OXIDE Aims to Find the Best Minds for the Job


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Contact: David Terraso
Sept 25, 2012 | Atlanta, GA

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Rigoberto Hernandez is the principal investigator for OXIDE, a collaboration that aims to increase the diversity of chemistry departments across the country (click image to view larger).

Breakthroughs in science are based on results, the results of exciting, albeit sometimes tedious research. To practice good science, scientists need to be able to take risks, ensure they aren’t hampered by traditional thinking and have the best minds for the job. That’s why Georgia Tech is heading a group with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology known as OXIDE: Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity. And it’s using science to ensure that its methods are … well, scientific.

OXIDE is a $1.6 million, five-year effort aimed at moving beyond factors which have resulted in many chemistry departments being under-represented with respect to gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and disabilities. This under-representation not only denies opportunities to qualified scientists, but it denies universities and labs the benefits that having a variety of minds, viewpoints and experiences can bring — benefits that can turn a good lab into a great one.

The collaboration is partnering with the chairs of more than 50 research-active chemistry departments to use social science, as well as experience, to identify the problem points and discover the most scientifically sound methods of overcoming them.

“We are partnering with social scientists to ensure that we learn from the latest research on questions such as: What are the root causes of inequity in chemistry’s education and workplace environments? Which programs have been effective in reducing these inequities and why? How can we develop tools to determine how these programs work in an academic setting?” said Rigoberto Hernandez, professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and principal investigator for OXIDE.

One of OXIDE’s goals is to work with its partners to gather information on how they, with their 1,600 or so faculty members, are faring with their various diversity-oriented programs. This pool is large enough to gather meaningful statistics, allowing OXIDE to overcome the small-sample-size problems that normally accompany such endeavors, according to Hernandez.

"We're following the lead from the business sector, in which companies are able to administer successful programs to address diversity inequities by enabling and rewarding middle management,” added Hernandez. “Within the chemical academy, we are effectively treating the departments as if they were a single company and enabling the heads to act beyond the management of their own departments in addressing diversity from the top down."

OXIDE is funded jointly by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Energy.

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