The National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers NOBCChE held its 29th annual meeting, "Celebrating Thirty Years of Research, Knowledge and Wisdom in Science and Technology," in New Orleans during the week of 24 March 2002. The meeting focused on microfluidics research in an opening forum and exhibit and highlighted research in various areas through technical and scientific presentations. The industrial exhibit featured approximately 60 industrial, government, and academic institutions, and the science bowl and fair each hosted students from across the nation. Other events included a special workshop on "Training Science Teachers for the 21st Century" and symposia with titles such as "Science in Space" and "Public Health Response to Chemical and Biological Terrorism."

The opening forum, "Microfluidics and Microanalytical Technologies," explored the use of emerging technologies in various areas of genomics and proteomics research, laser ablation fabrication, surface modification, conductivity detection, and mass spectrometry applications. Laurie Locascio of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) moderated presentations from Steven Soper of Louisiana State University, Charles Henry of Mississippi State University, Emanuel Waddell of NIST, Alyssa Henry of NIST, and Patrick Limbach of the University of Cincinnati.

Eli Pearce, president of the American Chemical Society and University Research Professor at the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, New York, delivered a poignant luncheon keynote addressing the role of minorities in science. He cited the gap between the rapidly growing minority population and the number of minorities involved in scientific research. He also stated his belief that dramatically increasing the production of African-American and other minority scientists is vital to America's future prosperity and success. In considering a solution, Pearce noted the inability of any one organization alone to affect those numbers; instead, he argued that organizations such as NOBCChE and ACS should collaborate to effect change. He emphasized his dedication to the issue by drawing a moving parallel between the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt 3000 years ago and that of the slavery of African Americans in America 300 years ago.

The meeting's ACS Distinguished Speaker was Gary Gibbons, director of the Morehouse School of Medicine Cardiovascular Research Institute, an NIH-funded Research Center of Excellence. Gibbons addressed issues of importance to minorities, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. He also spoke about genomic technology and the relation between genetic influences and environmental factors such as inactivity, diet, culture, and behavior. Gibbons described the chemist's role in gene regulation; the discovery of chemical antagonists to and promoters of disease; and the emerging area of pharmacogenetics, which focuses on disease susceptibility and drug responsiveness. He identified several hot research topics, such as identification of disease gene profiles, genomic medicine (designer drugs custom fit to a particular genotype), and the need for advanced analysis of large amounts of data generated in bioinformatics and microarray technology.

In another address, George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and BlackPressUSA.com, spoke concerning several issues of importance to the African-American community, including affirmative action, community involvement, and role models. He defined the major argument against affirmative action, the use of quotas, as a "misdefinition" and countered it by explaining that the executive order for affirmative action forbids the use of quotas. He offered that affirmative actions do not lower standards but instead provide minorities a chance to compete and are necessary due to "negative actions." Curry also urged that minorities "do much more than marching" in reclaiming communities.

Ronald Langston, the 14th appointed director and first national director of the Minority Business Development Agency, reinforced many of Pearce's and Curry's ideas during his luncheon keynote. He provided statistics concerning minority business growth rates, average size, population versus business share, and entrepreneurial activity and parity. He also discussed the minority community as the fastest growing American population through 2050 and the importance of improving those communities. He promoted understanding the legacy but also "moving on"; he argued for an "intelligent and positive relationship between government and business"; and he quipped, "You're either a winner or a chicken dinner!"

Many other events provided valuable information for conference guests. Speakers at the "Strategies for Success" symposium presented several concepts concerning becoming successful in science. These included the stereotypes, assets, and liabilities of African-American scientists; the principles of the career cone; and the difference between power and influence. During the Henry A. Hill Lecture, Robert Ford, associate commissioner for sponsored programs at the Louisiana Board of Regents and a professor of chemistry at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, focused on the status of African Americans in science and engineering, other black professional societies, existing models for collaboration, and challenges for the future.

The next NOBCChE conference is scheduled for April 2003 and will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana. For further details, please visit the NOBCChE Web site.

Gloria Thomas completed her Ph.D. in chemistry at Louisiana State University in January 2002. She is currently a National Research Council Postdoctoral Research Associate with NIST in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Please send Gloria e-mail at gthomas@nist.gov.