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National Research Council (US) Committee on Challenges for the Chemical Sciences in the 21st Century. National Security & Homeland Defense: Challenges for the Chemical Sciences in the 21st Century. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2002.

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National Security & Homeland Defense: Challenges for the Chemical Sciences in the 21st Century.

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Executive Summary

The public has long recognized the potential benefits of research in chemistry and biology to the health and welfare of our society, and the relevance of that research to national security has become clearer since September 11, 2001. Chemical and biological agents can be a realistic threat to the safety of our civilian and military personnel. The nation must address these threats in the context of threat reduction, preparation, response, and neutralization and remediation. Technology alone cannot meet the goals of security and safety that our populace desires: the United States leads the world with its experts and education in the chemical sciences and these should be deployed to help us reach our security goals. We must not only incorporate current knowledge in chemistry and chemical engineering, but also engage our nation’s experts in advancing the frontiers of knowledge through research to minimize the chance of a terrorist attack, minimize the extent of injury and material damage should such an attack take place, and remedy the effects of such an attack.

As a response to the events of September 11, 2001, the National Security and Homeland Defense Workshop was included as one of six workshops held as part of “Challenges for the Chemical Sciences in the 21st Century.” The workshop topics reflect areas of societal need—materials and manufacturing, energy and transportation, national security and homeland defense, public health, information and communications, and environment. The charge for each workshop was to address the four themes of discovery, interfaces, challenges, and infrastructure as they relate to the workshop topic:

  • Discovery—major discoveries or advances in the chemical sciences during the past several decades.
  • Interfaces—interfaces that exist between chemistry/chemical engineering and such areas as biology, environmental science, materials science, medicine, and physics.
  • Challenges—the grand challenges that exist in the chemical sciences today.
  • Infrastructure—infrastructure that will be required to allow the potential of future advances in the chemical sciences to be realized.

The National Security and Homeland Defense workshop serves two main goals. First, it provides a mechanism to broadly engage the chemical sciences R&D community in assessing the needs and recognizing the opportunities for R&D in this important area. Second, it provides federal agencies with information that can guide and support their investment in R&D in key areas where the chemical sciences can make a unique contribution. This workshop report is complementary to Beyond the Molecular Frontier: Challenges for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, the report on the future of the chemical sciences that is being produced by the Steering Committee for the “Challenges” study chaired by Ronald Breslow and Matthew V. Tirrell, and Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism, the report produced by the National Research Council committee chaired by Lewis M. Branscomb and Richard D. Klausner that makes specific recommendations on courses of action to be taken to prepare our nation for potential terrorist attacks.

On January 14–16, 2002, the Workshop on National Security and Homeland Defense was held to identify both the challenges faced as a result of terrorist threats and the most effective means available for chemists and chemical engineers to respond to those challenges. The chemistry and chemical engineering community at large was invited to attend; those who came did so of their own volition and their interest in the subject matter and service to society. While these participants were individuals with expertise in the chemical sciences from industry, academia, and the federal government, they were not necessarily experts on national security and homeland defense issues. Furthermore, by holding an unclassified workshop, information on some existing or developing technologies could not be included in the discussions. Nevertheless, approximately 100 workshop participants were involved in stimulating presentations and discussions on the use of chemical sciences to meet the needs of national security and homeland defense. The ideas and challenges identified in these presentations, as well as the four themes listed above, were used as a starting point for breakout sessions, where the participants offered their thoughts and expanded on technical concepts and needs identified in the lectures.

Material from both the presentations and the breakout sessions was used by the committee as the basis for the findings drawn in this report. After an introductory breakout session that identified ways that the chemical sciences have contributed to national security and homeland defense throughout the past few decades, the goal of the committee was to identify a series of grand challenges, the overarching needs and goals for effectively using the chemical sciences in the counterterrorism effort. Each of the grand challenges is composed of a series of more specific challenges or barriers that must be overcome to meet the goal stated in the grand challenges. Likewise, each specific challenge has related research needs, which, once met, can aid in overcoming the scientific barriers to the grand challenges.

Some Grand Challenges for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

  • Energy independence—to reduce our reliance on foreign nations. Opportunities in the chemical sciences include the development of more efficient engines, better materials for energy storage, and alternative energy sources. More detailed information can be found in the workshop report on Energy and Transportation, part of the “Challenges” series.
  • Supply chain safety—to protect the products and services on which our economy and society depend. The opportunities for chemical scientists include improved security plans at chemical production sites, automated detection systems that can sense agents inside of closed containers, and improved placarding of railroad tank cars.
  • Secure chemistry—to minimize the misuse of chemicals and chemical assets as weapons of destruction. Challenges for chemical scientists include the substitution of less toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process and the minimization of the accumulation and storage of hazardous intermediates and products.
  • Integrated response measures—to minimize loss of life and property. The challenges for chemical scientists include the development of detectors and information systems that can provide responses for chemical, biological, and radiological weapons to maximize the effectiveness of a diverse group of responders.
  • Chemical, biological, and radiological detectors—to minimize or prevent harm. Opportunities in the chemical sciences range from the development of rugged, portable detectors for field use to better methods of sample preparation.
  • Collective and personal protection systems—to avert infection or contamination. Challenges for chemical scientists include improved air filtration systems and the effect of weather patterns on agent dispersal.
  • Immediate and extended medical countermeasures—to diagnose and treat infection and contamination. The opportunities for the chemical sciences include gaining a better understanding of virus replication and better computer modeling for drug design.
  • Neutralization, decontamination, and disposal procedures—to safely return infrastructure and property to use. Challenges for chemical scientists range from the development of environmentally benign decontaminants to the surface science of agents and decontaminants.

The committee’s findings to guide research on defense-related topics are listed below.

  1. Extensive research opportunities exist throughout the many facets of chemistry and chemical engineering that can assist national security and homeland defense efforts.
    1. Research in systems and analysis is required to apply new knowledge of basic science to developing tools and products for national security and homeland defense. Three major needs were identified at the workshop:
      • Detectors with the broadest possible range for chemical and biological agents. New sensing and sampling technologies will yield improved threat detection and identification technologies. Specific detectors that provide speed, high sensitivity, and great reliability are essential.
      • Miniaturization of detection and identification equipment for use in the field. This is needed by soldiers, first responders, and other emergency and military personnel. This research will also allow the development of detection systems on a chip. Understanding materials and transport phenomena at the micron scale may facilitate research on miniaturized processes.
      • Personal and collective protection measures. Research is required to determine how to use new materials and methods to develop protective clothing, new drugs and vaccines, and infrastructure protection (air filters, stronger construction materials, decontaminants).
    2. Addressing research opportunities in manufacturing would better prepare the nation for a terrorist attack.
      • Minimization of the hazards of chemical transport and storage. Chemical transport routes by rail, truck, or barge pass through population centers and neighborhoods. Large storage tanks of chemicals often exist at industrial sites. The inherent danger of chemical transportation and storage can be reduced if new manufacturing processes are developed that use less reactive, less harsh chemicals or produce and consume the dangerous chemicals only on demand and on site.
      • Rapid production scale-up procedures. If these procedures are established before they are needed, they can be implemented immediately in an attack. Although investigation into scale-up of all stages of production should occur, the scale-up of separation and purification is a specific challenge.
    3. Fundamental research in basic science and engineering is essential to meet these needs. Much basic research stems from the need to solve specific problems faced by society. Supporting fundamental research for national security and homeland defense will enable discovery and understanding in many areas of chemistry and chemical engineering. These areas include materials development, pharmaceutical modes of action, particulate air transport and dispersal, catalysis, chemical and biochemical binding, solids flow and crystallization, energy sources and batteries, and sampling methodology and preparation. Research in many of these areas will be needed to meet the challenges outlined above.
  2. Infrastructure enhancements are needed to promote the success of research in national security and homeland defense.
    1. Access to secure facilities. Many important research efforts will require the use of hazardous materials, classified data, and specialized facilities. Collaboration with chemists, chemical engineers, and other scientists at government facilities will be necessary.
    2. Transformation of graduate education. Changes in the infrastructure of graduate education to remove barriers to interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research will enable students to expand their range of knowledge and to learn how to work in concert with others to achieve maximum effectiveness. This will be needed for them to participate successfully in any research program after graduation, especially one centered on national security and homeland defense related issues.
    3. Instrumentation for research. Much of the needed research will depend strongly on new instrumentation to replace existing obsolete equipment as well as to allow new experiments. This includes major, multiuser equipment as well as specialized instrumentation for individual investigators.
Copyright © 2002, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK114813


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