Graduate Alumnus Robert Buntrock *67 responds to “Fortune favors the well read”

By Tien Nguyen
Thursday, May 25 2017

When Princeton graduate alumnus Robert Buntrock *67 read graduate student Julian West's March opinion article published in Science, he found that the central idea of the piece, the importance of reading widely, resonated with him. So much so that he wrote West to commend him and share how his own voracious consumption of the chemical literature was invaluable during his 46 year career in chemical information. With Buntrock's permission, we've posted his letter in full below:

I was pleased to read an article in a recent issue of Science, “Fortune Favors the Well Read” (March 10, 2017, vol. 355, 6239, 1090) on the importance of the effective use of the chemical literature and see that it came from a graduate student at Princeton.  Julian West discovered the value of keeping current by reading broadly outside the implicit bounds of one’s research project.  I’d like to illustrate how my thesis research experiences both at Princeton (PhD *67, E. C. Taylor) and as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota helped both my lab and further careers.  Further description and discussion can be found in my ACS Symposium Book chapter (1).

At Princeton in the ‘60s we were encouraged to read journals not only for our research but for preparation for Cumulative Exams.  In addition, Prof. Taylor not only encouraged us to read journals widely (my projects were quite broadly based) but also make effective use of Chemical Abstracts and other reference resources.  In addition he strongly encouraged us to write a publishable review of our literature searching as an introduction to our thesis.  I did and it was published (2).  In the course of preparing that review, Prof. Taylor encouraged me to make use of the new resource, Science Citation Index (SCI), to supplement my Chemical Abstracts based literature searching.  He also was given access to a subscription to ASCA, a weekly update based on the computer files used prepare SCI from one of the companies for which he consulted.

After my PhD, my first two jobs were in the lab, in pesticide synthesis.  In addition to reading and scanning a wide variety of journals (I never knew were my next idea was coming from), I took advantage of the increasing body of current awareness tools (Chemical Titles, Current Contents, etc.) as well as personalized current awareness profiles (SDI).  When I left the lab to go into information retrieval services, the combination of excellent lab and information training I had received led to the remainder of my successful career in the information industry.  Current awareness became my specialty both in my information services job in industry and in my consultancy.  I assisted many clients in creating current awareness “profiles” for all aspects of their research, both “automatic” (stored with automatic provision of results) or manually executed.

I was both witness and participant in the morphing and evolution of chemical information in print to digital.  With constantly increasing resources available in digital information, effective current awareness is even easier to accomplish.  Along with the trend for “do it yourself” information retrieval with SciFinder and the like, “keep me current” functions are available once one has run a retrospective search with favorable results.  In addition, there is a wealth of online newsletters and RSS feeds delivered often to your desktop, laptop, or handheld.  Of course, most journals are now available in digital form, in some cases exclusively. 

Even in semi-retirement, as I have throughout my 46 year career in chemical information, I strongly recommend that those involved in chemical research take advantage of the great amount of information resources available from reading widely through using other current awareness methods.  I’m pleased to see that the same traditions that helped me in both my lab and information careers continue at my graduate alma mater.

Robert E. (Bob) Buntrock was born and educated in Minneapolis. He received a BChem in ‘62 from the Univ. of Minnesota and did research with Wayland Noland.  He received a PhD in chemistry from Princeton (*67) doing research with E. C.Taylor. He had laboratory positions in pesticide synthesis at Air Products and Amoco Oil followed by 23 years at Amoco Corp. in Naperville IL providing chemical information research. After retirement, he and his wife formed Buntrock Associates performing similar services for a variety of clients. He is now semi-retired, living in Orono, ME, and reviews books, writes chemistry articles, and participates in U Maine chemistry and Maine Section ACS activities.

(1) Buntrock, R. E.; Chemical Information: From Print to the Internet. In The Future of the History of Chemical Information; ACS Symposium Series 1164; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2014; pp 19-42.

(2) Buntrock, R. E., Taylor, E. C. Cyclization Reactions of 2,2’-Disubstituted Biphenyls. Chem. Rev. 1968, 68, 209-227.