November 2020 - ACS Axial | ACS Publications

ACS Editors’ Choice: Fast Electron Tomography for Nanomaterials — and More!

Each and every day, ACS grants free access to a new peer-reviewed research article from one of the Society’s journals. These articles are specially chosen by a team of scientific editors of ACS journals from around the world to highlight the transformative power of chemistry. Access to these articles will remain open to all as a public service.

Check out this week’s picks!
Enhancing Combined Immunotherapy and Radiotherapy through Nanomedicine
Bioconjugate Chem. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acs.bioconjchem.0c00520
Reactivity-Based Screening for Citrulline-Containing Natural Products Reveals a Family of Bacterial Peptidyl Arginine Deiminases
ACS Chem. Biol. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acschembio.0c00685
Influences of Chemical Properties, Soil Properties, and Solution pH on Soil–Water Partitioning Coefficients of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)
Environ. Sci. Technol. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c05705
Fast Electron Tomography for Nanomaterials
J. Phys. Chem. C 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcc.0c08939
Spin-Dependent Photovoltaic and Photogalvanic Responses of Optoelectronic Devices Based on Chiral Two-Dimensional Hybrid Organic–Inorganic Perovskites
DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.0c05980
Light-Embrittled Dental Resin Cements Containing Photodegradable Polyrotaxane Cross-Linkers for Attenuating Debonding Strength
ACS Appl. Polym. Mater. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acsapm.0c01024
Statistical Characterization of the Morphologies of Nanoparticles through Machine Learning Based Electron Microscopy Image Analysis
DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.0c06809
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Take our survey: How has COVID-19 affected your research?

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted research, while also acting as a catalyst for change. We want to hear from our researcher and librarian communities about how the pandemic has affected your research, so that we can provide better support and services.

With this goal in mind, ACS Publications is partnering with Kudos on their Brave New World research project. The study seeks to reveal the implications of COVID-19 on research funding policy, university budgets and practices, and researchers’ workload and workflows.

As part of this project, we are asking our communities to share their views and experiences via an online survey. Please find the links below; the survey should take no longer than 15 minutes. The survey closes Sunday, December 6, 2020.

Many thanks in advance for your contribution!

Improvements Coming to ACS Direct Correct

ACS Publications is excited to announce a new improvement for our authors. Beginning in December, our authors will be able to use ACS Direct Correct to make final edits to their manuscripts! Under this new and improved system, authors will have an improved experience as they submit in-line corrections and edit tables and equations before final publication.
Some of our authors will already be familiar with ACS Direct Correct, as an initial version of the tool launched in 2017.

Over the past several months, several significant upgrades have been made to expand its functionality. In the new and improved version, authors can make edits to tables and table structure, make edits to lists, view and comment on higher resolution equations, and more. Previous features of ACS Direct Correct are still in place, and the tool continues to make the publication process quicker and easier.

After a proof is composed, authors have the option of whether to use ACS Direct Correct to make final edits to their articles or whether to make their edits in a separate document. ACS Direct Correct is free to all authors who choose to use it. This tool is the latest advancement that ACS has made to improve our authors’ experience. We will continue to innovate new ways to make the publishing experience easier and more efficient.

The improvements to ACS Direct Correct were made in response to users’ feedback. ACS encourages authors to continue to provide feedback on how ACS Direct Correct can better support them so that continual improvements can be made to the tool. Have you used ACS Direct Correct? Tell us about your experience by emailing

Submit Now to a Joint Virtual Special Issue on Process Safety

In an effort to support and highlight the outstanding work related to process safety, the ACS journals ACS Chemical Health & Safety, Organic Process Research & Development, and the Elsevier journal, Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries, will publish a joint virtual special issue (VSI) titled “Process Safety from Bench to Pilot to Plant.” This unique collaboration between Elsevier and ACS Publications aims to highlight work that merges natural, social, management, and engineering sciences.

The journals welcome papers on topics such as:

  • Safety research and information that informs chemical safety knowledge, testing protocols, and standards
  • Effective chemical hygiene practices, equipment, and procedure design, and qualitative or quantitative risk assessment tools
  • Research that addresses human and organizational factors as well as technical engineering controls
  • Classical organic process safety studies to evaluate the parameters needed to scale-up organic chemistry such as in preparation for application in multi-purpose pilot and commercial facilities
  • Consequences of fire, explosion, and toxic release in the process industries
  • Use of bench-scale and pilot-plant data for process safety assurance in industrial plant

The full scope and audience of each journal can be found online. Briefly, ACS Chemical Health & Safety (ACS CHAS) publishes on current and emerging technical, human, and organizational factors affecting chemical risk management, safety information, regulatory updates, effective chemical hygiene practices, safety training, and hazard assessment tools. Organic Process Research & Development (OPR&D) publishes on industrial process chemistry to enable safe, environmentally benign, and ultimately economical manufacturing of organic compounds in larger amounts. Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries (JLPPI) publishes on technical, human, and organizational process safety measures to prevent and mitigate process-related injuries and damage arising from fire, explosion, and toxic release during the use, storage, manufacture, handling, and transportation of hazardous materials.

Please submit directly to the appropriate journal. Manuscripts will be processed on a rolling basis to go through peer review. Upon acceptance, each manuscript is published in a regular issue in the individual journals. Once all papers have been accepted, they will be collected onto a single webpage for additional exposure to each author’s work as a virtual special issue (VSI).

The guest editors are as follows:

We hope you will be able to contribute to what promises to be a very stimulating and valuable virtual special issue!

ACS Editors’ Choice: Atomic-Scale Imprinting by Sputter Deposition of Amorphous Metallic Films — More!

Each and every day, ACS grants free access to a new peer-reviewed research article from one of the Society’s journals. These articles are specially chosen by a team of scientific editors of ACS journals from around the world to highlight the transformative power of chemistry. Access to these articles will remain open to all as a public service.

Check out this week’s picks!
Intrinsic Ferromagnetic Semiconductors in Two-Dimensional Alkali-Based Chromium Chalcogenides
ACS Appl. Electron. Mater. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acsaelm.0c00686
Antimyeloma Potential of Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester and Its Analogues through Sp1 Mediated Downregulation of IKZF1-IRF4-MYC Axis
J. Nat. Prod. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.0c00350
Amorphous CoOx-Decorated Crystalline RuO2 Nanosheets as Bifunctional Catalysts for Boosting Overall Water Splitting at Large Current Density
ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.0c06782
Diastereoselective Rhodium-Catalyzed Hydrogenation of 2-Oxindoles and 3,4-Dihydroquinolones
Org. Lett. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acs.orglett.0c03427
Atomic-Scale Imprinting by Sputter Deposition of Amorphous Metallic Films
ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acsami.0c14982
Selective Partitioning of (Biomacro)molecules in the Crowded Environment of Double-Hydrophilic Block Copolymers
Macromolecules 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acs.macromol.0c01839
Photogating-Induced Controlled Electrical Response in 2D Black Phosphorus
ACS Appl. Electron. Mater. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX
DOI: 10.1021/acsaelm.0c00592
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DST & ACS Workshops 2020: Master the Publishing Process!

Manuscript writing and publishing are evolving with time and can often be challenging for early career researchers, given the limited availability of platforms for seeking help. That’s why ACS, in partnership with the Department of Science & Technology (DST), Government of India, in association with Vigyan Prasar (an autonomous organization under DST), is continuing the popular DST & ACS Workshops of 2019. The group conducted three workshops (one onsite and two pan-India virtual events) in 2020. The free events provide a channel to educate early career researchers on scholarly publishing, peer review, ethics and plagiarism, science communication, and other skills required for career advancement.

These one-day events engaged students, faculty members, industrialists, and directors from various organizations. A multidisciplinary audience took part in the workshops. This scientific diversity continues to be the hallmark of the workshop series.

The sole onsite workshop of 2020 was held in February at the Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh, followed by two virtual webinars held in July 2020 and October 2020 through online platforms. More than 5,000 registrants, including about 1,000 ACS members and about 2,000 participants from approximately 1,200 institutes/universities, were a part of these events. The in-person workshop provided an excellent opportunity for early career researchers to network with editorial experts directly. The virtual workshops were made live on the ACS Publications Facebook page and garnered more than 13,000 views. The post reached about 35,000 people in 7 days. During the unprecedented times of the current COVID-19 pandemic, these virtual events have been phenomenal, offering diverse speakers, great content, pan-India outreach at once, and engaging panel discussions.

The workshops featured scientific talks on building effective publishing skills from ACS Editors and Advisory Board members. Speakers also shared their thoughts and vision for various ACS journals. This year, those in attendance at the onsite workshop included Professor Ayan Datta, member of The Journal of Physical Chemistry Editorial Advisory Board, and Professor Jitendra K. Bera, member of Organometallics Editorial Advisory Board. Besides the scientific talks, the attendees learned about the ACS resources, such as ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication, a popular resource for improving scientific writing, now available online, ACS Reviewer Lab, a free online certificate course on peer review, and ChemIDP, a career planning tool for chemical scientists. The onsite activities included sessions like “Title & Abstract Writing,” “Your favorite ACS Article,” and “ACS Quiz 2020,” which were conducted to involve the early career researchers further.

The onsite workshop was followed by the first pan-India virtual workshop held in July 2020 featuring talks by Professors Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary DST & Associate Editor of ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, Prashant Kamat, Editor-in-Chief of ACS Energy Letters, D. D. Sharma, Senior Editor of ACS Energy Letters, Dr. Anubhav Saxena, Editorial Advisory Board Member of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) and ACS Publications journals ACS Omega and ACS Chemical Health & Safety.

While the talks on the publication process taught young researchers about the nitty-gritty of writing a manuscript, cover letter, or appeal, the talk on ‘How to Commercialize an Idea’ by Dr. Anubhav Saxena left everyone motivated to think beyond the obvious. Dr. Sarah Tegen, Senior Vice President, Journals Publishing Group, delivered opening remarks, including an overview of ACS Publications’ various programs and outreach activities in India. Dr. Deeksha Gupta, Associate Director-India, Editorial, Society Programs & Services, moderated the event.

This event reached the maximum capacity of a Zoom account. This impressive number of attendees at the first virtual workshop immediately called for the second virtual workshop of the series held in October 2020, featuring Professors Sarbajit Banerjee, Associate Editor of ACS Omega, and Bala Subramaniam, Executive Editor, ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering. Dr. Daniel T. Kulp, Director, Editorial Development, ACS Publications, set the event in motion with his opening remarks by creating awareness about the ACS’s initiatives for the Indian scientific community. Drs. Dinesh Soares, Senior Managing Editor, ACS Omega, and Rhea Williams, Senior Managing Editor, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, joined the panel discussion with the Editors.

The participants engaged with the editors by posing numerous questions during the panel discussions, underscoring the need for such events for scientists. Researchers had the opportunity to win prizes by submitting their favorite article from the ACS Publications journal portfolio, and the winning entries were chosen as an ‘ACS Editor’s Pick.’ Additionally, a 50% discount for a one-year ACS Membership was offered to participants at the three workshops.

DST & ACS workshops will continue to be organized. The series will feature four workshops in 2021 covering diverse topics, maintaining the excitement around such scientific programs, and continuing the endeavor to help early career researchers advance in their scientific journey. 

For further updates, please visit the ACS in India webpage.

Check out images from these events:

2020 ACS Photonics Young Investigator Award Lectureship Goes to Maiken H. Mikkelsen

The Editors of ACS Photonics are proud to announce that Maiken H. Mikkelsen, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Duke University, is the winner of the 2020 ACS Photonics Young Investigator Award Lectureship. The lectureship, established in 2016, honors the contributions of a researcher, within the first 5-12 years of their independent research career, who has made major impacts on the field of photonics.

Professor Mikkelsen received her B.S. in Physics from the University of Copenhagen in 2004, her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2009 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley before joining Duke University in 2012. Her research explores nanophotonics and quantum materials to enable transformative breakthroughs for optoelectronics, quantum science, the environment, and human health.

In celebration of winning the Lectureship Award, we asked Maiken a few questions related to her research as well as advice for young investigators.

What does winning the 2020 ACS Photonics Young Investigator Lectureship mean to you?

I am humbled and honored to receive this award and delighted that our research is making an impact in the scientific community. It wouldn’t have been possible without a team of talented and hardworking students, postdocs, and wonderful collaborators along the way.

What made you pursue the fields of nanophotonics and quantum materials?

Since my undergraduate years, I have been fascinated by the interaction of light and matter on the deep nanoscale and quantum mechanics. Lately, I have been intrigued by how well-known materials may behave in previously unimaginable ways when their electromagnetic environment is drastically altered. This allows not only new material “building blocks” for optoelectronics and quantum information science, but also reveals a wealth of new physics.

What project is your work group most excited about right now and why?

We have a lot of really exciting projects, but one challenge that stands out is to demonstrate that the effects we are seeing are robust in the sense that they can actually be utilized in devices. Recently, we have utilized sub-10 nm gap cavities in projects ranging from spectrally-selective photodetectors to biosensors.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

Don’t get discouraged by setbacks; they present opportunities for creativity and problem solving, which is a lot of fun! Always remember to enjoy your research, I believe it is such a privilege to have academic freedom, choose research problems and dig deep.
As the winner, Professor Mikkelsen will present her award lecture during the December edition of the ACS Photonics Global Webinar Series.

Recommended Reading – Highlighting Some of Professor Mikkelsen’s ACS Photonics artices

Active Control of Multiple, Simultaneous Nonlinear Optical Processes in Plasmonic Nanogap Cavities
ACS Photonics 2020, 7, 4, 901–907
DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.0c00011
Real-Time Tunable Strong Coupling: From Individual Nanocavities to Metasurfaces
ACS Photonics 2019, 6, 4, 838–843
DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.8b01743
Tailored Emission Spectrum of 2D Semiconductors Using Plasmonic Nanocavities
ACS Photonics 2018, 5, 2, 552–558
DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.7b01085
Polarization-Controlled Nanogap Cavity with Dual-Band and Spatially Overlapped Resonances
ACS Photonics 2019, 6, 8, 1916–1921
DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.9b00851

LGBTQ+ STEM Day: Dr. Michelle M. Nolan

In honor of LGBTQ+ STEM Day on November 18, 2020, ACS Axial is publishing a series of interviews with LGBTQ+ professionals from across the chemistry community, discussing their work, their stories, and how organizations can do a better job of supporting LGBTQ+ professionals in the workplace. View this year’s full list of interviews, as well as interviews for the 2019 event.

Tell me about yourself. What does your job involve? What are the big challenges in your field right now?

I am the chemical sciences librarian at the University of Florida, meaning that I am the information expert for all things chemistry. The majority of my professional duties involve teaching chemical information literacy classes and assisting researchers in their literature searches. Science librarians can train folks on how to use databases, how to ask research questions, and how to formulate search strategies. In chemistry, we have some unique information access points, such as compound structure searching, which fascinates my colleagues.

In addition to chemical information literacy, I am really interested in pushing students to examine information through a critical lens, asking questions such as “how does societal power mediate the ways that scientific information is accepted, trusted, valued, and shared?” I think these critical approaches are particularly important in the current era of widespread disinformation.

There are a lot of major challenges in science librarianship as a field, including that almost all academic libraries are stretched thin in our budgets due to stagnant collection funding and rising electronic resource costs. However, one challenge of the profession that I have been trying to personally make progress with is that many researchers, especially graduate students, don’t realize how the level of discipline-specific expertise science librarians have, and they are not aware of the help we can provide. I hope to change that at UF by embedding myself as a close research partner for students to seek out. 

What attracted you to a career as a chemical sciences librarian? What were some of the hurdles along the way?

When I was working on my Ph.D. in chemistry, I knew that I wanted to work with students, but I was struggling to find a career path where I could focus on student outreach and social justice as the primary role of my work. At that time, I was involved in a number of campus activist and organizing groups, including the Women in Science and Engineering club. At a career panel discussion hosted by WiSE, the physics librarian spoke about the freedom of her position to constantly learn new things, including that she built a free-to-use 3D printing lab for students. As a longtime activist, the underlying radical philosophy of librarianship was also a huge calling to me: the idea that information should be free and accessible to all is a revolutionary way of thinking. I was hooked on the idea instantly. I love providing reference help to chemistry researchers because every day is a different question, and I get to learn about a wide breadth of work rather than a very narrow chemical focus.

After completing my Ph.D. as a student at UF, the chemistry librarian position at the science library here happened to open up, and I transitioned from chemistry Ph.D. student to chemical science faculty librarian in the same institution. I had quite a few technical hurdles during my first year, and I’m still learning new things about library science all the time, but we’re a very team-oriented library, and we all chip in from our own expert domains to solve problems together. 

What does coming to work as your full, authentic self mean to you? What are some of the cultural barriers that make it difficult for trans people in STEM fields to do this?

When I was a student, I never knew any professors or teaching assistants who were non-binary people. I now comfortably identify as genderqueer, but at that time, I was extremely uncertain about what gender identity even meant and pretty lost in my own understanding of queer and trans embodiment. I remember when I first met the director of the LGBT Affairs office, a visibly gender non-conforming person, I was shocked to see a non-binary person in a professional role. It felt so inspiring and validating to witness that representation.

When I went into my current position, I made a promise to myself to be that visible and to actively challenge gender binary discourse in the academic space so that queer and trans students could spot me as someone who would always have their backs. Expressing myself in the most authentic way is highly transgressive to the ivory tower standards, and I have faced some professional backlash for it, but I push on through because it’s very important to me to be the representation I never got to see in the faculty when I was a student.

What do you wish employers and managers knew about attracting and retaining LGBTQ employees?

I think that heterosexual and cisgender people have a false idea of what it means to be “out,” particularly when it comes to transgender and non-binary people. Rather than coming out at one moment of time and then moving forward as an “out” person, trans and non-binary people are in a constant flux of outness. We have to navigate a complicated decision tree of how out to be, how much to share, and how “worth it” it is to bother with every social interaction in our lives. I’ve had a lot of well-meaning folks ask me how to prepare their workplaces to welcome future trans people, and I always remind them of this truth: you have already worked with trans colleagues, but whether you know it or not is decided by the conditions you’ve created and how comfortable that person felt sharing with you.

The most important actions to take now are to assume trans employees are in the room already, to challenge gender binary discourse and transphobia, to look into trans-affirming workplace policies, and to build a culture with explicit community agreements that guard against transphobia. Chances are, trans folks already work with you now. With that knowledge, are there things you wish to change?

What does it look like for cisgender and heterosexual chemists to be good allies in 2020?

If you’re just starting your journey to becoming a good ally to queer and trans people, my biggest recommendation would be to do some deep reading on LGBTQ+ history and listen to the perspectives of queer and trans activists, particularly those of color. Start developing your foundational knowledge, question your own assumptions, and continuously educate yourself on the issues queer and trans people face.

When you have some grounding knowledge, then the work of disrupting queerphobia and transphobia when you see it in action becomes some of the most important work allies can do. As with all oppressed people, our personal and work lives are inseparable because queer and trans people are constantly advocating for ourselves and navigating power systems that are invisible to others. Having allies really stand up in solidarity to interject in meetings, organize collective responses to discrimination, and challenge queer/transphobic workplace policies takes some of the physical and emotional labor off of our backs. As small as it sounds, I always breathe a sigh of relief when a cisgender colleague vocally challenges a gender binary comment so that I don’t have to be the one always pointing it out. I appreciate those who stand by us in the fight immensely. 

LGBTQ+ STEM Day: Michael Anthony Morris

In honor of LGBTQ+ STEM Day on November 18, 2020, ACS Axial is publishing a series of interviews with LGBTQ+ professionals from across the chemistry community, discussing their work, their stories, and how organizations can do a better job of supporting LGBTQ+ professionals in the workplace. View this year’s full list of interviews, as well as interviews for the 2019 event.

Tell me about yourself. What drew you to chemistry?

I love this question because I always love learning how other chemists decided to pursue chemistry. Everyone has a unique journey!

To answer your first question, my pronouns are he/him/his and I’m a gay chemist who is passionate about chemical biology, chemical education, and diversity and inclusion in STEM. I’m currently wrapping up my Ph.D. in chemistry at University of California, Irvine, and I’ll be defending my thesis in just a few weeks!

When I was young, I was fascinated with learning how the world works. I was always probing my parents with questions about science, even though they were non-scientists. Their go-to response was “let’s look it up in the Encyclopedia.” This scientific curiosity led me to take lots of science classes in high school — biology ended up being my favorite subject. In fact, I had no interest in chemistry until my first year in college, when I began as a biology major taking general chemistry courses. I loved learning about reaction kinetics and mechanisms, and how they can be applied to understanding biology and biochemistry. At the end of my first year of college, I decided to change my major to biochemistry, enabling me to take upper division chemistry courses and work in a chemistry research lab. Carrying out chemistry research as an undergraduate affirmed my decision to go to graduate school and learn more chemistry!

What is your current research focus? What are you hoping to

My dissertation research involves studying the mechanism of action of a recently reported antibiotic called teixobactin. Teixobactin is unique because it can kill Grampositive pathogens without detectable resistance, which is a remarkable property considering that most antibiotics are suspectable to drug resistance. Because of this exciting property of teixobactin, I wanted to characterize the cellular localization of fluorescent teixobactin analogues in order to better understand how this fascinating antibiotic works. Using fluorescence microscopy, I was able to determine that the fluorescent teixobactin probe localizes to the septa and sidewalls of various Grampositive bacteria, which is consistent with an antibiotic targeting peptidoglycan
precursors. This was a fun project because it combined organic synthesis, microbiology,
and microscopy.

Who are some of your professional mentors? How have they impacted your

I wouldn’t be here as a chemist without two formative chemistry professors I had as an undergraduate at Union College. Professor Laurie Tyler taught my general chemistry course my freshman year and inspired me to switch my major to biochemistry. I am also indebted to Professor Laura MacManus-Spencer, who was my research principal investigator (PI) in college, and
also encouraged me to apply to graduate school.

Another important mentor of mine is my current PI — Professor James Nowick, who is an out gay chemist. James was the first out chemist I ever met, which was incredibly inspiring. When I began graduate school, I was disappointed by the lack of representation and visibility of LGBTQ+ chemists and role models, so James encouraged me to apply as the chair of the Gay and Transgender Chemists and Allies (GTCA) subdivision of ACS.

I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to serve as GTCA chair because I met so many other inspiring LGBTQ+ chemists who are doing amazing things for the chemical LGBTQ+ community. The best part of serving as GTCA chair was organizing the LGBTQ+ graduate student and postdoctoral scholar symposium series for ACS National Meetings, with the help of James, Professor Tehshik Yoon, and Professor Lisa Eytel. These symposia enabled LGBTQ+ grad students and postdocs to present their scholarly research and to network with other LGBTQ+ chemists at ACS National Meetings.

What do you wish employers and managers knew about attracting and retaining
LGBTQ chemists?

A recent national and longitudinal study found that there is a leaky pipeline of queer STEM majors. This is concerning because this decreases the pool of talent for all fields in STEM, including chemistry, and imposes barriers for aspiring queer scientists to succeed. Although this study is done in the context of college STEM students, I think it extends well in the employment and retention of LGBTQ+ chemists. If employers want a diverse pool of talent that includes LGBTQ+ people, then they should recognize that LGBTQ+ scientists are underrepresented and need to feel supported by their workplace in order to feel comfortable working. To provide support for LGBTQ+ workers, employers should maintain an inclusive, non-hostile workspace and have clear anti-discrimination policies.

On top of that, employers should invite LGBTQ+ speakers to present talks and highlight LGBTQ+ role models in their field. These are a few effective methods to attract and retain LGBTQ+ scientists.

The Human Rights Campaign measures the corporate equality index (CEI) of U.S. employers, which ranks companies based on their policies that support and protect LGBTQ+ employees. I think the CEI is a general good resource for employers to determine best practices for protecting and retaining LGBTQ+ employees.

Do you think LGBTQ acceptance is more common in the workplace today? What
challenges remain?

Gauging acceptance in various types of workspaces is tough, but I think LGBTQ+ workers are feeling more comfortable compared to work environments from a decade ago. Two recent landmark Supreme Court cases, Bostock v. Clayton County (2020) and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2020), expanded the scope of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect employees against discrimination due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. The latter case is especially important because it protects transgender employees from employer discrimination. These are transformative legal protections for LGBTQ+ employees, and I definitely feel more comfortable knowing that I have these protections as a gay chemist in America as I move forward in my career.

Despite recent legal advances, hostile work environments for LGBTQ+ employees are still pervasive in the United States, and many countries have abysmal LGBTQ+ protections. I hope that representation of LGBTQ+ people in various facets of society will be one effective way to mitigate these issues on a global scale.

What does it look like for cisgender and heterosexual chemists to be good allies
in 2020?

This is a great question! I encourage everyone to learn about implicit bias — which involves determining your own unconscious biases towards specific groups of people. Harvard University created various online implicit association tests that can help identify what kind of unconscious biases you may have. Recognizing your own unconscious biases can help you become a more thoughtful and inclusive ally. On top of that, many institutions and universities offer LGBTQ+ ally training, and these are generally helpful to equip non-LGBTQ+ people with the necessary tools and knowledge become better allies.

LGBTQ+ STEM Day: Professor David K. Smith

In honor of LGBTQ+ STEM Day on November 18, 2020, ACS Axial is publishing a series of interviews with LGBTQ+ professionals from across the chemistry community, discussing their work, their stories, and how organizations can do a better job of supporting LGBTQ+ professionals in the workplace. View this year’s full list of interviews, as well as interviews for the 2019 event.

Professor David K. Smith is a professor of chemistry at the University of York, where he is well known for both his nanotechnology research and his advocacy of increased diversity in the chemistry community.

What drew you to chemistry?

I was drawn to chemistry by two outstanding teachers. One was a showman, who always engaged the class with exciting practical demonstrations, the other was a real intellectual, who loaned me his original copy of Pauling’s classic book ‘The Nature of the Chemical Bond’. From that moment on, I was hooked by chemistry, and in particular the bonding theory that underpinned it. Even today, my research is rooted, fundamentally in using and manipulating non-covalent interactions. Interestingly, I found out much later that one of those two teachers was gay – but back in the 1980s, it was actually forbidden by U.K. law to discuss sexuality in a school setting. There was absolutely no support for a gay kid like me, struggling to come to terms with how I felt. As a student, I simply threw myself into my chemistry, and really suppressed all aspects of my own personal identity. Like many gay people of my age, I look back on those years with a sense of pride in what I achieved academically, but also a sense of regret about what I missed out on personally.

What is your current research focus?

My research team works in the area of supramolecular chemistry, using non-covalent interactions to self-assemble nanostructured systems. We have been particularly interested in generating functional nanomaterials from the simplest possible molecular-scale building blocks. We like to understand the fundamental molecular features that program and control their assembly. In this way, we can start to design the nanoworld from the bottom-up, using chemical synthesis of building blocks, which are then programmed to assemble in smart and selctive ways.

However, we also always try to find real-world applications for the systems we create. Many of the applications we target in my lab are inspired by my husband’s personal health challenges. My husband Sam had cystic fibrosis, which ultimately required a lung transplant, and sadly, 8 years after his transplant, in 2019, he passed away. I often mention this when giving research talks at conferences, or in my outreach to school students, and it has been a fascinating way of opening up the issue of diversity within a research-led environment.

Currently, my research team are particularly interested in self-assembled supramolecular gels. One key application that we target is in tissue engineering – we have the long term goal of creating programmable gels that can help grow organs from a patient’s own stem cells, suitable for implantation. This would potentially avoid problems associated with transplant waiting lists, and rejection of the organ graft – the thing that ultimately led to my husband’s death. We try and design gels that are shaped, patterned and structured such that they can instruct the growing stem cells precisely what to do in a sophisticated way, with both spatial and temporal control. I love the idea of chemistry being in charge of biology in this way!

Who are some of your professional mentors? How have they impacted your career?

I don’t really have any formal mentors as such. There are many people I respect and admire for all sorts of different reasons, but broadly, I have tried to find my own approach to being an academic. This probably means I make a lot of mistakes along the way, but it also means I have probably done things quite differently than many academics. I have always wanted to not just be a research scientist, but to fuse research, teaching, outreach and diversity work within my role – the remarkable flexibility of academia has allowed by to do this in ways that keep me interested and motivated.

Do you think LGBTQ acceptance is more common in the workplace today? What challenges remain?

It’s a fascinating question. I think an awful lot of progress has been made in some places, but the problems are definitely not all solved. In 2019, The Royal Society of Chemistry did a survey of Physical Scientists in the U.K. to find out just that. As a member of their Inclusion and Diversity Committee, I was very heavily involved in the process, and helped launch the resulting report. Fascinatingly, LGBT+ scientists who were ‘out’ at work reported being happier and experiencing significantly more inclusive workplaces. Clearly a more supportive environment will encourage more people to come ‘out’ as having ‘out’ individuals to act as role models and advocate for rights can significantly improve the environment – a virtuous circle.

Nonetheless, we found that LGBT+ scientists were more likely to consider leaving science as a result of the prevailing culture (28% had considered leaving) than heterosexual cis-gendered respondents (16% had considered it). Specifically, the culture was more welcoming for gay men than for lesbians (perhaps linked to poor gender inclusion in the physical sciences), and the culture was least supportive to non-binary and transgendered individuals, with almost half of these respondents having sometimes considered leaving science.

Sadly, non-binary and transgendered individuals are the focus of a kind of ‘culture war’ in the U.K., with significant push-back against their rights and freedoms. Tragically, in some cases, conservative parts of the lesbian and gay community have also taken steps to distance themselves from trans and non-binary rights, even going so far as to suggest that they run counter to the rights of LGB people. I lived through the culture war against gay people in the 1980s, and I know from bitter personal experience how awful it feels – especially for young people struggling to come to terms with their own identities. It is vital that the LGBT+ community stands united to support freedom of sexuality, identity and expression for all of its members.

However, all of that is only a Western, European perspective. Globally, things are far less comfortable. There are many countries where being gay remains illegal, where being transgender can see you imprisoned or killed. Many scientists travel to these places for conferences, fieldwork or collaboration. There are researchers in our labs who come from these countries, enjoy the freedom to explore their true selves, but then may have to navigate the transition back to their home country.  Even more importantly, there are fellow LGBT+ scientists in these countries who live in an atmosphere of fear on a daily basis – we must show solidarity with them and be prepared to fight on a global level for LGBT+ rights and freedoms.

What do you wish employers and managers knew about attracting and retaining LGBTQ chemists?

There is so much employers can do to make workplaces more welcoming. Some of this is cultural and a lot of it is quite easily done, but making sure you go the step beyond is more challenging.  For example, many employers establish LGBT+ staff networks, but the best employers will involve specific senior managers explicitly in those networks. Many employers have LGBT+ inclusive policies (and those that don’t should be ashamed), but the best employers provide LGBT+ specific examples. For example, a bullying and harassment policy should have one of the examples directly related to LGBT+ people.

In terms of individual managers, rather than at an institutional level, things can be much patchier, and many old prejudices cling on. There needs to be clear training provided to help staff see the implications of their individual actions. In my own department, one of our trans students bravely wanted to provide ‘Trans 101’ training to all of our academic staff. Given that LGBT+ diversity is still so often hidden, seeing one of our own undergraduates talk about these issues really brought them to life, and personalized them in a way that will live on in people’s minds. This helped us initiate a number of departmental actions, such as asking all new students and staff what their preferred pronouns were as a standard part of induction.

Increasingly, LGBT+ families are becoming a part of everyday life. On a personal level, as a single bereaved dad, I would like to see managers adjust more easily to the idea that men may be the primary caregiver to children. In fact, this applies irrespective of sexuality, and would do lots of good for women in science. I would also like to see greater flexibility in the workplace, and a greater understanding of non-traditional routes to establishing families, such as adoption, surrogacy, and support for families with non-traditional structures and specific needs.

What does it look like for cisgender and heterosexual chemists to be good allies in 2020?

We need good allies more than ever. An important ally will help advocate for LGBT+ rights, not stand back passively and expect LGBT+ people to do all the heavy lifting. However, it is also vital to listen to LGBT+ people and self-reflect. As an ally myself to other minority groups, I can say I don’t always get it right – as well as speaking carefully, I try to amplify authentic voices wherever possible. We also need active bystanders, who are prepared to speak out. It may be as simple as politely pointing out that actually, someone’s personal pronouns are different to what is being assumed in a conversation, it might be actively calling out homophobic comments at a conference, it may be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an LGBT+ person who you have observed being bullied and harassed. Active bystanders can play a key role in changing the culture of science.