Featured Journal Interview
In a recent analysis of
Essential Science IndicatorsSMdata
Reuters, the journal Propellants, Explosives,
Pyrotechnics (PEP) entered the field of Chemistry
highest citation count. The journal's current
record in this field includes 573 papers cited a total
of 2,033 times between January 1, 1999 and August 31,
PEP was founded and launched in 1976 by Wiley-VCH
together with Professor Hiltmar Schubert of the
Fraunhofer-Institut für Chemische Technologie in
Pfinztal, Germany, as the Founding Editor. Currently
the Editors are Prof. Dr.-Ing. Peter Elsner and Dr.
Norbert Eisenreich, both also of the
Fraunhofer-Institut für Chemische Technologie, and
Dr. Randall Simpson, of the Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory in Livermore, California.
correspondent Gary Taubes talks with Dr. Simpson about
PEP's publication history, and trends in the field
impacting the journal's citation record.
How would you account for the increased citation
rate of PEP?
About a decade ago the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory began
co-editing the journal with the Institute of Chemical Technology in
Germany. Around that time PEP started rejecting a lot of papers. And the
natural consequence of that is that we actually started getting more
papers. It seems that the tougher we are on the papers submitted to us, the
more submissions we get.
This is difficult from a cultural point of view, because our research
community is pretty small and we tend to know the people submitting
articles. All the editors, at one time or another, have received
disheartening emails regarding rejections of papers they’ve
submitted, but everybody, of course, does everything they can to be
Another thing is that Wiley-VCH did a good job of distributing and raising
the visibility of the journal worldwide. So PEP started as a
largely European-North American journal, with some articles from
Russia—then the USSR—but not many. We had very little in the
way of articles from Asia, including Japan. That's changed dramatically,
and it changed for a couple of reasons. One is the increased emphasis on
science and publishing in those countries. And the other is that the
quality of work being submitted from these countries has increased
dramatically. As the quality has increased, the acceptance rate increased,
and the readership has gone up significantly, as a result, in a very large
fraction of the world.
"In the past decade, the improvements in computing
and in simulation have allowed us to model
energetic materials and detonations at almost a
molecular level, and to give us a much greater
understanding of these
Another factor that has led to the increased citation rate for PEP
is the conflicts in the Middle East that have gone for the past eight
years. This has put a focus on chemical energy and energetic materials,
which is the term we use for a material that has both an oxidizer and a
fuel in either one molecule or a compound. Over the last eight years,
improvised explosive devices, terrorist devices, and their detection and
disablement have been front page news continuously. I think that's driven a
whole variety of communities—academic, law enforcement,
government—to seek out journals that address these issues, and this
takes them right to PEP, because it's a relatively narrow field.
That's presumably increased our citation rates, as well.
Can you quantify the rejection rate to give us an idea
of what you're talking about when you say you reject a lot of
We rejected at about an 80% rate at the initial transition stage of the
North America editorial office to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
It's less than that now, but it's still a reasonably high number. It's not
like the rejection rate for Science or Nature, but for
our type of journal, it's still pretty high.
Were there any other changes in policy or editorial
direction that might also account for the improvement in citation
One thing is that we're now recognizing and acting on the need to get
people from Asia on the advisory board. We have the editorial offices in
both Germany and the United States, and then a relatively large advisory
board. In the past, that advisory board, to a significant extent, always
emphasized North America, Europe, and the Soviet Union, but not Asia.
That's changing based on upon their readership and submissions. We're
making a conscious effort to try to actively engage advisory board members
from Asia that can help develop the quality of the journal from within
Another thing the journal has done, which has worked to increase the
manuscript submission rate, and ultimately the quality of articles we
accept, has been to improve the turn-around time. People who do research
tend to be passionate about it. There's a lot of work involved. They want
to see the work published once they're done. But even with a dedicated team
of volunteers, it's difficult to get a publication out rapidly. We set
goals to significantly decrease the time from submission to publication in
our journal and we've successfully met those goals and that has improved
the quality of the journal.
We've also been offering so-called EarlyView articles, meaning that
individual articles are published online on the journal
homepage significantly in advance of the respective
print and online issues.
Did this process of speeding up publication run
smoothly, or were there problems along the way?
Well, when we originally went to web-based submissions, we had some issues.
At the time, that technology was still being invented. How do we route
papers to peer reviewers? How do we communicate with the reviewers? All
that slowed us down initially. For instance, before web-based submissions
we would send a request out to an individual peer reviewer, asking if they
could review the paper in three weeks. Then we'd call at two weeks and say,
"where is it?" Our experience is that if they haven't started in two weeks,
it's not coming. When we originally became web-based, it was harder to
track that, and so it slowed us down until we got that handled.
Have there been specific developments in the fields
served by your journal that may have contributed to the success of the
journal or simply changed the nature of the papers you've been
There have been several. One of them is the ability to do simulations. In
the past decade, the improvements in computing and in simulation have
allowed us to model energetic materials and detonations at almost a
molecular level, and to give us a much greater understanding of these
materials. It's also driven the experimentalists to try to validate these
simulations and provide real measurements to underpin the models.
That's one development. Another one is micro-electrical, mechanical (MEM)
devices. As we are using modern fabrication techniques to make smaller and
smaller devices, those systems need to be powered. This has led to a
burgeoning field of microscale energetics for MEMs devices. That's a
relatively new field entirely.
I already touched on the proliferation of explosive terrorist devices, so
now we routinely get papers submitted to us about the characterization of
those materials and the data associated with those materials.
Another burgeoning field is molecular design of materials, although I'd
argue that we're not there yet. At Livermore, for example, we’re a
little "computer crazy," due to the large computer infrastructure
available, and our scientists want to simulate everything. But the reality
is that very few materials that have utility and have actually been
molecular designed right now from scratch. The simulations, though, are
more and more credible for designing practical materials.
Are there any unique challenges you face publishing in
"Over the last eight years, improvised explosive
devices, terrorist devices, and their detection and
disablement have been front page news continuously.
I think that's driven a whole variety of
communities—academic, law enforcement,
government—to seek out journals that address
these issues, and this takes them right to
I wouldn't say unique, necessarily, but one challenge is getting both
high-quality science and applied research that has an impact. Let me give
you an example: one compound which the energetic-materials community has
worked on for a very long time is octa-nitrocubane. This is an
extraordinarily powerful, energetic explosive. When this was first worked
out it was world-class chemistry. The question then becomes where to
publish? The authors submitted it to Angewandte Chemie, one of the
top chemical journals in the world, and that's where it was published.
Here you have this world-class chemistry, and the authors naturally wanted
to publish it in the journal with the highest impact factor. But that work
is an important development for our field so we want to get it into
PEP as well. So we asked the scientists who did the work
to submit a related publication to PEP. That way it could have a
direct impact on the energetic-materials community.
The message is that we always have to pay attention to articles published
in these higher-impact journals that are relevant to our community. We have
to be diligent in doing that. Then we have to seek out the authors to see
if they would be interested in publishing a related article in PEP
to reach our community. So you'll often see these articles in PEP
that have common authorship to related articles in other journals. That way
we can capture the best science but in a way that limits it to PEP
Are there significant controversies affecting your
journal or field at this time?
Quite a few. One very controversial area is molecular design and how to
model sensitivity of a molecule to a real stimulus. By that I mean one
thing to do with molecular design of biomolecules, for instance, is to
simulate their stability in response to an electrical stimulus, to friction
impact and thermal degradation. Being able to predict the stability to
these kinds of phenomena is very difficult to do and there are
controversies about it.
There are ongoing controversies about how to design for power and how to
measure energy-release rates, because release rates can be 1010
watts per centimeter squared in a detonation front. So we're releasing
energy very quickly here, and there are considerable debates about how one
measures that energy-release rate and how one designs toward it. There is
no agreement on the prediction on the violence of a reaction to a thermal
stimulus. That's one of the grand challenges in the field. If I take a
rocket propellant and give it some sort of thermal stimulus, at some point
it will exothermally degrade—it will explode or detonate.
Predicting the violence of that reaction is highly controversial and has
been for probably 20 years. It's very heated right now because of our
simulation capabilities, which are just now beginning to touch the real
size of three-dimensional objects in this environment.
Keep in mind that this is an extraordinarily important area of research.
When the space shuttle is launched or a missile is launched, you need a
safety basis to sign off for that launch. Often the only recourse is to use
modeling and simulation to establish that, because experiments themselves
are extraordinarily expensive. One of the challenges this community faces
in general is that many experiments are what we call single-shot
experiments—literally your rocket motor, your propellant or
pyrotechic, whatever you're working with, disappears during the experiment.
If your explosive device is a rare material, you can only do it once. You
don't get the statistical averaging you would in other fields of research,
and you end up relying more heavily on modeling and simulation than perhaps
other communities would.
What's more, how you carry out the experiment determines what result you
get. Because every material is slightly different in chemical composition,
because there's no such thing as a pure chemical and very slight impurities
often input radically different properties, there are significant
controversies about how this is done and how well it's done. In the end our
hope is in advanced modeling and simulation, but it always needs to be
validated against experiment.
Propellants, Explosives, Pyrotechnics Peter Elsner,
Norbert Eisenreich, Randall Simpson—Editors
KEYWORDS: PROPELLANTS, EXPLOSIVES, PYROTECHNICS, CHEMICAL
ENERGY, ENERGETIC MATERIALS, IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE DEVICES, TERRORIST
DEVICES, DETECTION, DISABLEMENT, INTERNATIONAL SCOPE, REJECTION RATE,
WEB-BASED SUBMISSIONS, MODELS, SIMULATIONS, MICRO-ELECTRICAL MECHANICAL
DEVICES, MOLECULAR DESIGN OF MATERIALS.