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Stanford ChEM-H bridges chemistry, engineering and medicine

Name changes can come with some confusion (ask anyone who changed their name after getting married), but they can also bring clarity (ask anyone who didn't change their name and has to explain why their name is different than their child's).

Today, one of Stanford's institutes got a little clarity with a new name that better reflects its vision. What was once the Stanford Institute for Chemical Biology - a joint venture of the schools of Medicine, Engineering and Humanities & Sciences - is now Stanford ChEM-H.

I talked with Chaitan Khosla, PhD, director of ChEM-H, for a Q&A on the name change that was published today. He explained:

The term ChEM-H has two meanings. In one, it is shorthand for an emerging interdisciplinary area of chemistry that this institute will support; that is, using the principles and tools of chemistry to better understand and advance human health. It is also an acronym for the fields that will need to come together for us to be successful (chemistry, engineering and medicine for human health).

Khosla also talked about why now is the right time to be bringing these fields together:

The core value of chemistry remains timeless, even to a high school student. Chemistry is the science that makes new forms of matter and measures its properties at an atomic level. That said, I see the field of chemistry as being at an inflection point analogous to a period of time immediately after the transistor was invented. As mathematicians started to recognize the capabilities of this device, the field of computer science emerged.

In a similar way, the human genome project has created a resource that opens the door to understanding human biology in the language of chemistry. Up to this point, the impact of chemistry on our world has been profound – all the synthetic products we use in our daily lives are a result of chemical ingenuity. This, of course, includes a vast majority of medicines that society has come to rely upon so heavily. I predict that the emerging frontier between chemistry and human biology will challenge future generations of chemists and molecular engineers to elevate their design, synthetic and analytical skills to new heights. In turn, these pursuits will fundamentally alter our understanding of who we are as a species and as individuals.

Khosla has more to say about the language barrier that needs to be overcome between chemistry and biology, how this institute is different than biochemistry, and what he hopes ChEM-H will have accomplished ten years from now.

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