Chemistry of Materials at 30 Years: Interview with Founding Editor-in-Chief, Leonard V. Interrante - ACS Axial | ACS Publications
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Chemistry of Materials at 30 Years: Interview with Founding Editor-in-Chief, Leonard V. Interrante

Chemistry of Materials turns 30 this year, so one of the ways we will be celebrating is by interviewing past and present contributors, including people who have played important leadership roles.

The first interview is with the founding and inaugural Editor-in-Chief, Leonard V. Interrante, Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who launched the journal in the late 1980s, with its first issue appearing in January of 1989.

Please describe what it was like to be asked to start a new journal in materials chemistry.

Frankly, it was a bit of a surprise to receive the phone call from David McCall, Chairman of the Search Committee (of which I was a member), because my name was not on the initial list we had developed for potential Editors.

What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

As the Editor of a new journal, I was tasked with deciding everything from what to call it to defining its scope and structure.

In Fall of 1985, the ACS established a Task Force to assess the interest and need for a new journal in materials chemistry. Although the Task Force strongly recommended starting this new journal, they noted that the ACS Editors were not unanimous in supporting it and a number of issues were raised that needed careful consideration. Their concerns ranged from “there are (already) too many journals and not enough time to read them” to “materials chemistry is a rather vague term connoting different things to different people”. It was clear that defining the scope of the journal and what types of papers would be considered suitable for publication would be a major challenge. It was also noted that, unlike most of the ACS journals at that time, there was no one ACS Division that would be specifically identified with this journal. Moreover, also unlike the other journals, a well-defined community of scientists and engineers whose academic background and research focus was clearly identified as “materials chemistry” was lacking. Fortunately, the Task Force produced a detailed report, which listed possible names for the journal as well as suggestions regarding the scope. This report was invaluable to me in deciding what to call the journal and how to define its scope. As was pointed out in this report, the worldwide breadth of research in this area demanded the participation of scientists representing different disciplines from academic and industrial laboratories throughout the world.

Another challenge, common to all ACS journals at that time, was the need to handle hard copy (paper) submissions by mail. We began with two Associate Editors, Gary Wnek and Dennis Hess. Gary, a polymer scientist, was a colleague at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, while Dennis, a chemical engineer, was at UC Berkeley, where a second manuscript handling operation was started. We were especially fortunate to find an experienced office manager, Meeli Leith, to take over the RPI Editorial office. Meeli’s organizational skills and knowledge proved essential to the successful start up of our Editorial office, and in overseeing the subsequent growth of the journal operation over the following 25 years of her service as its Editorial Office Manager. Meeli’s comments regarding these early days of Chemistry of Materials are worth repeating:

“We used the typewriter for reviewer forms and reviewer requests to review manuscripts. We dealt with carbon copies of reviewer forms. We backed up manuscript data on VHS tapes and had to send to ACS for verification. There was modem over the phone connection for the ACS support team to call in to fix computers etc. We received large packages of paper manuscripts (4 copies plus supplementary material plus original figures.) Then there was the anthrax scare after 9/11 and the Unabomber, and we had to take precautions in handling the mass receipt of manuscripts in the mail.”

How did you decide on the name: Chemistry of Materials?

This was one of the possible names suggested in the Task Force report, along with “Materials Chemistry” and the “Journal of Materials Chemistry”. I was told by ACS Pubs that the first of these names was already in use, and I decided that another “Journal of …” would not be sufficiently distinguishing among prospective authors and in indexes. Moreover, I liked the idea of putting the word “Chemistry” first in the name as it would better emphasize to the scientific/materials community the role of chemistry in materials science and the particular focus of the journal.

What were some of the highlights and notable changes that occurred during your tenure as EIC?

  • 109 papers were published during the first year in 1989, covering a broad range of topics ranging from the synthesis, structures, properties, and theoretical analyses of inorganic solids, to the preparation, structures, and properties of molecular crystals and thin-film and bulk polymeric materials.
  • Throughout 1989–1992, the journal was published bimonthly (6 issues/year), but with increasing submissions and pages published, Chemistry of Materials became a monthly publication in 1993 (12 issues/year).
  • In 1999, the ACS journals began online submission.
  • By 2003 we were receiving over 40 papers each week and had expanded to 11 Editorial offices in five countries. In that year, Chemistry of Materials became a biweekly (24 issues/year) publication, reflecting the growing interest in the journal and number of submissions. We also transitioned, along with most of the other ACS Journals, to all electronic submission, review and publication on the World Wide Web. Since then, this system has been continuously refined and improved by ACS Pubs, culminating in the current ACS Paragon Plus system. Today, it is hard to remember what journal publication was like in the old days of paper manuscript submission, review and publication.
  • We published our first “special issue” in 1994, which was dedicated to “Structure and Chemistry of the Organic Solid State”. This was followed by 11 other special issues, culminating in the 25th Anniversary Special Issue (Vol. 26, Iss. 1; Pages 1–870). These special issues included reviews and perspectives by experts in various aspects of the subject area and contributed greatly to the development of the field of materials chemistry and to the central role of Chemistry of Materials as the leading journal in this area. This is clear from the many citations they have generated and by the growing submissions to the journal, as well as by our rapidly increasing impact factor.
  • Despite the increase in submissions, our growth in published papers was more limited, reflecting a tightening of standards and a decision to focus more directly on our core, “Chemistry of Materials” theme. The addition of a new Associate Editor, i.e., Ed Chandross, in 2008, whose main role was to assist the EIC and the Associate Editors in screening papers prior to submission for external review was also critical in this period of tightening the standards for publication.

As a result, our impact factor reached a new high of 8.238 in 2012, an almost 40% increase from that in 2008, while citations to our papers continued to grow, reaching 74,651.

  • The number of Associate Editors and the composition of our Editorial Advisory Board changed as the journal grew over this time and to the present, with a “term limit” of two consecutive terms instituted early on to ensure a reasonable turnover in the composition of the EAB. At the end of our 25th year of publication, in 2013, we had 12 Editorial offices in five countries and an Editorial Advisory Board that included leading scientists and engineers in the area from all over the world.

If you knew then what you know now, would you have taken the job?

Sure thing!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only to say that this has been, from the start, a cooperative effort involving the Associate Editors, the office staff at RPI and UC Berkeley (and the subsequent Chemistry of Materials Editorial offices), the ACS Publications staff, the Editorial Advisory Board members and, most of all, the authors and reviewers of our papers whose work has shaped and defined the journal and the field of materials chemistry as we currently know it.

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