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Vol. 31 No. 6
November-December 2009

IUPAC in Glasgow, Scotland: WCLM Generates Ideas for IYC2011

by John Malin and Bryan Henry

The World Chemistry Leadership Meetings have been a mainstay at IUPAC Congresses or General Assemblies for many years. This year’s event, held 4 August at the 2009 GA, may have been the most impressive of them all. The entire meeting was devoted to discussing the International Year of Chemistry in 2011 since, as IUPAC Past President Bryan Henry declared, “it is the most important thing IUPAC has been involved in over the last 20 years.”

Colin Humphris, representing the International Council of Chemical Associations on the IYC Management Committee, comments on how to engage the industry and include decision makers in activities.

Although some 90 conferees had indicated they would participate, strong interest in the forum’s topic attracted around 120 leaders of the chemical enterprise from industry, academia, government, and nonprofit sectors. Organized solely by IUPAC since 2001, the purpose of the WCLMs is to address special topical issues facing the world of chemistry and identify contributions IUPAC can make through projects or by working with others. Henry, who chaired the meeting, had a straightforward challenge to attendees: “How are you going to contribute to IYC2011 and how is your organization going to contribute?”

The breadth of responses was encouraging. An impressive lineup of speakers from all corners of the globe—Ethiopia, Spain, Malaysia, Poland, and more—shared their organizations’ IYC plans and suggested ways to unite the chemical community to carry forward the goals of the year.

By the end of the three-hour meeting, a consensus began to emerge around how those in the chemical sciences might unite around IYC. Following are some of the ideas put forth by participants:

  • The chemical community should direct its efforts primarily to the public at large and not just to scientists.
  • IYC 2011 presents a special opportunity to paint a clearer picture of where the science of chemistry is going in the future, and the contributions that chemistry has made and can make.
  • This opportunity will not return for some time and the community should make the most of it.
  • In the particular case of Africa, the Pan African Network being established by the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry (FASC), the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), and the South African Chemical Institute should be supported and used to make the case of chemistry in the region.

After IUPAC President Jung-Il Jin opened the WCLM, RSC President David Garner welcomed the participants on behalf of RSC and outlined the host societies’ plans for the year. Because 2011 will be the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize awarded to Marie Sklowdowska Curie, Garner announced that RSC will lead the UK celebrations of the life and achievements of Curie and highlight the contributions of women to the advancement of science. RSC plans to organize an event, jointly with IUPAC, at the French Embassy in London.

The RSC, said Garner, will designate chemical landmarks honoring Sir Humphry Davy, the Astra Zeneca Corp., and Sir Christopher Ingold. It will recognize 2011 as the 100th anniversary of Ernest Rutherford’s publication of his theory of atomic structure. RSC has compiled a list of 365 chemistry milestones, one for each day of the year, to be published on the RSC website for use by students, teachers, and the public. In addition, the Royal Society of Chemistry will incorporate IYC 2011 into its portfolio of annual activities, including its Parliamentary Links program, its Bill Bryson Competition, and its series of public outreach events. Other events are proposed jointly with the Chinese Chemical Society, the American Chemical Society, and the Society of German Chemists.

“What can we do to excite and capture the public’s imagination about chemistry?”
—Judith Benham, chair of the American Chemical Society’s Board of Directors

Judith Benham, chair of the American Chemical Society’s Board of Directors, described ACS’ plans for IYC 2011. “What,” she asked, “can we do to excite and capture the public’s imagination about chemistry and its contributions to humankind and its potential to address global challenges, and then to provide formal and informal pathways to learning more about the discipline?”

Benham described how ACS has surveyed its current activities to determine which ones it can “repurpose” to advance the objectives of IYC 2011. She pointed out that ACS technical divisions, committees, local sections, student affiliates, and school chemistry clubs will participate during 2011 in National Chemistry Week, Earth Day, Kids & Chemistry, Chemistry Olympiads, and the Global Challenges Chemistry Solutions Podcasts. Benham noted further that the international ACS Chemistry Network will be used to help coordinate IYC2011 projects. She emphasized that IYC 2011 will show how chemistry contributes to achieving the eight Millennium Goals promulgated by the United Nations <www.un.org/millenniumgoals>.

Luis A. Oro, president of the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS), explained how his organization is preparing for IYC2011, pointing out that the Third EuCheMS Chemistry Conference (Nurnberg, Germany, August 2010) will be an excellent venue in which to promote the year. During 2011, he added, many EuCheMS divisions will hold their biennial conferences or organize specific seminars which will feature public lectures. Specific events include the 1st European Inorganic Chemistry Conference (Manchester, UK), the 10th Anniversary of the Stockholm Conference on Persistent Organic Pollutants (Brno, Czech Republic), the EuCheMs Conference on Chemistry for Life Sciences (Budapest, Hungary), the International Conference on Chemistry and the Environment (Zurich, Switzerland), and conferences of the Divisions of Analytical, Food, and Organometallic Chemistry.

Franco Bisegna and Kevin Saidler of the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) outlined ideas for IYC 2011 in terms of their organization’s role in building partnerships among schools, museums, industry, and public authorities. They noted that CEFIC will assist Solvay and Essenscia with the IYC2011 Closing Ceremony planned for Brussels. CEFIC’s Chemishare initiative, they said, will be helpful in explaining the benefits of chemistry to the public. Additional ideas include support for creating national postage stamps celebrating chemistry, publishing a booklet on “Chemical Ideas that Changed the World,” developing an advertising campaign on behalf of chemistry and the chemical industry, organizing training conferences for high school teachers, publicizing the SusChem research awards, and holding receptions and meetings with top industry and government representatives.

Temechegn Engida, delegate from Ethiopia and president of FASC, discusses plans for IYC2011 in Africa.

Bryan Henry introduced Temechegn Engida, president of FASC. Henry thanked both FASC and the Ethiopian Chemical Society for their help as lead petitioners to UNESCO and then the United Nations in the successful designation of 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry. Engida pointed out that FASC was only very recently established, and the African Federation hopes that IYC 2011 will provide impetus for the organization. Specific plans are to publicize and celebrate IYC 2011 at the Third FASC Congress (16–21 January 2011 in South Africa); to incorporate a visit from the Committee on Chemistry Education’s Flying Chemists Program into the February 2011 meeting of the Ethiopian Chemical Society; to conduct a satellite workshop at the second meeting of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa’s Committee on Development Information, Science, and Technology; to organize events in African universities and schools to test the output of IUPAC’s project on Visualizing and Understanding the Science of Climate Change; and to invite African societies and institutions to participate in IYC 2011. Engida expressed hope that support will be found to assist with funding for these activities, that additional African organizations will join FASC, that more individuals in Africa will come forward to organize activities, and that communications will be sufficient to carry the activities forward.

Peter Mahaffy, chair of IUPAC’s Committee on Chemistry Education (CCE) discussed plans to emphasize IYC2011 through existing CCE activities, including the Young Ambassadors for Chemistry and the Flying Chemists Program. As noted by Engida, the Flying Chemists are planning a visit to Ethiopia in 2011. Mahaffy announced that CCE activities during IYC2011 will target school and university students as well as the general public. Mahaffy reported on four main proposals emerging from CCE’s meeting earlier at the General Assembly: (1) global experiments; (2) celebrations of national stories of chemistry; (3) coordination of an international chemistry day, or week; and (4) efforts to directly contact the general public.

The global experiment will engage students everywhere and will likely concentrate on worldwide sustainability themes. One proposed activity is to have students measure the pH of water systems or soil around the world, and then to display the results on a web-based map. Another idea is to have students measure isotopic ratios in water around the world at different times of the year (e.g., in February and again in December of 2011) and to record these on a web-based map.

Another CCE idea for IYC is to encourage students around the world to gather stories of chemical achievement in their own countries. The methodology will likely involve the use of cell phones to record the stories and computerized social networking techniques to disseminate them. An emphasis would be placed on cooperation rather than competition and particularly successful stories could be celebrated at the IYC2011 closing ceremonies in Brussels. Efforts to educate the community on how to find and record these stories will begin at the ICCE meeting in Taipei in 2010.

The CCE planners suggested that IYC2011 should incorporate national chemistry days or weeks around the world into a single, synchronous international celebration. CCE will seek to provide toolkits for organizers and develop activities that focus upon various segments of the community, such as school children of various ages, politicians, media, and the general public. Suggested advantages of a synchronous event include increased media attention and more influence on policymakers, better recognition of chemistry as a global profession, and better visibility for the global experiment(s). One proposed activity directly targeting the attention of the public is the creation of a traveling exhibit on chemistry-related postage stamps, which would also have a companion online version. Related efforts are already underway to establish postage stamps celebrating the Year in countries around the world. A second activity would involve geocaching. Geocaches are hidden around the world and are searched for by enthusiasts. Some geocaches could be “seeded” with medallions that celebrate IYC2011.

Ting-Kueh Soon, delegate from Malaysia, talks about the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies’ plans for IYC2011.

Soon Ting-Kueh outlined the mission of the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies (FACS) as it relates to IYC2011. In addition to its scientific meetings, FACS will organize events promoting public awareness of chemistry, interest of women and young people in chemistry, and creativity and innovation. The Year will be celebrated in Malaysia during a proposed CHEMRAWN conference at the Malaysian Chemistry Festival, in Thailand at the 14th Asian Chemistry Congress and at a museum developed to promote public awareness and appreciation of chemistry, during Singapore’s National Chemistry Week, at the 11th Asian Congress on Analytical Sciences, and at the 6th International Conference on Cutting-Edge Organic Chemistry in Asia.

Lesley Onyon, representing the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) Secretariat at the World Health Organization [online correction: World Health Organization is an error and should be UNEP], described SAICM’s efforts regarding IYC2011. The “UN would like more science involved in the sound management of chemicals and the development of safe chemicals,” said Onyon. “We would like to see stronger links with chemists in our work.” IYC, she said, provides a good opportunity for engaging the chemistry community more fully.

Future SAICM events will include meetings scheduled for 2010 relating to health and science risk reduction, capacity building and knowledge, and the forthcoming Third International Conference on Chemicals Management scheduled for June 2012. SAICM’s Quick Start Program offers key opportunities for collaboration, Onyon said.

Gabriel Infante from the Federacion Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Quimica discussed plans for IUPAC’s 2011 Congress and General Assembly, which will take place in San Juan, Puerto Rico. IYC will be prominent in the meeting program, he noted. According to Infante, several Nobel Laureates will participate in activities at the Congress, including a special session for high school students and teachers. The fact that the government of Puerto Rico has formally recognized IYC2011 should help with planning events, Infante said. Brazil and Argentina, he noted, will organize IYC2011 activities in advance of the IUPAC meetings in Puerto Rico.

After Bryan Henry thanked the presenters, he opened a general discussion of IYC2011 by posing a series of questions, listed below with responses from attendees.

Q: How can the chemical industry be involved?
A: By engaging its people and showing how industry provides solutions to world problems. It is important also to include decision makers in the discussion. IYC2011 should reach out to both large and small companies, including the pharmaceutical industry. IUPAC’s Committee on Chemistry and Industry is instituting an award in industrial chemistry, scheduled for first presentation in 2011. Industrial chemists could help by showing the personal and professional rewards of being a chemical scientist.

Q: What is the most important message about chemistry that should be carried forward to the public?
A: IYC2011’s tagline “Chemistry—Our Life, Our Future” is an excellent slogan that should be employed with science journalists and the wider communications media. CEFIC is equipped to show chemistry’s contributions to problems in housing, transportation, energy, and medicine. Their reports are forthcoming on mitigation of greenhouse gases and also on the future of the chemical industry. References to the UN Millennium Goals provide an opportunity to show how chemistry provides solutions to the important problems of humankind.

Q: What are the most effective approaches to attracting young people to the study of chemistry?
A: For example, science centers around the world are well equipped to teach young people about the wonders of chemistry. Educational materials, such as videos and publications such as personal essays, should be created showing the contributions that individual chemists have made and how their careers have contributed to science and provided them with personal satisfaction.

Two quotes from WCLM participants nicely capture some of the compelling themes from the meeting. The first is from Judith Benham, who reminded participants that the “human face of chemistry is important to show to young people.” The second is from Peter Mahaffy, who at one point showed a map of the countries sponsoring the UN resolution on IYC (in yellow) and compared it with a map of IUPAC member countries (in red), revealing a dramatic difference. “This is a challenge and an opportunity,” he said. “We should help these yellow countries with events, perhaps by organizing joint activities." (see Mahaffy's presentation slide 12; pdf 591KB)

Bryan Henry <chmhenry@uoguelph.ca> is IUPAC past president and a member of the IYC Management Committee; John Malin <jmalin023@verizon.net> is the chair of the IYC Management Committee; he recently retired from the American Chemical Society after 25 years as administrator of International Activities and Awards and as a grants administrator with the Petroleum Research Fund.


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