JCW pic 2020-09-29

John Warner

Zymergen Corporation, Research Fellow

Candidate for ACS President-Elect, 2021

Q&A

Why are you running for President-Elect?

I feel that chemistry must better recognize its service to society. There are a lot of needs and we have a lot to offer. A better sustainable future must be invented through chemistry. We need a more diverse approach, skills aligned with society’s needs and a multidisciplinary approach.

What are the top changes/improvements that you believe would improve ACS? How would you tackle these during your Presidential succession?

The ACS is a large organization with many great people sustaining ongoing efforts. We must realistically understand that the ACS president is a tiny one-year snapshot in time, within a long litany of previous and future presidents. I want to have as much influence as I can, but really, I want to also be a resource to the ACS. I have had the rare fortune to operate in all aspects of the chemical enterprises.  As an academic I rose to rank of full tenured professor of chemistry and plastics engineering. As an industrial chemist I have over 300 patents in medicinal chemistry, polymers, consumer products, building materials, photovoltaics…. As an Entrepreneur I have started 6 companies (that all still exist) with my inventions and have invented and licensed dozens of technologies to multinationals. And as a government policy person I have chaired California’s Green Chemistry Policy program, testified to the house and the senate, and serve on several advisory boards for the European Union and Australia. I hope that this view of how all the pieces of chemistry fit together can be useful to the people at the ACS.

How long have you served in ACS leadership and in what capacity(ies)? 

While I have been working with the ACS for 30 years through my work in Green Chemistry, I have honestly not been an ACS insider. While I recognize some of the drawbacks of this, I also feel my “new set of eyes” might actually serve the ACS well at this moment in time. Having said this, I have played a very active part of ACS National and Regional meetings. In the years that I was a professor at UMASS, my students gave over 100 oral and poster presentations at ACS meetings. I myself must have given 50+ invited opening talks for most divisions, Organic, Polymer, Education, Small Business… And I have organized about 20 symposia for the ACS over the years. I feel that what I lack in knowledge of the ACS internal organization I compensate by truly understanding who the ACS membership is and what they need.

Given that younger chemists Committee is a voice for ACS members under the age of 35 and our constituency makes up over 20% of ACS members, how do you plan to use the Committee or younger chemists in general to achieve your goals as ACS President?

Students and Education is where my passion is focused. Way back in 2004 I received the Presidential Award for Science Mentorship from President Bush, I spent 30 minutes in the oval office discussing education. This award was for bringing large numbers of women and under represented groups into the chemistry professions as a professor at UMASS Boston. In 2007 I founded the non-profit organization Beyond Benign www.beyondbenign.org with Amy Cannon. This is an education focused organization building bridges between K-12, Universities and Industry through Green Chemistry and Sustainability education. I deeply believe the next generation of chemists simply “get it” and will do the right thing if they are provided the tools and skills they need. This is a two-way conversation, not simply a bunch of lectures. So we need to convene more opportunities for people to meet and exchange ideas. Hopefully live, but through zoom if covid requires it. The trick is, while the content of these events is important, it is the informal conversations and friendships formed when people meet each other with common goals. Those friendships evolve into collaborations and those collaborations change the work. Its not about “planning” these things… It’s about creating an environment where they happen spontaneously. Those relationships are truly sustainable. 

John Warner