the more difficult each and every year. Nevertheless, with the able help of my committee colleagues, we developed a process that allowed us to sort through the nominees carefullly and thoughtfully. We pre-screened all of them electronically prior to our in-person meeting. The two- to three- hour discussion led to a deeper understanding of the candidates, and often resulted in a final choice which our individual assessments had rarely predicted. During my term as Chair of the Herty Medal Selection Committee, we also had the opportunity to do up the 75th Herty Medal celebration. For the fist and only time, we have nearly 15 Herty Medalists return to Atlanta to commemorate them and chemistry in the Southeastern United States. We staged several one-time activities reaching out to students and professionals of all ages. We founded the Herty Medal Undergraduate Research Symposium (HMURS), and it continues to support our Section’s diverse undergraduates. I am thus very proud of what our Section has accomplished, and thankful to the section for letting me be a part of it. I also look forward to celebrating the 100th Herty Medalist in 2034. Mark your calendars now!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The talking head video for my District IV Director campaign

You may recall my recent post on the making of a video segment for my District IV Director election campaign. Well now you can see it...

Check it out here!

And the election window is coming up... It runs from October 1 to October 30! So if you are an ACS Member living in the SouthEast please vote. Whether you vote for me or not, I will be happy to represent you, if elected. I also welcome your thoughts on how to mate the American Chemical Society a better society for all of us!

Monday, September 12, 2016

District IV Director's Candidate Statement in CEN

As some of you may know, I am running to continue into my second term on the Board of Directors of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The candidate statements have just appeared in the September 12th issue of C&EN, and I reproduce mine below. The text is also available on my website. If you are a member of the ACS and a member of District IV (roughly in the SouthEast of the US), I would very much appreciate your vote!

Some of you may wonder why I volunteer for the ACS. After all, it takes roughly 160 hours of my time each year to serve the ACS as a Director. That's time that I could be devoting to my research, my students, or (most importantly) my family. Yes, like you, I multi-task and make it work. But the question is why? And the answer is simply that it gives me the opportunity to shape our ACS into a society that works for all of us. My roles as an active research professor, who engages in grants and contracts from government agencies, foundations and industry, gives me currency in the use of many of our offerings. I see directly (through my undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral) students the impact of our career services. As a computational chemist and journal author, I am directly familiar with our journals and electronic platforms for communication. Unfortunately, the Board has traditionally been under-represented by members who are still active in their careers and could provide a balancing perspective for the emerging challenges to our members and our society. For this reason I have felt compelled to serve you on the Board, and I ask that you vote for me so that I may continue doing so.

My Candidate Statement:

The most important element in ACS membership is you. Every one of us, cross-linked together through ACS, makes up a personal and professional chemistry network that we can leverage to advance our careers, each other, and chemistry as a whole. Through ACS, we can celebrate that chemistry has a human side, and it must be diverse. The challenge lies in continuing to adapt our structure and our offerings to best serve the broad needs of our fellowship. This is a challenge that cannot be solved once and for all because we, and the world around us, are constantly changing. The opportunity for advancing the interaction and support of chemical scientists like you is what drove me to volunteer to serve as district director, and it is why I would like to continue for another term.  

Ihave focused on three of ACS’s core values: the value proposition of ACS membership, education of the chemical workforce, and science advocacy. The diversity in age, experience, background, worldwide location, race, ethnicity, gender identity and orientation, and ability that makes our fellowship stronger must be addressed through these values and everything we do. My championing of diversity equity on task forces and boards and as the director of OXIDE (Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity) demonstrates my strong commitment to advancing these critical issues within the chemical workforce. As a director, I have spoken with many of you at regional and national meetings, and I wrote two comments inI have focused on three of ACS’s core values: the value proposition of ACS membership, education of the chemical workforce, and science advocacy. The diversity in age, experience, background, worldwide location, race, ethnicity, gender identity and orientation, and ability that makes our fellowship stronger must be addressed through these values and everything we do. My championing of diversity equity on task forces and boards and as the director of OXIDE (Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity) demonstrates my strong commitment to advancing these critical issues within the chemical workforce. As a director, I have spoken with many of you at regional and national meetings, and I wrote two comments in C&EN—July 14, 2014, pg. 45 and August 24, 2015, pg. 40,—promoting diversity equity and inclusive excellence.

ACS remains as relevant and necessary today as when it was founded, despite the flattening in accessing information through the internet. As members, you and I are voting affirmatively with our wallets, declaring that chemistry and our network are important. Through this collective action, we are empowering ourselves as a force for change in areas such as energy, sustainability and human health. Nevertheless, our Society, like many others, is facing the challenge of decreasing membership. This is a tide that we must stem. Our size gives us the diversity we need to advance our science. It also signifies a vote of confidence for all of our advocacy and outreach activities. As an ACS Director, I will remain a strong proponent for providing clarity to the value proposition of our membership to each of our present and future members.

Diversity of the emerging chemical workforce translates into a need for using multiple mechanisms in and out of the classroom to engage students in the educational process. As a Phi Beta Kappa lecturer, I have had the opportunity to engage, motivate, and mentor undergraduates though campus visits that provide small-group interactions going well beyond my classroom. (Check out undergraduate Linsey Liles’ recap of my visit to the University of the South in the Key Reporter.) If elected, I hope to continue such visits by engaging local chapters as hosts. I am also keenly aware for the need to continue professional education. I have been involved as a facilitator in the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative New Faculty Workshop (C&EN, March 24, 2014, pg. 36). I am also leading a team organizing the Academic Leadership Workshop aimed at supporting midcareer faculty to become university administrators or research directors (C&EN, March 7, 2016, pg. 47). These programs illustrate the power of ACS to catalyze educational opportunities for chemical scientists throughout our lives.

Advances in chemical science and innovation depend critically on public and private support. Advocacy for such efforts can succeed only if we make our science understandable to the public. It is particularly critical for advancing high-risk, high-potential science that tends to receive less funding when budgets are tight (C&EN, September 21, 2015, pg. 33). Again, ACS as a professional society is uniquely positioned to provide current understanding of science and to advocate for the chemical challenges that still remain to be understood. I have enjoyed working with ACS staff in advocating for chemical science and the people who do that work.


Through these priorities, I will aim to help our society become a better home for ts members and a more effective partner to the world. The resonating thread that we must advance through these and other initiatives is you. ACS programs can be effective only if they serve your needs and advance your goals. To this end, I look forward to hearing from you through links at http://tinyurl.com/hernandez4acs to learn more about how to make our ACS fellowship even stronger. I also ask for your vote so that I may continue to work with you and our fellow ACS members to improve your ACS. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Video Segment on my Candidacy for District IV Director

This Fall, I am running to continue into my second term on the Board of Directors of the American Chemical Society (ACS). As part of our effort to communicate with members, a 2-3 minute video segment of me discussing my vision for the ACS was just recorded today. I'm including the transcript of that statement below so as to give you a spoiler for the video! Feel free to send me your thoughts and suggestions for increasing the value of the ACS to you and chemistry broadly. If you are a member of the ACS and a member of District IV (roughly in the SouthEast of the US), I would also very much appreciate your vote!

Here's the transcript:

The most important element in ACS membership is you. Together we form a personal and professional chemistry network that we all leverage to advance our careers, each other, and chemistry as a whole. Through ACS we celebrate the technical and human sides of chemistry, and both must be diverse. 

The challenge lies in continuing to adapt our structure and our offerings to best serve the broad needs of hour fellowship. This is a challenge that cannot be solved once and for all because we and the world around us are constantly changing. The opportunity for advancing the interaction and support of chemical scientists like you is what drove me to volunteer to serve as District Director, and it is why I would like to continue for another term.

I have focused on three of ACS’s core values: The value proposition of ACS membership, Education of the chemical workforce, and Science advocacy. The diversity in age, experience, backgrounds, world-wide location, race, ethnicity, gender identity and orientation, and special abilities that makes our fellowship stronger must be addressed through everything we do. My championing of diversity equity on task forces, boards and as the OXIDE Director demonstrates my strong commitment to advancing these critical issues within the chemical workforce. As a Director, I have spoken with many of you at regional and national meetings. I have written several comments in C&EN, promoting diversity equity and inclusive excellence, the integration of teaching and research, and advocacy for public understanding and financial support of the chemical sciences. 

The ACS promotes and advances chemical science and innovation through its on-line platforms, journals, abstract services, conferences, and more. The ACS is also here to help you and all of its members grow professionally through our myriad of educational offerings. All of these programs and offerings are critical in establishing a marketplace of ideas to which you as a member have a privileged entrĂ©e while benefiting from the broad scope or our large membership. As a member-driven society, none of these things can happen without you. So I ask that you join me in advancing our society. Contact me electronically or personally through the links at tinyurl.com/hernandez4acs follow me on twitter at EveryWhereChem, or read my posts at EveryWhereChemistry.blogspot.com. VOTE for me, Rigoberto Hernandez, so that I may work with you and our fellow members to advance your ACS.

Remember… Every Vote Counts!



Thursday, August 18, 2016

Diversity in the Marketplace of Ideas

During my Phi Beta Kappa visit to University of Oklahoma back in late March of this year, my host Ron Halterman added a somewhat unusual meeting to my visit. Namely, he arranged for me to go to a recording studio at the local NPR station, KGOU. While there, I had a conversation with Paige Willett Lough and Merleyn Bell on the work that I’ve been doing to promote diversity equity in chemistry through OXIDE. In much less than an hour, they recorded enough material to produce a 30-minute show as part of their Race Matters series. At first, it wasn’t clear to me who was more nervous, Merleyn or me. I’m pretty sure that it was me, and Merleyn pretended to be so just to make me adjust to the fact that I was staring at a very large microphone. In any event, it was fun to have a conversation about diversity equity and science advocacy, and I thank Ron, Merleyn and Paige for making that happen!

A 30-minute conversation includes a very long narrative that is too long to reproduce here, but I can highlight a few of the points to hopefully peak your interest. (Or you can just use this as your “cliff notes” so as to avoid going further!) The notion that we as scientists are competing in a marketplace, not of physical products, but of ideas is one that intrigues me. We develop and disseminate ideas but it’s hard to own or sell them. Yet it costs money to produce and maintain them. That money comes from the federal government or student tuition, for example. It leads to solutions and products that we all use and pay for. So it’s definitely a marketplace which has real value. For us to remain competitive in this marketplace of ideas, we need to have a diverse cohort of scientists, and this notion frames several of the segments of my discussion. Indeed, it is the need for us to remain competitive in science that drives OXIDE in its work to diversity the faculties in chemistry departments across the US. As a community, we have made significant advances in changing our policies and procedures to advance our climate, and I provided several specific examples. Meanwhile, Merleyn also asked me about how I encourage young people to be scientists. I hope that I do this by example, and by actively engaging and mentoring students when I visit colleges and universities. But scientists need help from the media to amplify our message. To this end, I mentioned that the theme in the “The Martian” —in which science was used frequently as the key to solve his challenges— is a great example of the media promoting science, and not just innovation. 


Friday, July 29, 2016

Bittersweet transitions: Thomas E. Gompf Chair in Chemistry

On July 14th, I received a phone call from my department Chair, Ken Karlin. He was excited to inform me that the Board of Trustees had just approved my appointment as the inaugural holder of the Thomas E. Gompf Chair in Chemistry. Elation! An endowed professorship is a promotion, and provides discretionary funds useful in pursuing new areas of investigation. It is also another sign of support from my department, my Chair, and my Dean showing that they want me to be part of the collective vision for advancing chemistry at Hopkins. But wait… who is Thomas E. Gompf? Will I have a chance to meet him, express my gratitude, share our passion for science, and generally be a good steward of his beneficence? No. He passed away on January 6th of this year. Sadness! Thus my transition into the Chair is bittersweet because the loss of Dr. Gompf is what made the Chair possible in the first place.

According to the obituary from the Jennings, Nulton, & Mattle Funeral Home in Penfield, NY, Thomas E. Gompf passed away at 90: "Predeceased by his loving wife of 63 years Elaine. He is survived by his son Robert E. (Leslie R.); 2 grandchildren, William "Liam"& Peter; sister, Betty Nordwall; special friend and caregiver Sarah Callahan and family. He retired from Eastman Kodak with over 10 patents to his name.”  The titles and subjects of his patents suggest that he was an organic or formulations chemist having developed innovations to make better photographs. Not surprising as he worked at Eastman Kodak.

That is all I know. But that is enough to know that I have big shoes to fill. The fact that the professorship he endowed is not restricted to his area of chemistry and open to theoretical and computational chemists such as myself speaks to the broadness of his thinking. I look forward to learning more about him, and hopefully also about his connection to Johns Hopkins. I also look forward to hearing about what he did #OutsideTheLab! (Feel free to e-mail me or post anecdotes or information if you have them!)

Credit: The picture is taken from the obituary.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bittersweet Transitions (From Georgia Tech to Johns Hopkins!)

As I have been mulling over my move to Johns Hopkins, the word that keeps cropping up again and again is "bittersweet." I look back at the 20 years that I spent with my family, my colleagues, my friends, and my group in Atlanta, and I feel the moroseness of the loss. We built our home here, our son was born here, my research group thrived here, and I was part of the team that raised the visibility and profile of Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry.

The funny thing about that rise is that it included faculty like me who started our careers at Tech, but it has also included a significant number of colleagues who moved to Tech after having established their research groups elsewhere. The latter came to Tech with an opportunity to reinvent themselves and their research groups. They also had a mandate to add to the growth of their new department. This is the sweet side of a move. Likewise, I am looking forward to reimagining a more agile research group solving problems across our core areas of research. I am also excited by possible new collaborations, and what I will learn from them. The practice of chemical research has increasingly become multi-disciplinary and collaborative. It's exciting to be on a new team, but it is still a bittersweet feeling as I will undoubtedly lose some of my ties to Georgia Tech.

At the stroke of midnight on June 30th, the transition will be complete. I will start my adventure with my new colleagues at Hopkins! The size of our undergraduate student population makes it feel like a primarily undergraduate institution that happens to be collocated with a world-class graduate research program. I look forward to being able to engage with students in smaller classroom settings just as I experienced during my Phi Beta Kappa lectures. I look forward to meeting with my new colleagues and collaborating on problems that I have not yet thought about. My research group is also moving quickly, and we will have the resources to advance the theory of chemical reaction rates and dynamical consistency in multiscale nonequilibrium approaches, while tackling challenges related to proteins, nanoparticles, colloidal suspensions and high-speed flows. Hopkins Chemistry has been moving up because of: many outstanding recent junior hires, many successes by mid-career and senior faculty, and emerging ties to other disciplines. It's an amazing opportunity to be a part of this growth!

So farewell to Georgia Tech and hello to Hopkins. This is an ending that has a beginning, and I am looking forward to what awaits.