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Vol. 31 No. 1
January-February 2009


President's Column: Toward the Next Renaissance of Chemical Science in the 21st Century

by Jung-Il Jin

The public’s opinions and attitudes towards chemistry are exceedingly negative. Many people do not appreciate that chemistry has contributed significantly to the quality of human life. They also cannot believe that chemistry continues to play a major role as a problem solver for such urgent global conundrums as energy, the environment, natural resources, human health, and personal and national security. Despite all this, I foresee with great positivity that a Renaissance of Chemical Science will blossom in the 21st century. This will occur because of chemistry’s intrinsic creative nature and its ability to respond to societal needs.

However, we should not for a second harbor the belief that the next Renaissance of Chemical Science will inevitably envelop us. It can be achieved only through our incessant, diligent pursuit of it. It is true that crises generate chances, and challenges offer opportunities. It is particularly fortunate for us as chemists that most of the contemporary and near future challenges facing this planet can be solved through the power of chemistry. This power should be nurtured by all the chemical scientists throughout the world.

There is no doubt—or at least I strongly believe it—that IUPAC is the only organization that can pull together the ingenuity and creativity of all the world’s chemists to cope with—and find answers to and remedies for—the scientific and technological demands necessary for the sustainable development of the world. If this statement elicits any doubt among IUPAC members, I would like to have them explain why. After all, it is the responsibility of all IUPAC members to explain to others how IUPAC can pull together chemists worldwide.

The year 2009 has special meaning and significance to IUPAC. It offers us a golden opportunity to attract international attention to the importance of the chemical sciences and, at the same time, to the eminent historical role that IUPAC has played at the forefront of the world chemical community. The focal point of this attention is likely to be the news that 2011 will be the International Year of Chemistry; soon to be proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. The year 2011 will be the centenary of Marie Curie’s receipt of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Also, we will be celebrating 100 years since the formation of the International Association of Chemical Societies (IACS), the predecessor to IUPAC. We have to make the most of these opportunities to achieve several important goals:

  • improve the public appreciation of chemistry
  • entice more of the promising younger generation into the fields of chemical sciences
  • regain for chemistry the respect and admiration that it deserves for a century of unprecedented progress in technologies
  • start building the groundwork for the second century of IUPAC

Progress in chemistry in the past century has brought us material abundance and improved health care and disease control. However, in the second half of the last century, public acceptance of chemistry and chemicals has deteriorated for various reasons that we all are very well aware of. Needless to say, a part of this negative public opinion is groundless and/or politically misguided, but it is a fact that we must overcome.

All of the present century’s new slogans such as sustainable development, green growth, environmental protection and friendliness, innovative energy technologies, improved personal and national security, functional longevity, and more, can find technical solutions from the chemical sciences. International cooperation coupled with individual chemists’ creativity and backed by constructive social consciousness, should lessen all the global anguish. Such a socio-scientific analysis of global issues, and synthetic efforts to find speedy answers to them, promptly and rightfully imply that IUPAC should assume the central position, should be the nexus, to which all the chemical scientists and local societies will network.

This brings us to the ultimate and most sensitive question: Is IUPAC ready and able to assume a leadership role in the world chemical community? Is IUPAC really communicating effectively with the world chemistry community and general public? Are we indeed addressing global issues in an authoritative and convincing manner? I am more than confident that IUPAC, with minor adjustments in communication, inner as well as outer, and administration, in style and philosophy, can fill these roles superbly.

Recently, I had wonderful meetings with Latin American representatives, American Chemical Society officers, and leaders of major Asian Chemical communities. Soon, I plan to meet with VIPs of African and Arabian chemical societies and representatives of the European Union countries’ chemical societies. Bringing chemistry back to the center of the natural sciences and preparing globalized and successful celebrations of the International Year of Chemistry are the foci of my consultations with worldwide leaders. I have thoroughly enjoyed the personal contacts with these individuals and have appreciated the valuable opportunities to hear their views on IUPAC, in general as well as in specific, and to understand the local issues for which IUPAC’s assistance is essential. Many IUPAC officers have joined me in these meetings, for which I am most grateful.

As I wrote in CI a year ago, we have to be ready, before it’s too late, to greet the second century of IUPAC, with hope and confidence. For this, constructing a solid groundwork is indispensable. We shall endeavor to make big strides in 2009 toward the next Renaissance of Chemical Science despite the global difficulties we hear about everyday.

I wish you all the best.

Jung-Il Jin <jijin@korea.ac.kr> has been IUPAC president since January 2008. Previously in IUPAC, he served as president of the Polymer Division. Jin is a professor at the Korea University in Seoul, Korea.


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