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Vol. 27 No. 6
November-December 2005

President's ColumnReflections at the End of a Presidency

by Leiv K. Sydnes

As my term as IUPAC president comes to a close, it is natural to reflect upon what has been achieved in the current biennium. Two observations predominate: The Union has improved its performance in several areas and maintains its position as a reliable, nongovernmental organization on the international scene, and secondly, the membership still has to learn to use IUPAC more actively to secure global involvement in its operations.

A most encouraging development within IUPAC during the current biennium is the improved performance of the project system. As pointed out by Vice President Bryan Henry in his Critical Assessment, “the range of projects now covers the whole gamut of chemistry from chemical education, critically evaluated databases, and precise and reliable atomic weights, to the political arenas of chemical disarmament, sustainable development, meeting the needs of developing countries, the requirements of chemical industry, and a plethora of other areas.” This is quite noteworthy considering the fact that the project system was fully introduced during the 2002–2003 biennium. Four years have now passed, and it is remarkable that the vice president’s critical examination concludes that “the project system is functioning very well, perhaps even better than expected.”

In this context it is also important to note that the approval process of recommendations has become faster, and the backlog in the pipeline of the Interdivisional Committee on Terminology, Nomenclature and Symbols has virtually disappeared. The final reports have therefore become available faster in Pure and Applied Chemistry (PAC) and improved the formal dissemination of the results of a significant part of our scientific activity.

But our pride should not stop here. Let me also point out that our outreach material has been improved in the current biennium and has helped increase the Union’s profile. It has been very stimulating to follow the development of this publication and observe that CI appears much more interesting and attractive than before. This is partly due to a refreshing layout and talented use of colors, but also because the range and diversity of topics have grown. Another rewarding process has been the rewriting and design brush-up of our brochure portfolio, which now appears more attractive and far more relevant. But let us not regard the current portfolio as our ultimate information material; I therefore urge you to read and review it carefully and, subsequently, let us know what you think.

It is IUPAC’s mission to advance the worldwide aspects of the chemical sciences and contribute to the application of chemistry in the service of Mankind. Thus, it is important that the Union addresses global issues, of which water-quality issues are among the most urgent. It is, therefore, quite encouraging that IUPAC has a number of projects addressing these important issues. Several projects are devoted to validation of data and methods of importance in water analysis. Furthermore, the Chemistry and the Environment Division has a project on evaluation of remote sensing techniques for real-time control of the quality of surface water. And we have several projects devoted to arsenic contamination of water, which was thoroughly addressed at CHEMRAWN XV, “Chemistry for Water,” in Paris last year. A number of action items were identified, and these are currently being implemented.

IUPAC has also become deeply involved with issues of sustainability, sponsoring conferences on “Green Chemistry” and “Innovative Industrial Processes to Prevent Water Pollution.” Within IUPAC this work is carried out under the umbrella of the Subcommittee on Green Chemistry, and encompasses a variety of disciplines of fundamental chemistry. So far, most projects have focused on the development of chemistry that improves the efficiency of chemical processes and reduces the formation of hazardous waste. In this way IUPAC assists the chemistry-related industry in its contribution to sustainable development, wealth creation, and improvements in the quality of life.


Any successful international organization is characterized by active internal communication. It is not easy to achieve this, and to maintain a vivid internal interaction is a challenge.

Another important global issue is chemical weapons. In 2001, IUPAC was called on to provide advice to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the impact of scientific advances on the Chemical Weapons Convention. We must have fulfilled OPCW’s expectations, because at the end of last year they invited us to engage IUPAC experts in a joint project, aimed at increasing awareness of the Convention in the scientific community, enhancing knowledge about its key provisions and requirements, facilitating the integration of issues related to the Convention into chemistry teaching, and promoting the professional conduct of chemists and chemical engineers in line with the Convention. A successful workshop was held in the beginning of July 2005 in Oxford, with significant involvement from IUPAC chemists. The workshop report is currently being drafted and will hopefully be available at the end of this year.

In today’s media-sensitive societies, rating, standing, and reputation are important issues to consider. In doing so we realize that the chemical enterprise suffers from a dubious public image. Chemicals are so often associated with bad things happening that the presence of chemicals in products and processes are frequently denied. And the positive contributions from chemistry and chemical engineering are barely communicated. For everybody engaged in any of the chemical sciences, this is of course frustrating. This situation is a significant challenge, which industrial and chemical organizations on an individual basis have made efforts to meet by presenting a balanced picture of the benefits and risks involved. Considering the low return on all these efforts, it has been suggested that a range of coordinated activities should be developed and implemented under the IUPAC umbrella, because IUPAC has a global reputation of providing authoritative and unbiased information in the field of chemistry. Ideas along this line have been explored, but IUPAC has not yet managed to deliver as expected in this field. A thorough analysis of the situation was recently produced, with the aim of defining and developing an appropriate niche for IUPAC involvement in the promotion of public understanding of chemistry. This valuable document, which was discussed at the General Assembly in Beijing, will help guide the Union as it formulates a plan of action.

Any successful international organization is characterized by active internal communication. It is not easy to achieve this, and to maintain a vivid internal interaction is a challenge. That was clearly spelled out at the General Assembly in Ottawa in 2003, and it was agreed that IUPAC had to improve in this respect. It is therefore a pity that no improvements in the traditional internal communication have been observed in the current biennium; It is still true that the written correspondence with the 45 National Adhering Organizations (NAOs) is characterized by a low reply percentage (typically four to five replies). Against this backdrop, it has been relatively encouraging to follow the implementation of the Union Advisory Committee. The members of the committee have been kept informed by e-mail and several significant matters have been referred for comments, and feedback. To say that the response has been good would be an exaggeration, but it is encouraging to see that the reply frequency has been more than twice what was achieved when comments were solicited from the NAOs. And the frequency is increasing. It is therefore reasonable to believe that when the UAC has functioned for a longer period of time, the communication between the IUPAC leadership and the member countries will have improved.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about IUPAC conferences and symposia. Due to their high scientific quality, these meetings are generally highly regarded and very well attended. However, a strange characteristic of most of these meetings is the absence of active promotion of IUPAC. That is really a pity, and all of us should do what we can to rectify the situation by trying to facilitate the proper presentation at meetings of relevant IUPAC recommendations, technical reports, and reports from task groups, and to discuss ideas for new projects. Perhaps such activities should become a prerequisite to receiving IUPAC endorsement?

In closing, let me thank all of you for having had the opportunity to serve the global chemical community. It has been inspiring to meet a large number of dedicated IUPAC chemists and most enjoyable to experience the service from the committed IUPAC staff. And when January 1st arrives, I wish our new President, Bryan Henry, and our new Vice President, Kazuko Matsumoto, the very best of luck! I am looking forward to being at your service as Past President!

Leiv K. Sydnes <leiv.sydnes@kj.uib.no> has been IUPAC president in the 2004-2005 biennium; he is a member of the Norwegian Chemical Society and professor at the University of Bergen.


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