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Vol. 34 No. 3
May-June 2012

Past President’s Column: For IUPAC, It’s Now or Never

For every member of IUPAC—whether a national representative, a division or standing committee member, a member of the Bureau or Executive Committee, staff, or an officer—life in the Union is punctuated by several events, among them the General Assembly and Congress, which impose a certain rhythm with their two-year cycle. This two-year cadence is particularly obvious for the president, because he or she is vice president in years one and two, then president in year three and four, and, finally, past president in years five and six. For me, it is now year five, and behind me are four years on which I can look back and recapitulate. Although the heavy workload of IYC is behind me, I still have projects to complete.

The vice president’s years are somewhat blurred and indistinct. Of course, as an officer, you participate in every important step of the biennium (i.e., every Bureau and Executive Committee meeting). Then, depending on where you live, you may have to attend important external events: as a European, with a Korean president and a Canadian past president, I did not attend meetings in America nor in Asia, but I did attend one International Chemistry Olympiad in the UK in 2009 and every General Assembly of the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Science (EuCheMS). These I attended “on behalf of” IUPAC or its president. Of course, when you are alone in front of an audience, you are the one speaking and no one can dictate your speech, but you cannot present your own ideas, only those of IUPAC. The one exception of course is the Vice President’s Critical Assessment, in which you present to the IUPAC Council your own ideas for the future of the Union, taking care not to upset the officers with your criticisms or comments. Yet, you must also avoid creating the perception among Council delegates that you will be too soft a leader without any desire for change.

When you become president, things do naturally change. And not in the way you thought: there are many things you were not aware of to look at, to endorse, to sign, to accept, and of course to understand. Generally, when there is something embarrassing, the job of dealing with it falls to the president or the secretary general. On these occasions, you are happy to discover how helpful the other officers and the executive director can be.

Things also change in ways you anticipate once you become president. Although it may be tempting to justify your travel to important events and workshops, care should be taken to avoid crossing the planet to represent IUPAC since money does not flow liberally to the Union. However, if you are too shy, you could, as a European, be bound to Helsinki in February, to the UK in the most humid period, to Madrid in the middle of August, and several times each year to Paris because you live there. Anyway, you will have the pleasure, and the difficulty, to speak about and for IUPAC and for yourself, and work to make the Union better known.

While I already held IUPAC in high regard, when I became president it really became my child. And I was fortunate to care for this child during a very special year. In 2011, I was invited to more than 30 countries to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry!

Now, in year five as you add the prefix “past” to your title, it feels weightier, even more so than “vice,” since the latter is full of promises of duties and responsibilities. First, you are four-years older so you must answer to those who are not aware that “no, I am not yet retired from IUPAC. I still have two more years to serve. Yes, you can ask me a question and I can explain the answer to you, and, if necessary, I can refer it to the Executive Committee.” This false commiseration is irritating, but after four years you will have become very strong and stainless, and things will flow off your “siliconized” shell.

I can really say that I have been a frustrated president, and that I have been unable to enjoy the advantages the position is supposed to offer. This is in part because of IYC. Terrible IYC, which ate up the life of many active people in IUPAC. I’ll not explain the angst of organizing the launch ceremony, nor the difficulty of being a permanent traveller during 2011, although in the end it was a great pleasure to see how so many countries devoted themselves to “their” IYC activities. In most countries, IYC was a great success and was met with great enthusiasm. I sincerely think that IYC will benefit our science, provided that countries maintain the momentum it created.

Now that “the IYC feast” is finished, it is time to think of the image of our Union. The president will probably have more important matters to deal with, so I volunteer to lead the charge. Perhaps, life after the presidency is not so empty. After all, the past president has three committees to chair: the IUPAC Prize, Chemistry Research Funding, and the Membership Relations Committees. All three are important to the Union’s image.

The IUPAC Prize for Young Chemists, established to encourage outstanding young research scientists at the beginning of their careers, is awarded to the most-outstanding Ph.D. thesis in the general area of the chemical sciences, as described in a 1000-word essay. IUPAC awards up to five prizes annually. This year, there are 42 candidates, and the competition promises to be tough.

The Committee on Chemistry Research Funding (CCRF), established in December 2007 and reporting directly to the Bureau, explores how organizations and agencies responsible for funding chemistry research in various countries might, under the umbrella of IUPAC, initiate transnational research. A first call for projects in polymer science was successfully launched in October 2009. The recipients of that funding will present an update on their research in June 2012, the midpoint of the project, at the 44th IUPAC World Polymer Congress in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA. Given the success of this first call, a second call will be launched by end of the year for funding sustainable chemistry research. By the way, dear IUPAC members, could you help and find name other than “sustainable” or “green” chemistry? One colleague correctly asserted that it is not the chemistry that is sustainable, but rather the environment in which it is used. As for “green,” this conjures for some people the notion that it is chemistry derived from plants. And for some cultures, “green” has no association with the environment at all. So, why not “benign chemistry,” or even “creatively benign chemistry”? I’m waiting for ideas. Anyway, green, sustainable, or benign, CCRF is an excellent initiative, and I am looking forward to working with this committee.

I kept the best until last, which is the Membership Relations Committee. Because of my intense commitments and extensive travels related to IYC, I developed many contacts with both NAOs and non-member countries. I’ll continue to make our NAOs more aware of IUPAC and will do my best to increase the number of NAOs. As previous IUPAC presidents have suggested, why not attain 100 NAOs by the 100th anniversary of IUPAC in 2019?

Nicole J. Moreau <nj.moreau@free.fr> was IUPAC vice president in 2008–2009, president in 2010–2011, and is now past president for 2012–2013. She has been a member of the Bureau since 2000 and a member of the Executive Committee since 2006. She is also general secretary of the French National Committee for Chemistry. Since January 2012, she is a member of the Executive Board of ICSU, the International Council for Science.


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