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Vol. 35 No. 4
July-August 2013

Vice President’s Column

One of the most important tasks of the vice president is to carry out a critical assessment of the programs and projects of all IUPAC bodies. The Vice President’s Critical Assessment is intended to provide a firm grounding in all of IUPAC’s activities and set the basis for the direction IUPAC will take in the coming years.

IUPAC is an extraordinarily productive scientific organization. Thanks to more than 1400 dedicated and productive volunteers and the National Adhering Organizations, Associated Organizations, affiliates, fellows, and the Secretariat staff, IUPAC remains very strong and active in its core scientific areas of terminology, nomenclature, standards, and critical evaluation of data and new chemical subdisciplines. Within the divisions and operational standing committees, the Union has achieved a number of effective, focused collaborations with other scientific unions, national and regional chemical organizations, and industry.

The problems our global society faces—clean water and air, healthful food, sound resource management, safety and security, science education, to name a few—will require contributions from the chemical sciences in conjunction with other disciplines. It remains critically important to provide in-depth, focused research and scholarship in chemistry as part of holistic solutions for global, regional, and local problems.

The 2013 Vice President’s Critical Assessment, presented to the Bureau at its meeting in April, explores some basic questions to evaluate IUPAC’s contributions and provide a basis for the Union to continue to move forward productively:

  • Is IUPAC’s infrastructure adequate to enable the Union to achieve its goals?
  • Are IUPAC’s scientific priorities well suited to meeting the needs of the global chemical sciences for the benefit of humankind?
  • What actions should IUPAC take to prepare it for an effective second century of relevant and valuable contributions to the chemical sciences?

Infrastructure

IUPAC derives its income from its National Adhering Organization subscriptions, publications, and earnings from its investment portfolio.

Income from national subscriptions has risen due both to increases in the national subscription charges and the growth in the number of National Adhering Organizations (NAOs). We are grateful to all our NAOs for their support.

IUPAC’s publications are well respected. Chemistry International is admired for its content and presentation, and Pure and Applied Chemistry has a high impact factor. However, income from IUPAC’s periodicals has been declining for several years. With the guidance of the Committee on Printed and Electronic Publications (CPEP), IUPAC is now exploring options for collaborating with a publishing partner to improve circulation of its publications, reduce costs, and increase income.

IUPAC’s investment portfolio is strong due to the dedication and skill of the Finance Committee. Since the recent economic downturn, income from the investment portfolio has declined. In the short term, it may become necessary to modify IUPAC’s operating budget to reflect current income until improvements can be realized. A task group should be formed with the goal of raising funds to help grow IUPAC’s resource base.

The IUPAC Secretariat has traditionally been a great strength for the union, accomplishing an enormous amount of work despite its small size. However, recent high turnover among leadership and the divisions and standing committees has led to a loss of institutional memory. Staff and volunteers should take advantage of their contacts among prior officers and members whenever questions arise to assure the smooth operation of the Union.

The individual volunteers of IUPAC, scientists from all over the world that contribute to IUPAC projects, committees, and governance, are the lifeblood of the Union. In order for IUPAC to recruit the best scientists for its projects and programs, it must make it as easy as possible for the best scientists to become involved. The affiliate membership program can be an effective way to recruit new volunteers. IUPAC would be grateful for efforts by the National Adhering Organizations and scientific societies to encourage their members to become affiliates and to ensure that information on the benefits of affiliate membership is readily available.

Scientific Priorities

The projects in Divisions I–V are primarily focused on the traditional core activities of IUPAC (physical and biophysical, inorganic, organic and biomolecular, polymer, and analytical). Additionally, as would be expected, the projects in Division VIII concentrate on terminology, nomenclature, and references and standards. The operational standing committees (education, industry, ChemRAWN or world needs) and Divisions VI and VII (environment and human health) focus largely on multidisciplinary projects in addition to core activities. These projects are more likely to span divisions, and they cover capacity building, issues of global need, teaching and training, and outreach to the public. Many of the divisions and standing committees have projects that incorporate scientists and engineers from other disciplines, reflecting their recognition of the evolving multidisciplinary nature of science and the responsibility of scientists to the scientific community as a whole and to the public welfare.

IUPAC is sponsoring about 30 conferences and workshops in 2013. This healthy and continuing program is a vital activity for the Union, and it is one of its major public faces to the chemistry community.

The International Year of Chemistry in 2011 is an outstanding example of the major influence IUPAC can have in the international community. The IYC generated worldwide interest and activity in chemistry and related sciences. New opportunities are arising that can provide mechanisms for IUPAC to carry forward the legacy of the IYC and to collaborate on multidisciplinary programs highlighting the value of chemistry to broader audiences.

A Strategic Review

The current activities in IUPAC include projects that address the traditional IUPAC goals along with activities targeting interdisciplinary collaborations, capacity building in the developing world, and provision of scientific data to assist in developing public policy.

Many potential new areas of active research in chemistry have emerged where such interdisciplinary collaborations are prerequisites for success. The challenge for IUPAC in the future will be to determine how, why, and when to incorporate new science into its activities.

IUPAC should define its unique role and value within the chemical enterprise so that its contributions are focused on areas where no other chemical society or organization can contribute meaningfully. A review of our strategy, building from the current statutory objectives of the Union and the current long-range goals, can serve this purpose and allow for clear and consistent communication of IUPAC’s contributions and value to the broader chemistry community, other unions, and the public. A vision across the Union should be agreed upon that will help generate new projects in new areas and focus on issues of strategic importance to IUPAC. As we approach the centennial of IUPAC, now is a good time to review IUPAC strategy to assure that it continues to focus on relevant science.

The strategic review will concentrate on topics such as the following:

  • How should IUPAC balance its emphasis on traditional areas in chemistry with new and emerging science?
  • How should IUPAC distinguish itself from and cooperate with national and regional chemical societies?
  • How can we make IUPAC’s science knowledge usable to benefit the greater society, particularly the developing world?

Information will be gathered from sources throughout IUPAC, the academic and industrial chemistry enterprise, and other scientific communities. Each group will assess, from their point of view, the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (known as SWOT analysis) that IUPAC faces. A framework for their assessment will include these questions:

  • How can IUPAC be characterized today?
  • What is their vision of a successful IUPAC in 2019 and beyond?
  • How can IUPAC reach that goal?

The IUPAC Bureau, Executive Committee, and officers will be kept informed throughout the process and will be consulted frequently for their advice and comments. The strategy, to be developed over the next two years, will state the vision, mission, and overall goals of the Union, with recommended actions over the next three to six years.

The challenges for IUPAC are to strengthen its resources and to continue to identify how best to serve its constituencies, including chemists, national and regional organizations, the developing world, and the public at large. IUPAC should continue to evaluate its unique role within the chemical enterprise to facilitate the in-depth science that global chemistry needs in order to function, while at the same time organizing and providing scientific knowledge for the betterment of humankind.

It is indeed an honor and a privilege to serve IUPAC, and I look forward to working with all IUPAC members and volunteers to achieve these goals.

Mark Cesa <mark.cesa@ineos.com> has been vice president of IUPAC since January 2012. Previously in IUPAC he served on the Committee on Chemistry and Industry as secretary (2000–2003), vice chair (2004–2005), and chair (2006–2009). Cesa is a process chemistry consultant with INEOS Nitriles in Naperville, Illinois, USA.


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