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Vol. 28 No. 3
May-June 2006

Officer 's Column —The IUPAC Project System Revisited

by Gus Somsen

About five years ago, IUPAC was busy implementing a novel way to carry out part of its work: the so-called project system. This system opened the possibility for any scientist worldwide to participate in an activity funded by IUPAC. At the last IUPAC General Assembly in 2005, Vice President Bryan Henry reported that this project system is functioning very well, maybe even better than expected. Although many scientists have experience with the system, it seems appropriate to highlight some of its ins and outs for those who might be interested but are not familiar with how it actually works.

IUPAC is an organization dealing with the chemical sciences in an international context. Consequently, all of its projects have international aspects. In practice this means that the objective of an IUPAC project can be realized only by cooperation among expert scientists from several countries. To illustrate the different activities that take place during IUPAC projects, examples of several types of projects will be given.

Traditionally, IUPAC plays a leading role in the international standardization of nomenclature and terminology. At present, IUPAC is involved in developing a way to express chemical structures in a standard computer-readable format that provides lots of information, like bonds, tautomeric state, and stereochemistry of a compound. Other projects are dedicated to the standardization of experimental methods and procedures, so that around the globe results of experiments can be compared on the same basis. To this end, IUPAC realized recently a uniform scale for the quantity pH, where in the past, countries were accustomed to using different scales.

Many efforts are aimed at compiling critically evaluated data in areas like thermodynamics and kinetics. In many areas of the chemical sciences there is a desperate need for reliable numerical data that are selected and checked by a worldwide group of experts working together on a project.

The project system provides an opportunity for the Union to enhance its contributions to the development of the chemical sciences.

One of the long-range goals of IUPAC is to contribute to the enhancement of chemistry education and the public appreciation of chemistry. Projects in this direction are highly welcome. A recent successful project is the Young Ambassadors of Chemistry, where teachers are trained to develop the communicative skills of young people to become ambassadors for chemistry. In 2005, this program made stops in Argentina, Russia, and Taiwan.

These examples show that any problem or subject requiring the development of a consensus among the worldwide family of chemical scientists may be an IUPAC project. However, there are some restrictions. General research is excluded, even if it is realized by a broad international team. The same is true for scientific conferences of a general nature. For these meetings, IUPAC offers the possibility to apply for IUPAC sponsorship. Sponsorship does not mean financial support, but it provides proof of the quality of the conference, which may enable the organizers to attract funding from other sources. Issues that concern one country or a small number of countries do not qualify to be IUPAC projects. Finally, the project system excludes publication of a journal or magazine, as well as granting of scholarships.

Proposals for funding through the project system are subject to two types of critical review, one from inside IUPAC, the other from external referees. A broad spectrum of the chemical sciences is covered by IUPAC divisions and standing committees. Each project proposal that is submitted will be reviewed by at least one of these bodies. If more divisions and standing committees are interested, they are involved also in the proposal review. When the proposal is accepted by a division committee or standing committee, the views of several knowledgeable scientists outside IUPAC will be sought. On the basis of the internal and external reviews the decision will be made to embark on the project. The division or standing committee will then arrange for modest financial support from its budget for projects. In cases in which the project is interdisciplinary or requires funding beyond the budget of the relevant committee, the decision is referred to another body, the Project Committee.

Project proposals can be submitted at any time by anyone. The Secretariat provides the administrative support associated with proposal submissions and reviews. Information on IUPAC projects can be found on the IUPAC website <www.iupac.org>. There, one can find pages on "Guidelines for IUPAC Projects," the "Project Review Procedure," and "Frequently Asked Questions on Project Submission and Approval Process." From the same website, a Project Submission Form can be downloaded. Other pages provide "Guidelines for the Completion of the Project Submission Form."

IUPAC tries to restrict the processing time between the submission of a proposal, and the decision about it, to four months. However, much depends on the completeness of the information provided by the submitter. An important item is the way in which the result of the project will be disseminated, since only after adequate dissemination can a project be considered to be finished. In addition, detailed information on the project budget will help the reviewing body significantly in reaching a final decision in a timely manner.

For the realization of a project, a task group is formed consisting of scientists who are experts in the subject of the project proposal. The task group members should be active participants, communicating predominantly by e-mail. The management of the project is the joint responsibility of the relevant division or standing committee and the task group chairman. Mostly, the final result of a project is a publication, a recommendation, a technical report, or a database. The project is finished when the dissemination plan is implemented. The task group exists during the lifetime of the project and is disbanded after its completion.

The project system provides an opportunity for the Union to enhance its contributions to the development of the chemical sciences. To this end, the worldwide participation of scientists is extremely important. In the project system it is possible for anyone to participate, regardless of nationality. One of the long-range goals of the Union is to maximize diversity in membership. For IUPAC committees, membership is restricted to scientists from countries that are members or associated members of the Union; within the project system the geographic representation in task groups has no limits. Anyone can submit project proposals and serve in task groups. Hopefully, many will do so.

Gus Somsen <somsen@few.vu.nl> is a long-time member of IUPAC. He was once president of the Physical Chemistry Division and an elected member of the Bureau. He currently serves IUPAC as chairman of the Project Committee.


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