It’s All About the (Chemical) Data

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Written by

Michael Francis

Posted on

August 18, 2022

We talked to Carmen Nitsche, US General Manager, CCDC, upon being awarded the Val Metanomski meritorious service award for 2022 from the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Division of Chemical Information (CINF).

The CINF champions chemical information and informatics as reflected by the division’s motto ”It's all about the (chemical) data!” Membership of the division is drawn from the chemical informatics research and the chemistry librarian communities. Its committees, events and bulletins discuss chemical data topics including the latest trends in organizing, finding, and sharing chemical data. A major focus of the division is supporting and encouraging young scientists starting out in data fields. To this end, CINF offers advice and opportunities to network with potential mentors. The Val Metanomski meritorious service award is granted to members of the division who:
  • Have made outstanding contributions to the CINF division over the years, or
  • Deserve recognition for specific activities benefiting the division.
We talked to Carmen about the honour of winning the award, her vision for structured chemical data and the value of mentorship throughout your career, not just at the beginning - “You always have something to both learn and teach,” said Carmen. Carmen Nitsche - Val Metanomski Meritorious Service Award for 2022  

Early Days of the Internet and My Introduction to CINF

I am a Chemist by training and have been involved in chemical information for almost all my career. I started out as a technical searcher in the library and information services group at a water treatment company. Chemists would come to me with all manner of chemistry questions, including if their patent idea was novel.  I would then perform a search across a variety of resources, to find answers, like whether the idea was novel.”With the internet came end-user tools. My role shifted to include researching, testing, and introducing chemical searching services to our R&D community. One of the first tools I brought in was SciFinder, from CAS. My relationship with CINF goes right back to those early days (more years than I care to admit!). CINF has always been an anchor – my mentors, my colleagues, and my friends – a group I could always rely on for insight and guidance as my career progressed.”  

Jump to Chemical Data and Software

I briefly moved into sales at the water treatment company which was a great experience to listen to client requirements and find out their pain points. However, I was not overly keen on pouring chemicals into rooftop cooling towers under extreme weather conditions, so when I was offered a position in the chemical informatics space I jumped at the chance.” “We had a database and software portfolio, very similar to what we have here at CCDC today. I held various business development roles and ran the database group for a time.  I then moved into the not-for-profit sector with the Pistoia Alliance (PA), an industry group focussing on pre-competitive collaboration in life sciences R&D. That is how I connected with the CCDC, who are members of the PA, and here I am!”  

The Val Metanomski Meritorious Service Award

“Val Metanomski was a CINF elder statesman, highly respected in the chemical information and nomenclature arenas. It is a tremendous honour to be awarded the 2022 award. Many of my mentors are previous recipients and it is humbling to be named amongst them. I have always enjoyed working with my CINF colleagues and look forward to working together for a very long time to come.”    

The Future of Chemistry and the Role of Structural Science

”Across the chemical research endeavour, the data is critical.  For example, for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to make dramatic impact, we must produce large quantities of high quality, well curated data. I see groups like CINF playing a leadership role as stewards of the content; They can advise and manage how it is stored, how it is communicated, how it can be leveraged. They are leading the charge to make data FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable).” “FAIR is good for scientists. It makes your accomplishments more visible, and it advances the community’s ability to validate and build upon your results. It opens the door to the possibility of others reusing your data for a purpose you may never have dreamed of. When publishing your results, one of the sometimes tedious but most important efforts you can make is careful processing and sharing of your data. Being a good steward of your data pays back in multiple ways.” “As we move forward, groups like CINF are key players in keeping the FAIR principles at the top of the scientific agenda and driving execution. As data experts, CINF will continue to help the wider chemistry community manage, collate, and distribute valuable data resources. I am pleased to be part of this group –we CINF members have a lot to contribute to the overall chemistry endeavour.”  

Mentoring — The Two-Way Street to Success

“I freely admit that, at the start, I have never been fully qualified for any role that I undertook, but I have been extremely fortunate to have a series of generous mentors who have helped me understand the new fields that I moved into and have trusted me when I didn’t trust myself.” “I see mentoring as a huge part of my role as CCDC Inc General Manager, to help and guide early career scientists as they advance. I think this is our obligation. Often the primary barrier to entering a field is simply not having the right connections – knowing people, getting known.” “A mentor can help with those first introductions., One invitation to give a talk at a conference, will lead to many more, and then, voila, you are on the circuit!” “If you are starting out, one of the most important things to do is be proactive.  Seek out a mentor who can help you navigate the numerous complexities of your career. If you are well established, it is important to continue to give back, open doors to that first connection for early career scientists.” “And remember, It is not a one-way street. Mentees can and should bring something to the table too. It is a conversation, not a monologue.”  Carmen will receive the award at the Fall ACS meeting 2022 in Chicago. In addition to receiving the award, Carmen will also be presenting a symposium talk ‘From "You can't do that" to "Do it yourself" - a look back at the end user journey.’ Full details, including the meeting agenda, can be found on the ACS website.  

Next Steps

Learn more about the CCDC and the Cambridge Structural Database (CSD), the home of over 1.1M curated and validated small-molecule organic and metal-organic crystal structures. Readers may be interested a previous interview with Carmen by the CINF in 2017. Learn more about CCDC’s commitment to FAIR data