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Vol. 26 No. 2
March-April 2004

Secretary General's Column —Advancing the Business of IUPAC

David StC. Black
IUPAC Secretary General 2004-2005

by David StC. Black

Since the General Assembly in Ottawa last August, I have had some time to think about the specific role of the secretary general in the affairs of IUPAC. In this respect, I have received continuing help and advice from the retiring secretary general, Ted Becker. So, at the outset of this column, I should like to express not only my appreciation of the unstinting work Ted has done for IUPAC over the last eight years in particular, but also to emphasize what an enormous influence he has had on the “modernization” of IUPAC business. All of us involved in IUPAC owe Ted a huge debt of gratitude.

It is always interesting to read the Statutes and Bylaws of an organization like IUPAC, but they are more illuminating in terms of what is left unsaid, but hinted at, rather than the printed bare bones. Flesh is always more interesting than bones, but the former definitely needs the latter! So the Statutes indicate that “the secretary general shall carry out the business of the Union as specified by the Council, by the Bureau, by the Executive Committee, or by the president, and be responsible for keeping its records and for the administration of the Secretariat.” It is also clear that the Statutes and Bylaws look out of date, but that is always the case in a vibrant and living organization. The key is to use and interpret them seriously, but with the emphasis on the spirit of the law rather than the letter.

From its inception in 1919, IUPAC has changed greatly, as has the whole discipline of chemistry, so it is very important to deal with change in an effective way. The greatest rate of change seems to have occurred in the years since the Secretariat moved from Oxford to North Carolina. One of the most important changes happened recently with the introduction of the project system. During the next few years, it will be a priority to utilize this system in a routine manner to ensure the best outcomes for IUPAC in particular and for international chemistry in general.

One of the strengths of the project system is that grants are accessible to all, not only those on IUPAC committees. Consequently the Divisions can encourage promising projects through the targeting of experts from any part of the chemical world. The scope of projects is ever widening, taking into account emerging areas of chemistry, while continuing to deal with the rigorous issues of nomenclature, terminology, standardization of data and procedures and so on. The IUPAC Handbook lists guidelines and the review procedure, as well as all current projects, and this makes interesting reading as a potential source of ideas for new projects.

The Divisions are actively involved in the sponsorship of major IUPAC conference series, and these present a wonderful opportunity to develop new projects for the benefit of chemistry. These conferences provide an easy way to get a wide range of ideas in quite a short period, and I think the registrants would welcome an opportunity to discuss possible important projects, and to think a little about what IUPAC can do. I recall a session at the Warsaw Organic Synthesis conference (ICOS-13) in 2000, when there was a very well-attended and lively discussion about the abbreviation of protecting groups, in relation to an IUPAC project. Conferences are all about stimulus and communication, so why not use them to stimulate new projects?


"Conferences are all about stimulus and communication, so why not use them to stimulate new projects?"

I mentioned the role of conferences in communication, and communication is a crucial issue for IUPAC. There are already many chemists involved in IUPAC activities of one sort or another (the Handbook lists about 1800) and we are encouraging others to become involved. Therefore, a strong and clear communication network is essential. The establishment of the Union Advisory Committee should at least provide better linkage with the National Adhering Organizations and provide reliable feedback on specific questions. Communication to the widest possible reaches of the chemical community also needs to be improved, and the profile of IUPAC needs to be raised.

There is a widespread, and not completely unfair, view that IUPAC is just about boring things like nomenclature and data standardization, with the occasional naming of the odd new element thrown in. Again there is widespread acceptance that these projects are all very important and need to be done, and done very thoroughly and professionally. However, the impact of these activities on the development of chemistry is not a stimulating one, being reactive rather than pro-active. The conferences deal with the stimulus of new chemistry, but IUPAC can be more pro-active in encouraging and highlighting new and emerging developments, as I have already mentioned. Pure and Applied Chemistry offers another excellent way to promote the frontiers of our subject, and its impact factor is rising steadily.

If the profile of IUPAC in the wider chemical community is rather low, it is virtually invisible to the general public. Chemistry, of all subjects, should be one of the easiest to relate to the general public, because it affects every aspect of our lives. Yet, as we all know, this is a tremendously difficult issue to get across, as it involves the education of people who have developed different attitudes, which are extremely resistant to challenge and change. This is a worldwide problem, and therefore is totally appropriate for IUPAC to tackle. In recent years, this challenge has been taken up by the Committee on Chemistry Education, as well as through projects on the public awareness and understanding of chemistry, and chemical contributions to humanity. These issues are strongly linked to the chemical industry and its cornucopia of wonderful achievements and products, many unfortunately not understood as being chemical. We must communicate the outcomes of such projects to the general public in the most effective way possible. By doing so, IUPAC will become a stronger force in the global promotion of chemical enthusiasm, communication, collaboration, and innovation.

Finally, I commence my term with much to learn. I am mindful that the Secretary General is a servant of IUPAC. Therefore, I welcome any advice, suggestions, or ideas that might be forthcoming. Although most official communications are normally sent through the Secretariat, I shall be happy to hear directly from anyone at any time.


The 2003–2004 IUPAC Handbook is being finalized and should be available in March 2004; its entire contents is also online at <www.iupac.org>.

David StC. Black <d.black@unsw.edu.au> became IUPAC secretary general on 1 January 2004. He has been involved in IUPAC since 1994 as a committee member of the Division of Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, and served as Division vice president during 2002–2003.


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