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Chemistry International
Vol. 24, No. 6
November 2002

 

Past-President’s Column


What Lies Ahead for the Union

 
 
Alan Hayes
IUPAC Past President

Having been involved in IUPAC for a long time, it is quite a new experience to realize that the present series of meetings in which I am involved will be my last. I was thinking about the changes that have occurred between the first General Assembly I attended (Lyon 1985) and the Ottawa event, which takes place in 2003. Much has happened, and the rate of change seems to be speeding up, but that is true for all organizations.

However, I wish to use the privilege of writing this column, not so much to look back, but to look forward. But first I want to pay tribute to those many volunteers who have worked so hard to bring about IUPAC’s outstanding achievements in chemistry and the related sciences over its 80 plus years of existence. There is no doubt in my mind that some form of international collaboration and standard setting was essential for chemistry, which is the global enabling activity for so much science and technology.


. . . the way that the "public" regards our efforts has changed from wonderment, admiration, and gratitude, to more critical, ungrateful (as we see it), and more inclined to blame us for environmental damage, poor health, "artificial" food, and more.


But what lies ahead for the Union? What are the important tasks and problems that are now on our agenda? I will mention only four, though I am sure that many colleagues can list many more. I must remind you that the views I express are mine alone and are not necessarily shared by the Officers or the Bureau.

My first issue is what is often termed "the public appreciation of science and especially chemistry." We are all too aware that during our lifetimes of practicing our beloved science, the way that the "public" regards our efforts has changed from wonderment, admiration, and gratitude, to more critical, ungrateful (as we see it), and more inclined to blame us for environmental damage, poor health, "artificial" food, and more.

Our first reaction to our realization that the public attitude was changing was to try to reason with people on a logical basis; it was much later that we realized that much of the concern was based on an emotional response, fed in part by a news media that seemed not to employee anyone with any scientific knowledge at all. So the industry, and then others, started to employ " experts" to advise on how the "public" (To paraphrase Einstein " the public is everyone but me.") could be persuaded that chemistry was not to blame for all our afflictions, but could indeed be part of the solutions.

There have been several consequences of this adverse public view, one of the more serious being the marked fall off in many countries, particularly in Europe and the USA, of the number of young people who choose to study science and particularly the physical sciences. This is very worrisome both for mainstream science and because of how it will affect the future proportion of people who will have any awareness of the importance of scientific development to society.

Outlining the problem is always the easy bit of the process–What do we do about it? Well, IUPAC has several initiatives to counter the trend. One is the continuing CHEMRAWN program. The newly restructured Committee on Chemistry Education (CCE) has the subject of public appreciation as half of its remit. The Committee on Chemistry and Industry has built up a very significant collaboration with UNESCO on the DIDAC project, which continues to expand and is now a collaborative venture with CCE.

Further effort is needed and one approach is to attain some cooperation and coordination between industry, trade associations, and chemical societies. As often happens when a problem surfaces and develops, different groups each start their own programs. Therefore, it could be that better coordination could lead to more effective and efficient action.

Which leads me to my next issue, the relationship between IUPAC, national chemical societies, and regional associations. May I say at once that I am well aware, by personal experience, that there are several national chemical societies with whom IUPAC has good, productive relationships, and that, so far as I am aware, all of the chemical societies support IUPAC. However, it has to be admitted that the fact that many of the member NAOs of IUPAC are not chemical societies can lengthen the lines of communication and give the societies the feeling that they are somewhat remote from the heart of IUPAC. This latter point is very important when we remember that the "new" IUPAC emphasizes ensuring a flow of good ideas for new projects to the various Divisions. Many of these project ideas should come via the chemical societies.


It is my view that the Union should liaise more actively, closely, and directly with the national chemical societies and the regional chemical federations.


It is my view that the Union should liaise more actively, closely, and directly with the national chemical societies and the regional chemical federations. In this day and age when money is in even shorter supply and the pressure on people’s time is so great, it is of prime importance that each group of chemistry organizations be clear about what is their most effective sphere of action. For example, the regional federations do much that is "International"–perhaps IUPAC should become GUPAC, where G stands for "Global."

Another group with whom I believe we should have a more productive relationship is industry. All the major chemical societies know that the majority of qualified chemists in their countries do not work in academia, yet all the top committees in those societies are populated by academics. This is not because colleagues from industry are excluded, it is largely because the pressures on the industrial people mean that they cannot afford the time. I believe that this is a partially short-term view and should be modified. On the positive side, there is good industry participation in the work of several IUPAC divisions (e.g., the Macromolecular, Chemistry and Human Health, Chemistry and the Environment, and the Chemical Nomenclature and Structure Representation Divisions).

However, I feel that the World Chemistry Leadership Meeting, which held its first meeting at the time of the Brisbane General Assembly, could benefit enormously if it became a forum that included senior representatives of the national chemical societies, regional associations, regional trade associations, and IUPAC. Such a biennial forum would be invaluable in its ability to set a general agenda for action on the agreed-upon major problems facing chemistry, and for helping to synergize strengths and capabilities. May I repeat what I have said many times before, that it is not my view that IUPAC should be representing industry, it has trade associations and its companies to do that, but we do have to recognize that the "A" in IUPAC does stand for "Applied," and industry is where most application takes place.

Finally there is the issue of how IUPAC can help the beneficial development of chemistry in developing and economically disadvantaged parts of the world. There are many gaps in IUPAC membership on the world map and by and large they correspond with the developing world. It would be good to get these countries into membership, but it is not easy. Lack of money for membership dues is one obvious factor, but there are others. The lack of educational infrastructure, "brain drain," and the need for national investment in technology development are also very important factors. Also, even when we do manage to get some participation in the IUPAC programs from scientists in these countries, the difficulties they face, such as travel, are still enormous.

IUPAC must solve the problem of involving many more of these countries in coordinating schemes whereby help can be given. Many young chemists have expressed surprise to me that IUPAC does not do more and I feel that we must be more creative. We have good relations with UNESCO UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), and we also have experience in raising money from various charitable foundations for CHEMRAWN conferences and other activities. I feel that we should focus more of our resources in this area.

So there we are; the ramblings of an old man coming to the end of his IUPAC " career." Or the musings of an idealist who wishes that he had more years to serve? I haven’t even mentioned the problems of getting younger scientists involved, or of how we cope with keeping up the subscription and publications income, or the structure and function of the Bureau, etc.

My time in IUPAC has been satisfying and fun and I am convinced that the Union will make progress on all the issues that I have mentioned. I have been privileged to meet with lots of wonderful people-thanks for having me

 Dr. Alan Hayes is the current past president of IUPAC, and will retire as Officer at the end of 2003.

IUPAC


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