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Vol. 29 No. 6
November-December 2007


Past President's Column: Why on Earth Be(come) an IUPAC Member?


by Leiv K. Sydnes

During my term in office, the number of member countries in the Union has grown slowly but gradually, and today IUPAC has 51 full members.* Although this is a significant accomplishment, the number could be considerably higher, so IUPAC has invested a lot of energy in recruitment initiatives. This effort has made clear that a large portion of the global chemical community is unaware of IUPAC membership benefits. Moreover, even chemists from member countries do not always understand the advantages of being an IUPAC member. This column, therefore, is an attempt to reiterate the benefits IUPAC provides to individual chemists and member countries. I believe that IUPAC members who have a solid understanding of IUPAC membership benefits help to strengthen IUPAC and our recruitment efforts.

. . . a large portion of the global chemical community is unaware of IUPAC membership benefits.

While IUPAC does provide two excellent publications to each member country (one free subscription to Pure and Applied Chemistry and three free subscriptions to Chemistry International; total value USD 1997 for institutions), I discuss below some far more significant benefits that member countries stand to gain from joining IUPAC. First, however, I would like to note that the benefits of membership in IUPAC are maximized when a member country and its chemistry community are actively engaged members. For a country to achieve scientific and professional gains from IUPAC, both the national body in contact with IUPAC, and members of that country’s national chemical community should be actively involved in IUPAC activities.

In my opinion, there are both scientific and economic benefits associated with IUPAC membership. Let me begin with the scientific benefits, not only because they are the more important of the two (and the most appropriate to consider in scientific circles), but also because they are a prerequisite for the latter.

When a country joins IUPAC, her chemical community is eligible to become involved in all of the Union’s activities pursuant to certain procedures. Individual chemists who become involved in the scientific and science-based activities of the Union’s divisions and committees gain valuable knowledge about IUPAC’s operations. Although it may take some time for these chemists to understand and become comfortable with Union procedures, feel at home, and become a part of the Union’s network, their initiatives and contributions are both appreciated and needed. Despite the Union’s global reach, it is in need of project proposals. IUPAC is interested in projects that are scientific in nature, address educational challenges, or explore how knowledge in chemistry and the chemical sciences can be applied to remedy specific world problems or needs. The Union therefore needs the active involvement of chemists with a range of interests and backgrounds, and I encourage colleagues to volunteer for IUPAC through the national body handling contact with IUPAC.

When individual chemists become members of IUPAC committees and project groups, it is important to participate fully. Active participation in committee and project work is highly regarded. In this way, individual chemists, whatever their national affiliation, are valuable candidates when titular members (TMs) are elected to the divisions and committees. Election to office is not only a form of international recognition for individual chemists, but for the chemical community in the elector’s country. In addition, TMs are entitled to financial compensation for expenses incurred in attending General Assemblies. This can be a particular benefit for chemical communities in countries with lower membership fees.

The Union’s international standing and the important work it does on standardization of chemistry methods and terminology, as well as its critical assessment of data, are a direct result of the high standards and excellent work of individual chemists in IUPAC’s divisions, committees, and project groups. This work is crucial, not only for maintaining the quality of the chemical science profession, but also for the basic products and services provided in societies around the globe. Chemists who are participating in IUPAC activities and who have experience in analyzing the environmental, human, and technical impact of chemical products through chemical analyses have firsthand experience with accreditation, quality assurance, and quality control. These chemists’ expertise becomes a resource to all national chemical communities via IUPAC membership. This is an important reason to join IUPAC as a full member.

Although most of the concrete scientific and science-based work in IUPAC is performed by individual chemists in divisions, committees, and project groups, the framework, budget, rules, and strategy are decided by Council at the General Assembly, held every other year. All full members of the Union are also Council members, with the right to put forward proposals, fully participate in the deliberations and debates, and vote. When all members attend the Council meeting, the Union benefits. IUPAC encourages participation in Council meetings by providing financial support for the travel expenses of one delegate from each member country—another valuable benefit of full membership.

It is IUPAC’s mission to advance the chemical sciences globally and contribute to the beneficial application of chemistry to all people. It is therefore important for the Union to address major global or regional issues, to be involved in solving pressing world problems, and to develop and introduce new practices. Over the years, IUPAC has been aware of a number of global or regional problems, but too often that knowledge has not led to any viable IUPAC initiative because there were no chemists from the relevant region to champion the project. Countries in regions that face significant challenges or problems that could be solved with chemistry therefore stand to gain particular benefit from IUPAC membership; by becoming full members the chemical communities in these countries will be in an excellent position to draw IUPAC’s attention to important issues, propose projects to study these issues, and work out action plans.

IUPAC and chemical congresses are closely associated, and only member countries can apply for IUPAC sponsorship for specific events. The chemical communities in many countries, particularly smaller countries, can attest to the scientific and professional inspirations that result from organizing an IUPAC conference.But conferences are more than scientific gatherings; they also bring business to a host country, as participants spend money on travel, accommodations, food, souvenirs, and personal pre- and post-conference trips. Consequently, IUPAC membership is a national investment that may reap rewards on several levels. Thus, from an economic viewpoint, an IUPAC membership and an active chemistry community constitute a sustainable investment that any responsible politician should be willing to support.

For an individual chemist with an idealistic attitude, it might take a while to get used to such thinking; but from my own recent experience having to meet with a few ministers, I came to appreciate that their attention increases when an economical benefit is included in the argumentation. I am therefore willing to emphasize this economical benefit as a strong argument in favor of IUPAC membership.

Leiv K. Sydnes <leiv.sydnes@kj.uib.no> is IUPAC immediate past president; he is a member of the Norwegian Chemical Society and professor at the University of Bergen.

* In August 2007, IUPAC Council approved as full members the Sociedad Cubana de Química (Cuba), the Chemical Society of Ethiopia (Ethopia), and Programa de Desarrollo de Ciencias Básicas (Uruguay). The Council also accepted the resignation of the Asociacion Quimica Argentina. Therefore the current number of 49 will increase to 51 on 1 January 2008 when these decisions are to take effect.


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