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Library Life: Interview with Northwestern University Librarian Elsa Alvaro

Elsa Alvaro

Elsa Alvaro is Head of Academic Engagement and the Librarian for Chemistry and Chemical and Biological Engineering at the Northwestern University Libraries.

Tell me about your current role:

My job as Head of Academic Engagement involves connecting the Northwestern community with the library’s collections, services, and expertise; overseeing two of Northwestern’s most notable libraries, the Transportation Library and the Herskovits Library of African Studies; and supporting student success connected to the library in a variety of ways, from directing orientation programs for undergraduate and graduate students to managing technology-rich spaces in which students can collaborate, learn and create. I am also the Librarian for Chemistry and Chemical and Biological Engineering.

What is your background?

I am originally from Spain and have a PhD in Chemistry. After obtaining my postdoc at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I decided to pursue a degree in Library Science. It was at that time that I was awarded the ACS Division of Chemical Information Lucille Wert award, which started my involvement with CINF. I joined Northwestern as a chemistry librarian in 2013 and in 2019, I advanced to a leadership position in the library, becoming Head of Academic Engagement.

How do you help to address challenges faced by your institution’s students and faculty?

By putting librarians at the heart of academic life! We are an indispensable thread in the academic fabric.

For students, we do that by acknowledging the many different facets that define their experience at Northwestern University; those facets are opportunities to help students succeed. For example, if you are a chemistry major, we have a subject librarian specializing in your field who can help you discover the resources you need for rigorous research. If you are conducting undergraduate research, we have you covered there, too; we offer a summer grant for undergraduate students and a librarian works with the Office of Undergraduate Research to make sure we are addressing your unique concerns. For those who are studying abroad or interested in entrepreneurship, we have partnerships, tools, and resources to support those needs. Our engagement efforts extend to other aspects of the student experience, including new student programs and orientations, and end of term programming to support student well-being.

What are some trends that you are observing in the library world right now?

Academic libraries preserve, produce and provide access to knowledge. But we do not live in a bubble – our mission is connected to advancing research, teaching and learning at our institutions. That means that trends and challenges that impact universities, researchers, and society in general, are going to influence and shape our work. In the past years we have seen an increase in openness in the communication of research; and we are also observing that more fields are embracing AI and machine learning. Those trends have implications for us, including making available the work of our institutions (though licensing agreements, but also by being publishers), and the need to have a robust digital strategy and infrastructure.

As a result of the pandemic and understanding that the library is a workplace, one important current issue is how to be an equitable and inclusive community in which all library workers have the support to succeed in their roles.

What areas of interest are you focused on right now? 

My background as a chemist and a researcher strongly influences my approach to my job as librarian. I’m always looking forward to challenges, and I love to develop new programs to address gaps or unmet needs. For example, we are launching a new service to support systematic reviews and other types of evidence syntheses; this type of reviews is common in fields such as medical research but not so much in other disciplines. I am interested in bridging that gap, for instance by providing workshops and consultations in different aspects of the review process, and collaborating with researchers in projects.

You were also the chair of ACS’s Chemical Information (CINF) division in 2019. What was that like?

It was truly terrific. The experiences, opportunities and connections that I got through CINF have been key in my professional career, so I was honored and delighted to serve as chair. CINF is unique in the way it brings together informatics, librarianship, and data expertise in one community. Also, CINF officers and volunteers are a welcoming, talented, and supportive group of people, and a joy to work with. I was pleased that we engaged in strategic planning during my tenure.

A very important question: Who is your favorite scientist?

My spouse. Hands down. He is a theoretical physicist who works in neuromorphic computing and materials growth. Neuromorphic computing is a computer engineering approach that models and develops computing devices inspired by the human brain.

What is a fun fact about Northwestern University?

In 1921, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie visited Northwestern University with her daughter to receive an honorary degree. During her visit, 100 area women coordinated a fundraising campaign and raised $100,000 (this would be over $1.4 million today!) to allow Madame Curie to purchase one gram of radium to continue her studies.

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SciMeetings Spotlight: Benjoe Rey B. Visayas

This interview is part of a series highlighting exceptional chemists who have shared their conference poster or presentation through SciMeetings. Launched by ACS Publications as a virtual science sharing platform in March 2020, SciMeetings helps presenters increase the global visibility and extend the longevity of the research they present at conferences.

Benjoe Rey B. Visayas is a Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He is a computational chemist and is currently a graduate research assistant in the Mayes Computational Chemistry and Materials Computation Group led by Dr. Maricris L. Mayes.

Below, he discusses his research interests leading to his oral (Optimizing Solubility of Active Materials For Non-aqueous Redox Flow Battery) and poster (Force Field Parameterization and Viscosity Calculations for an Anionic Nonaqueous Redox Flow Battery Active-Material: A Molecular Dynamics Study) presentations during the ACS Fall 2022 Meeting

SciMeetings Spotlight: Benjoe Rey B. Visayas

What’s your research focus? What attracted you to this field?

In my current work, I apply theory, computation, and machine learning methods to the discovery and development of redox-active materials (RAMs) for non-aqueous redox flow batteries (NRFBs).

Considering the inherent intermittency of renewable energy sources, energy-storage solutions prove to be our biggest obstacle to a fully renewable and reliable energy supply. It is the complexity of addressing this problem, based on developing an industry-ready energy storage technology, as well as the urgency of such a technology that has drawn me to this line of research.

Who are your mentors? How have they impacted your work so far?

As a result of collaborations, I have been able to learn from several esteemed experts from different fields. I appreciate the guidance, knowledge, and insights I have gained from my Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Maricris L. Mayes. Dr. Patrick J. Cappillino has also been an integral part of my research and has provided a great deal of practical experimental insights and validated our computational results, both of which are invaluable to a theoretical chemist like me. In addition, our RAMs were tested by Dr. Ertan Agar, whose expertise in flow-assisted electrochemical systems provided the final proof of concept. Without their help, guidance, and mentorship, I would not be the researcher that I am today.

Where did you get the idea for the research presented in your talk?

I believe that development should begin with necessity, which is how my research began. Initially, we were asked to explain an experimental observation regarding RAM solubility trends that needed more fundamental understanding. We developed computational workflows from there, which have been insightful. As new problems such issues with viscosity and other transport properties emerge, we expanded on them and developed additional methods to further increase RAM performance. My research has evolved as needed as a result of ongoing discussions with our collaborators.

What do you think is the most important unsolved problem in your field right now?

In terms of improving the synthesis of a very stable RAM for NRFBs, we have made tremendous strides. Additionally, significant progress has been made to increase its solubility. Furthermore, work is being done to enhance the transport qualities relevant to its flow-battery applications. The integration of these various elements into a fully operational and deployable NRFB, to determine whether such technology is practical for grid-scale installations, is, in my opinion, the most significant remaining obstacle.

What advice would you give to anyone presenting a poster or talk for the first time?

Any presentation can be daunting to deliver for the first time, but as poet Robert Frost once said, “the only way round is through.” Find courage in the fact that you are the only person who truly understands your work and that you are the one presenting it. Everyone is there to hear what you have to say; nobody is there to get you.

Is there added value in presenting your research on SciMeetings?

The SciMeetings platform is excellent for both participants and presenters. Attending every session and viewing every poster at an event as large as the ACS Meetings is practically impossible. As a presenter, SciMeetings gives you the possibility of extending the reach of your presentation beyond the duration of the conference.  Similarly, participants would also be free to see all of the previously recorded presentations whenever they wanted. A citable presentation is also a fantastic approach for students to showcase their work, particularly for graduate students who are just starting their careers.

Explore More Research on SciMeetings

Meet the Winners of the 2022 ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering Lectureship Awards

The Editors of ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering and the ACS Green Chemistry Institute are proud to celebrate the winners of the 2022 ACS Sustainable Chemistry Lectureship Awards:

  • Timothy Noël, Van’t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Shu-Yuan Pan, National Taiwan University
  • Corinne Scown, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, USA

These annual awards recognize the research contributions of scientists, working in green chemistry, green engineering, and sustainability in the chemical enterprise, who have completed their academic training within the past 10 years. Lectureship award winners are selected for three regions: The Americas, Europe/Middle East/Africa, and Asia/Pacific.

Read on to learn more about each of the three winners.

Timothy Noël

Timothy Noël

Professor Timothy Noël of the Van’t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, was “honored for his contributions to continuous flow chemistry, building tools that bridge chemistry and chemical engineering,” wrote ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering Editor-in-Chief David T. Allen in his Editorial announcing this year’s award winners.

We asked Professor Noël to tell us more about himself. Here’s what he said:

How is your research specifically important to your region of the world versus on a global scale?

I believe that our research can be of added value to both academia and industry around the world. It is clear that continuous manufacturing principles will be increasingly implemented in the production of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals, as it enables more efficient processes. It is our goal to help and make this transition possible.

What would you like government and/or industry representatives to understand about your research?

The merger of synthetic organic chemistry and chemical engineering allows us to push the boundaries of what is possible in synthesis. In addition, the use of flow chemistry enables a more facile transition between academic discovery of new synthetic methods and its subsequent use in the industrial production of chemicals.

Tell us about a research collaboration your group has undertaken.

We are proud of the fact that much of research is done in direct collaboration with people from industry. Such collaborations allow us to solve some real-life problems and the solutions can directly impact society.

What type of work can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

We continue working on synthetic methods which exploit photons and electrons to drive reactions forward. The aim is to explore new chemical ground using reagents that are challenging to use in conventional round-bottom flasks. As an example, think about gaseous reagents which are often avoided due to the issues associated to handle those in batch. In addition, we always try to develop new reactor technologies which can increase the reaction efficiency of those transformations and enables their scale up.

Shu-Yuan Pan

Shu-Yuan Pan

Professor Shu-Yuan Pan of the National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan, was “honored for his contributions to the development of innovative circular technologies for waste valorization as biochemicals, green materials, and reclaimed water,” wrote Professor Allen.

We asked Professor Pan to tell us more about himself. Here’s what he said:

How is your research specifically important to your region of the world versus on a global scale?

Our Green Technology Lab (GTLab) research provides a complete solution to the global industries and agricultural sectors with huge amounts of wastewater and/or solid waste. Our developed technologies aim to tackle wide-ranging challenges from industrial and agricultural cleaner production to sustainable community development.

For instance, we design “cascade separation” by integrating various separation mechanisms, such as chemical extraction, (ion-exchange) adsorption, electrokinetic migration, electrochemical reaction, and crystallization. This technology can be deployed for treating organic wastewater originating from local piggery industries, thereby ensuring a safe and clean watershed while achieving a circular bioeconomy. Moreover, we develop a high-efficient mineralization process utilizing industrial CO2 for upgrading the alkaline wastes to green construction materials. We found that a substantial amount of CO2 could be directly fixed and indirectly avoided by the mineralization processes. This would greatly impact global CO2 challenges and current solid waste management practices, especially in the US, China, India, and Korea.

What would you like government and/or industry representatives to understand about your research?

Our research provides a ground-breaking impact on the pathway to accelerate the realization of a circular economy in various sectors. Our developed technologies can reduce the anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems while avoiding extensive resource exploitation.

One of our current research focuses on developing energy-efficient processes for extracting valuable resources, including humic substances, organic acids, nutrients, and chemicals, from various types of wastes in agriculture, industry, and the domestic community. We design the processes based on the characteristics of target compounds from the thermodynamics perspective and evaluate the performance of processes from lab-scale validation to a large-scale demonstration. For example, we synthesize compound-oriented conductive materials to maximize the separation efficiency and the purity of products (e.g., organic acids and nutrients), which has a huge competence to the existing market product. Our demonstration could provide sufficient information to policymakers for identifying the best available circular technologies.

Tell us about a research collaboration your group has undertaken.

Our group has a close, long-term collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Ohio State University, University of Delaware, and the University of Seoul. The Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan, and the National Taiwan University have continuously supported our research through the Einstein Project and the Higher Education SPROUT Project, respectively. Our team has recently established collaborative R&D programs with the University of Tsukuba, and several local industries in Taiwan to explore and implement the circular bioeconomy principles.

What type of work can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

We keep dedicating ourselves to developing and implementing green circular technologies for waste valorization from the perspective of green chemistry principles. We design the fit-for-purpose and energy-efficient processes to recover value-added resources, produce clean water, and even produce bioenergy from wastes with affordable costs.

In particular, we design various processes and advanced functional materials to precisely recover valuable compounds from a complex waste matrix. This could provide opportunities to establish a new industry, so-called circular industries, to achieve the goal of responsible consumption and production while contributing to the net-zero emission target.

Corinne Scown

Corinne Scown

Dr. Corinne Scown of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, USA, was “honored for her contributions integrating emerging technology development with rigorous technoeconomic analysis and life-cycle assessment,” wrote Professor Allen.

We asked Dr. Scown to tell us more about herself. Here’s what she said:

How is your research specifically important to your region of the world versus on a global scale?

Much of my group’s work focuses on the United States, but I like to think that most of our findings transcend national boundaries. Analyses of the cost, greenhouse gas, and water impacts of an individual bioenergy facility can be easily translated to other countries with some basic adjustments to basic parameters like input costs and regional grid mixes. However, for research focused on global-scale implementation of a given decarbonization strategy, the limiting factor is data availability. I’m hopeful that the trend toward making research code open-source and sharing underlying datasets will make this less of an issue in the future.

What would you like government and/or industry representatives to understand about your research?

I’m fortunate enough to interact with folks in government (Federal and California State) and industry on a regular basis so it’s not uncommon that I get an opportunity to directly share my research with them. One takeaway from my work that is worth emphasizing is that it’s important to consider multiple economic and environmental impacts together before making a decision.

We did some work on organic waste management a few years ago, where we compared alternatives ranging from landfilling to composting to anaerobic digestion. From a climate standpoint, it was clear that landfilling was by far the most carbon-intensive option and composting was probably the cheapest way to avoid those emissions. However, we were completely surprised when we saw the estimates of ammonia emissions from composting nitrogen-rich food waste and the potential air quality and human health consequences.

In that particular case, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding how ammonia may react with other species in the atmosphere to form harmful fine particulate matter, but it was a stark reminder of how we can develop blind spots when we only focus on a single metric, like greenhouse gas emissions.

Tell us about a research collaboration your group has undertaken.

One of the most interdisciplinary and fun collaborations has been a recent project with synthetic biologists, led by Jay Keasling, and material scientists include Brett Helms and Kristin Persson. We have been working together on polydiketoenamines (PDKs), which are polymers that can be depolymerized under mild conditions to recovery virgin-quality monomers and separate out fillers, dyes, and other additives that would otherwise degrade the quality with each recycle.

My group’s task was to take the chemistry being done in the lab and actually design and simulate how these PDKs would be synthesized and recycled in a hypothetical industrial facility. We quickly identified a few key inputs that were driving the costs and greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing the virgin PDK.

Incredibly, within a few months, Brett and his team were able to take that feedback and develop an alternative process that totally eliminated the biggest contributor. The costs and greenhouse gas footprint both dropped by more than half. It is so gratifying to see that sort of impact and I’m excited to see where that project goes in the future.

What type of work can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

I am particularly excited about the potential for the bioeconomy to play a role in removing carbon from the atmosphere. There is a lot we don’t yet know about the best ways to do that, from a systems perspective, because some of the strategies are so nascent.

Technoeconomic analysis and life-cycle assessment, when paired with science and early-stage technology development, have much to offer because we can design systems that would be impactful and cost-effective and work backwards to identify where the technological or scientific gaps remain. There will always be low-hanging fruit; capturing CO2-rich gaseous streams from biorefineries and sequestering them underground seems like one of the more obvious places to start and we’ve done some preliminary work on that. Sequestering carbon in long-lived products like building materials is also interesting. In the future, we may tackle more complex and novel strategies related to the agriculture sector (for example, altering plant root exudates to sequester more carbon into the soil), and figure out what it would look like at scale and how much it is likely to cost per tonne of CO2 mitigated.

There is still so much to be worked out in terms of the practical implications of doing something like that at scale, as well as the measurement and verification needed to ensure that it’s having the intended effect. My team is working on a big collaborative report that tackles the challenge of a net carbon-negative bioeconomy for the United States. That said, I would absolutely love to start building models that simulate how we might be able to do this at a global scale in an equitable and just manner.

How ACS Creates and Supports Trust in Research: Part 5

As the scientific community comes together to celebrate and recognize the importance of the peer review process and the value of peer reviewers this week, we also want to call attention to the individuals, initiatives, and areas of ACS Publications that are dedicated and committed to creating trust and integrity in research.

Follow along with this five-part series to learn about how ACS Publications develops, implements, and embeds research integrity along every step of the publishing and review process.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

Meet Prof. Tierui Zhang, Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry (TIPC), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)

ACS Peer Review Week 2022 Part 5: Meet Tierui Zhang

We end this series with Prof. Tierui Zhang, Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry (TIPC), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Prof. Zhang was selected because of the impressive number of ACS manuscripts he reviewed over the past year as well as being a highly cited author in the fields of chemistry and material sciences.

Find out how Prof. Zhang approaches the peer review process and read the advice he gives to fellow peer reviewers. Then take the ACS Reviewer Lab  “How Well Do You Know Peer Review? quiz to test your knowledge of the peer review process.

What is the one thing you frequently do before you sit down to start a review?

I make sure to look at the article title, author information to prevent conflict of interest, and the scope of the journal before I start reviewing the manuscript. I also plan my time so the submission date of my review will be as early as possible and according to the deadline and schedule the journal has set.

What are some challenges you experience as a peer reviewer?

For me, the main challenges are twofold. One is to have a sufficient understanding of the research field to which the article belongs, to have a clear understanding of its cutting-edge developments, and to be able to accurately evaluate the value of the work, such as whether similar works have been published, or whether the authors have omitted some important relevant references, etc.

Another challenge involves dedicating enough time to read through the whole manuscript at least twice, so as not to misread the author’s intentions and not miss important details. I think these two points are challenging to most reviewers in terms of expertise and time management, but only by doing this can we make an accurate assessment of the innovation and academic contribution of the submitted manuscript.

What would you tell someone if they asked you why they should be a Peer Reviewer?

Reviewing manuscripts is very helpful to researchers. Not only can they get a first-hand look at the latest developments in the related fields, thereby broadening their research thinking, but they can also clearly grasp the key factors that they need to pay attention to during the review process. Being a peer reviewer can improve the quality of their own manuscripts.

What is your advice for those who are just starting out as peer reviewers?

Peer reviewers need to take their responsibility seriously, and develop their skills by learning from excellent reviews. They need to treat each manuscript with care and respect. When rejecting a manuscript, the reasons should be clear, thoughtful, and productive.

Remember that review comments cannot be given without reading the article carefully a number of times, and vague comments shouldn’t be given without explanation. Reviewers should focus their assessments on the innovation and academic contribution of the work while paying attention to the reproducibility of the experiment and referring textual errors to the editor.

Learn More About Prof. Zhang

How Well Do You Know Peer Review?

Peer Review Week 2022 Quiz

Whether you accomplish 365 reviews or are invited to review one manuscript over the course of the year, your contribution and impact are still significant, valuable, and essential to supporting and creating trust in research as part of the research and publishing processes.

Take the ACS Publications How Well Do You Know Peer Review? quiz to test your knowledge of the peer review process.

Take the Quiz!

How ACS Creates and Supports Trust in Research: Part 4

As the scientific community comes together to celebrate and recognize the importance of the peer review process and the value of peer reviewers this week, we also want to call attention to the individuals, initiatives, and areas of ACS Publications that are dedicated and committed to creating trust and integrity in research.

Follow along with this five-part series to learn about how ACS Publications develops, implements, and embeds research integrity along every step of the publishing and review process.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

Meet Dr. Sofia Garakyaraghi, Senior Managing Editor, ACS Central Science 

ACS Peer Review Week 2022 Part 4: Meet Kathy Canul

Dr. Sofia Garakyaraghi is the Senior Managing Editor of ACS Central Science and also oversees the Transparent Peer Review Pilot. In this segment, we asked Sofia for her input and perspective on the pilot and how it supports accessibility, ethics, and trust in the peer review and publishing process.

What is the importance of transparent peer review?

Transparent peer review provides readers with insights into the scientific dialogue between authors and reviewers. Not only does this highlight the critical role of reviewers and peer review in assessing data and claims and shaping the quality of research output, but it is also of significant benefit to the broader scientific community as it allows readers to understand the scientific questions raised by reviewers and the responses to those questions by authors, providing much greater context behind the final article. The greater context and transparency can serve to strengthen trust in the peer review process and system in general.

What are the benefits of transparent peer review?

Transparent peer review has fantastic pedagogical value, especially for new and early-career researchers. Peer reviewing is both educational and instructive for both the reviewer and the author and by publishing these exchanges alongside the article, these educational opportunities extend to readers. Readers can now learn from these constructive exchanges and also make their own interpretations of the rigor of the peer review process on an individual article level. 

Transparent peer review also fosters collegiality throughout the review process and may help to address the author’s concern about bias in peer review.

How does the transparent peer review pilot help support, uphold, and influence research integrity at ACS?

Peer review is the cornerstone of scientific publishing and underpins the quality and trust in scholarly literature. This makes peer review integral to our collective ability to trust research. As global research output continues to grow in quantity, unfortunately so do instances of retractions and reports of manipulated peer review. Growing awareness of these issues in the published literature has resulted in some scientists losing confidence in peer review. Transparent peer review can strengthen trust in peer review as the higher level of transparency allows readers to judge the content and quality of the peer review process itself. Publication of the peer review reports may also increase accountability amongst authors, reviewers, and editors alike. Increased transparency and accountability together may even improve the rigor and collegiality of peer review as well. 

The ACS Transparent Peer Review Pilot is currently active in two journals, ACS Central Science and The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. ACS Publications recognizes peer review as a critical element of our journals program as part of ACS’ commitment to exploring new ways of conducting peer review to better serve our community and demonstrate our commitment to open science. 

About the ACS Transparent Peer Review Pilot

Upcoming Peer Review Week Events

Make sure to follow along on ACS Axial for the final part of this series featuring an interview with Prof. Tieru Zhang, one of ACS Publications’ Top Peer Reviewers over the past year, and a quiz to test your knowledge about Peer Review in Part 5 of this five-part series tomorrow!  

How ACS Creates and Supports Trust in Research: Part 3

As the scientific community comes together to celebrate and recognize the importance of the peer review process and the value of peer reviewers this week, we also want to call attention to the individuals, initiatives, and areas of ACS Publications that are dedicated and committed to creating trust and integrity in research.

Follow along with this five-part series to learn about how ACS Publications develops, implements, and embeds research integrity along every step of the publishing and review process.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

Meet Dr. Kathy Canul, ACS Ombudsperson

ACS Peer Review Week 2022 Part 3: Meet Kathy Canul

Dr. Canul was appointed as the first-ever ACS Ombudsperson in November 2021. The ACS Ombudsperson is an independent, impartial, off-the-record, and confidential channel for concerns regarding the peer review process.

The purpose of the Ombudsperson is to serve as an independent liaison between ACS Publications and the chemistry community to address concerns about Editors, Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) members, or reviewers regarding the peer review process.

We asked Kathy about her role at ACS, how it supports research integrity, and how she approaches her responsibilities to the ACS publishing community.

In a nutshell, what does your role as Ombudsperson at ACS entail?

The ACS Publications Ombudsperson role is new as of November 2021 and was established to address questions, problems, and conflicts regarding the peer review process. The concerns may involve Editors, Editorial Advisory Board members, or reviewers, and include issues related to suspected bias or discrimination, handling of the peer review process, mismanagement of appeals, and concerns around scientific misconduct. The Ombudsperson is an independent, impartial, and confidential resource who works at an informal level, independent of formal organizational structures.

As the ACS Ombudsperson, how does your work support, uphold, and influence research integrity at ACS?

As a confidential resource, the Ombudsperson may hear concerns surrounding research integrity and offer guidance on finding a means to stop and/or correct actions that could jeopardize the integrity of an author’s, editor’s, or reviewer’s responsibilities.

What do you like most about what you do?

I enjoy helping people find solutions to struggles experienced in their professional lives. We invest so much of our time, energy, and commitment to work, and when we face conflicts, problems, or inequity it can be demoralizing and anxiety-provoking. Having someone to share your struggles with is a great option to tackle what seems insurmountable at the moment.

What is the most important piece of advice you can give to a peer reviewer when it comes to maintaining and upholding integrity in research during the peer review process?

Sometimes we get so caught up in fulfilling our individual responsibilities for a role or job that we forget there is a larger scope to what we do. Science goes beyond publishing.  Upholding integrity in research is paramount to the dissemination of discoveries and knowledge for the betterment of our world and humanity.

Learn More About the ACS Ombudsperson

Upcoming Peer Review Week Events

Make sure to follow along on ACS Axial to meet Dr. Sofia Garakyaraghi and hear her thoughts on the ACS Transparent Peer Review Pilot in Part 4 of this five-part series tomorrow! 

How ACS Creates and Supports Trust in Research: Part 2

As the scientific community comes together to celebrate and recognize the importance of the peer review process and the value of peer reviewers this week, we also want to call attention to the individuals, initiatives, and areas of ACS Publications that are dedicated and committed to creating trust and integrity in research.

Follow along with this five-part series to learn about how ACS Publications develops, implements, and embeds research integrity along every step of the publishing and review process.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

Meet Prof. Marc Hillmyer, ACS Publications Ethics Committee Chair and Editor-in-Chief of Macromolecules

ACS Peer Review Week 2022 Part 2: Meet Marc Hillmyer

For the second part of this five-part series, we spoke with Prof. Marc Hillmyer, the current ACS Publication Ethics Committee (APEC) Chair. Marc is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the ACS journal Macromolecules and previously served as an Associate Editor for the journal from 2008–2017. He is also the director of the NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers, a National Science Foundation Center for Chemical Innovation headquartered at the University of Minnesota.

We asked Marc to share how his current roles as the ACS Publication Ethics Committee Chair and as an ACS journal editor influence and contribute to the collective foundation at ACS that supports research integrity and what advice he may have for Peer Reviewers.

What is the overall mission of the ACS Publications Ethics Committee (APEC)?

In short, the ACS Publications Ethics Committee is charged with evaluation, analysis, and most importantly, updating the ACS Publications Ethical Guidelines to reflect modern publishing and relevant ethical considerations for readers, reviewers, authors, editors, and Society.

What are the major challenges you have seen concerning maintaining and staying current with research integrity?

Research integrity has been critical to the scientific enterprise from the beginning. Trust in science and the scientific method are so critical in our modern society with the spread of misinformation (for example through social media) and mistrust of scientists/science (for example during the pandemic).

Providing frameworks, oversight, guidelines, and education focused on achieving and maintaining the highest level of research integrity is as important as ever. In particular, I think that publication ethics education is so important, and we need to continue to be sure to reach out to younger researchers and help them understand best ethical practices as they pertain to research integrity and publishing.

What advice would you give peer reviewers on how to approach, consider, and fulfill ethical responsibilities when reviewing manuscripts?

The first thing that comes to mind is the preservation of confidentiality in the peer review process. Editors ask reviewers to not only review a manuscript but also to not share the results or content of the manuscript with others (without permission). Moreover, the reviewers should not share with others (including the authors) that they were the reviewer of a particular manuscript. This connects with bias in peer review (e.g., I just positively reviewed your paper, so when you review mine…), and allows reviewers to be more open and candid in their assessment. There is much more I could write in this category, but I would point reviewers to the ACS Publications Ethical Guidelines and ask them to review it prior to the next peer reviewing assignment they receive!

If a researcher has received an invitation to review an article where they believe there may be a conflict, what is an important question or questions they can ask themselves when deciding whether to accept or reject?

Is there an actual conflict (I currently collaborate with the authors, the authors are at my institution, I am related to one of the authors, etc.), a possible conflict (I work in the area that is the subject of the manuscript, the author was a collaborator 10 years ago, I have met this author at a meeting and we discussed the work, the author was in my research group when I was a student), or a possible appearance of a conflict that encompasses elements of the above scenarios? 

Basically, the onus is on the reviewer. The reviewer has to decide if a prior or current situation could bias their judgment of the manuscript. If the answer is yes, the reviewer should return the manuscript and let the editor know why they are doing so. If the reviewer has any doubts, I’d encourage them to alert the editor to the potential conflict, and the Editor can help to determine if the reviewer should recuse themselves from reviewing the submitted work.

What do you find most satisfying about the work you do as both the APEC Chair and Editor-in-Chief of Macromolecules, and how does each influence the other?

I very much appreciate the opportunity I have had to lead the newly formed APEC. It has allowed me to think more deeply about ethical issues and help guide the community along with a wonderfully thoughtful, highly engaged, and experienced group of other editors on the committee. Leading Macromolecules has been a highlight of my career, and I have a strong sense of responsibility to the journal, its readers, authors, reviewers, and editors to keep it at the top of the polymer publishing world while upholding the highest standards of ethics!

Upcoming Peer Review Week Events

If you want to hear more from Marc, register below to join in the conversation tomorrow (Wednesday, September 21) from 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm EST to further discuss how we can all create and support trust in scientific research. The webinar is free for all to attend. 

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Make sure to follow along on ACS Axial to learn about the ACS Ombudsperson, Dr. Kathy Canul in Part 3 of this five-part series tomorrow.

SciMeetings Spotlight: Isaac Mastalski

This interview is part of a series highlighting exceptional chemists who have shared their conference poster or presentation through SciMeetings. Launched by ACS Publications as a virtual science sharing platform in March 2020, SciMeetings helps presenters increase the global visibility and extend the longevity of the research they present at conferences.

Isaac Mastalski is a PhD student in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. Below he discusses his presentation, “Promoting a plastic circular economy via pulse-heated analysis of solid reactions (PHASR): Intrinsic kinetic insights from polyethylene pyrolysis,” from the ACS Spring 2022 Meeting.

Isaac Mastalski

What’s your research focus? What attracted you to this field?

The focus of my primary PhD research has been reactor design and reaction kinetics, in the context of industrially-relevant plastic recycling processes. Pyrolysis, in particular, is a very promising method for effectively recycling plastics at a large scale, yet our understanding of the underlying reaction mechanisms and kinetics remains extremely limited, something that is reflected in the literature. Through a new, unique reactor design, along with collaboration with industrial partners and computational groups at the University of Minnesota, we have been able to gain important insights and shed new light on how polyethylene pyrolysis actually occurs.

Sustainability has always been a major driver for me, and it factored heavily into my choices about fields of study and research projects. Through my PhD research at the University of Minnesota, I saw the opportunity to make a tangible difference in how we recycle some of the most important and widely-used plastics, and that, in turn, may help provide lasting solutions to the climate crisis.

Who are your mentors? How have they impacted your work so far?

I was first introduced to research during a summer program at the University of Pittsburgh, in Prof. Götz Veser’s lab, and I owe a large part of where I am today to his mentorship and the wonderful experiences I had in his lab. As an undergrad, I also interned at NASA Goddard under Dr. Jay Chervenak, who encouraged me to pursue my own ideas and gave insightful feedback on my research methodology. Professors Taryn Bayles and Bob Parker at the University of Pittsburgh were extremely influential in my grad school decision process and withstood countless hours of my questioning about career opportunities. At the University of Minnesota, Professors Alon McCormick and Raul Caretta have helped shape my style as a teacher and offered valuable input on my post-graduation plans. And finally, I would like to thank my PhD advisor and primary mentor in grad school, Prof. Paul Dauenhauer, who has tirelessly supported my work, given me the freedom to explore my research project as I wish, and shaped my style as a presenter and science communicator.

Where did you get the idea for the research presented in your talk?

The research presented in my talk comprises the main results from my PhD work so far. The Dauenhauer group had previously conducted really interesting research on cellulose pyrolysis and used that data to rectify some of the longstanding debates in the field. After these results were published, it was only natural to extend this important pyrolysis work to other areas, so we partnered with industry to explore possible plastic pyrolysis routes. When I joined the group in Fall 2018, I decided to focus my efforts on polyethylene pyrolysis, since polyethylene is the most common type of plastic currently being produced. If we are able to elucidate the underlying mechanisms and intrinsic kinetics, industrial reactor design should become much more straightforward and reliable.

What do you think is the most important unsolved problem in your field right now?

Lots of great research has been done on plastic pyrolysis, and many pilot facilities are currently being operated, yet there is still a massive lack of clarity as to how the pyrolysis reactions actually occur. Without that detailed, mechanistic understanding, reactor design and industrial pyrolysis will remain at a level that largely amounts to trial-and-error tuning of reaction parameters until a ‘good’ product stream is generated.

What advice would you give to anyone presenting a poster or talk for the first time?

The best advice I have for a first time presenter is to prepare as much as possible. Start making your slides or poster as early as you can, which will give you plenty of time to practice. Then practice, practice, practice at lab group meetings or with your friends or families – any opportunity you get. I believe the first talk you give about a project is the most important one, because all your subsequent talks about it will likely be modifications of that original talk, using additional data and results. So, if you put in the work to make your first talk excellent, all your later talks will become much easier (and less stressful!) to prepare.

Is there added value in presenting your research on SciMeetings?

Conferences are of course better in person, but any number of reasons can preclude people from attending physically; this has especially been the case during the past two years. With SciMeetings, attendees need not be present at your oral talk or poster. Instead, they can see your work when it is convenient for them, increasing your exposure to the community and improving accessibility for everyone.

Explore More Research on SciMeetings

Meet the 2023 ACS Photonics Young Investigator Award Winner: Professor Igor Aharonovich

Professor Igor Aharonovich

ACS Photonics and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, are proud to announce Professor Igor Aharonovich, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), as the recipient of the 2023 ACS Photonics Young Investigator Award. This award honors the contributions of an early-career individual who is doing outstanding work in the research areas covered by ACS Photonics.

Professor Igor Aharonovich received his PhD in 2010 from the University of Melbourne and spent two years in Harvard as a postdoctoral researcher in the group of Prof Evelyn Hu. In 2013 Igor returned to Australia and joined the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) where he is currently a full Professor and the UTS node director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optical Systems.

Igor’s group is focusing on exploring single emitters in wide band gap semiconductors, such as diamond and more recently hexagonal boron nitride. His group is also interested in innovative approaches for nanofabrication of nanophotonics devices for quantum circuitry. But most importantly—Igor’s group has members from 11 different countries which forms a vibrant and a dynamic environment.

Igor received numerous international awards and recognitions including the 2017 Pawsey medal from the Australian Academy of Science, 2019 CN Yang Award—which honors young researchers with prominent research achievements in physics in the Asia Pacific region—and the 2020 Kavli foundation early career lectureship in materials science. He was also elected as a Fellow of Optica (class 2021).

Read a brief interview with the 2023 ACS Photonics Young Investigator Award Winner, Professor Igor Aharonovich

Can you give us a short overview of the research you are currently undertaking?

Our group studies defects in wide band gap materials as potential qubits for future quantum technologies. These defects are excellent single photons sources and can operate even at room temperature without a necessity in cryogenic facilities.

Over the last few years, we became fascinated with a particular material—hexagonal boron nitride. It’s a unique van der Waals crystal as it possesses very large bandgap of ~ 6 eV, and hence hosts a large variety of single photon sources, but the key benefit is the ability to exfoliate this material into atomically thin monolayers using scotch tape. We are now working towards integrating these atomically thin layers containing quantum emitters, into scalable on chip quantum components—such as waveguides or photonic crystal cavities, and to employ them in quantum sensing applications.

What inspired you to pursue your area of research?

The main inspiration is always the combination of simplicity and seeing the unknown. When you work with single photon sources you essentially use conventional photonics to directly measure quantum effects and seeing single atoms! This is cool. The add-on benefit is the ability to control and manipulate light at the nanoscale. Single photon sources are one of the most fundamental components for quantum optics and nanophotonics, and combining it with new materials such as hexagonal boron nitride seems very exciting!

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone just entering the field?

Follow your curiosity and pursue your dream—perseverance is key! Ignore the hype and the noise, be creative and always look outside the box. Build a network around you, they will support and elevate you in tough times and will be with you to celebrate your achievements and success.

View a selection of articles from Professor Aharonovich.

Meet the 2022 Analytical Chemistry Young Innovator Award Recipient: Dr. Radha Boya

Co-sponsored by Analytical Chemistry and The Chemical and Biological Microsystems Society (CBMS), this annual award honors early-career researchers who demonstrate exceptional technical advancement and innovation in the field of microfluidics or nanofluidics. The winner receives an award plaque and an honorarium of US $2,500.

Meet the Recipient

Radha Boya, 2022 Analytical Chemistry Young Innovator Award Recipient

Radha Boya, FRSC, is a professor, Royal Society University Research fellow, and Kathleen Ollerenshaw fellow in the department of Physics & Astronomy, and National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom.

“I am deeply honored and very happy to receive this award. I believe this is a great time to be working on nanofluidics where many active researchers are in this field. I am extremely proud of my research group members, who are dedicated to solving some of the challenging problems in nano- and angstrom-scale fluidics,” says Dr. Boya.

About Dr. Radha Boya

After completing her Ph.D. in India and a brief post-doctoral stint in the United States, Dr. Boya secured a series of highly prestigious international research fellowships that enabled her to rapidly build her research profile in the United Kingdom (UK). During her Ph.D. at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in India, Dr. Boya first worked on nanofluidics with Prof. G U Kulkarni where she used nanochannels as templates to create nanopatterns of metal-organics and self-assembled metal nanoparticles. In her postdoctoral work with Prof. Chad Mirkin at Northwestern University in the USA, she mostly worked on nanofabrication with dip-pen nanolithography. Following her move to the University of Manchester in the UK working with Sir Andre Konstantin Geim, FRS, HonFRSC, HonFInstP, Dr. Boya has devised nanofabrication methods to make ultimately narrow fluidic channels with angstrom-scale dimensions, by effectively removing a single atomic plane from a bulk layered crystal.

Dr. Boya’s research team investigates the properties of gas, liquids and ions confined in molecular scale with Angstrom (Å) -size capillaries constructed out of 2D-materials. Over the past few years, her work has demonstrated an unprecedented control in making ultra-fine Å-scale capillaries repeatedly. Her research team works on developing Å-capillaries as a platform to experimentally probe intriguing molecular-scale phenomena. As an example, it was shown that water flows through graphene Å-capillaries at an incredibly fast rate ~1 metre/sec while hexagonal boron nitride Å-capillaries (isostructural with graphite) show two orders of magnitude higher water friction. Studying gas flows through the Å-capillaries, they revealed that atomically-flat walls provided by 2D-crystals allow fully-specular reflection of gas molecules, resulting in their ballistic transport and, accordingly, a frictionless gas flow which is enhanced over two orders of magnitude than that expected from theoretical Knudsen description.

With the angstrom-scale and nanofluidic channels that Dr. Boya’s research group works on, interesting fundamental studies can be performed, and insights can be drawn into technological applications can be drawn. Ionic and molecular sieving is of huge importance in applications including desalination, water filtration, dialysis, chemical separation, sensing, and bioanalytics technologies. With the capillaries almost the size of common salt ions (6 to 9 Å), upon flowing salt water through capillaries, Dr. Boya, along with colleagues, showed that the salt ions reconfigured their hydration shell, becoming “squashed.” Without any functional groups on the surface, the nanochannels have to be at least half the size of the ion to sterically exclude the ions. In another collaborative study, they demonstrated voltage-gating of Å-capillaries by a new electro-hydrodynamic effect under coupled hydrostatic pressure and electric force. The Å-fluidic channels are an excellent platform to offer new routes to actively control molecular and ion transport and design elementary building blocks for artificial ionic machinery.

I caught up with Dr. Boya recently to learn more about her research and what’s next for her and her research group. Read highlights from our conversation below.

What advice would you give to upcoming researchers in the field?

Think broadly! Boundaries between the disciplines fade away in nanofluidics research, which has far-reaching applications in various fields like membranes, diagnostics, and smart ionic devices to name a few. Over the last decade, there have been several advances in nanofabrication and characterization tools that make it feasible to study fluidic phenomena at the molecular level. Now is a great time to be working in the field of nanofluidics, which is steadily moving towards angstrom-fluidics, so if you are looking to step into this research field go for it.

How will your work benefit society?

Membrane-based applications with nanoscale channels, such as osmotic power generation, desalination, and molecular separation would benefit from understanding the mechanisms of sieving, ways to decrease fluidic friction, and increasing the overall efficiency of the process. However, mechanisms that allow fast flows are not fully understood yet. Our work on angstrom-capillaries that are only few atoms thick, opens an avenue to investigate fundamental sieving mechanisms behind important applications such as filtration, separation of ions, molecules and gases, desalination, and fuel gas separation from refinery off-gases.

What’s next in your research?

We are working on methods to upscale the fabrication of nano- and angstrom-channels, combining diverse materials and a variety of fabrication methods. We will explore sieving with the nanochannels beyond simple size selection, e.g., what governs the selectivity between same-charge ions with similar hydrated diameters, such as that observed in sodium or calcium ion channels? Another interesting direction using nanochannels we will investigate is to mimic neuromorphic memory using electrolytes in 2D nanochannels. Collaborations with colleagues and across universities are going to be key in these near-future projects.

The Analytical Chemistry Lectureship Award 2022 recipient will present at the 26th International Conference on Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences (µTAS 2022).

Learn more about last year’s winner.