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Pure Appl. Chem. Vol. 68, No. 2 (1997)


Physical Organic Chemistry for the 21st Century


The IUPAC Commission III.2 on Physical Organic Chemistry has undertaken to organize this Symposium in Print: Physical Organic Chemistry for the 21st Century. Historically physical organic chemistry had primarily dealt with a narrow area of kinetics and mechanisms of reactions in solution. It created an intellectual framework for much of current chemistry. More recently it has been strengthened by diversifying into the interstices between organic chemistry and other fields, including such areas as solid-state and supramolecular chemistry, gas-phase reactions, computational chemistry, and biochemistry.

It is now timely to assess the future of physical organic chemistry and to look to where the opportunities exist for future research. The barriers between the various fields of chemistry, such as physical, inorganic, organic , and biochemistry, are disappearing, and this may be a reason to reorganize the entire field along conceptual lines. This is a responsibility that IUPAC is uniquely suited to assume. The Commission on Physical Organic Chemistry has therefore solicited expert opinions about the future of this interdisciplinary field, which has been so productive in the past, and which has often combined diverse techniques. These opinions were requested from a diverse group of leaders in chemistry, known for their creativity and not necessarily identified as physical organic chemists. Instead they were chosen from those who have contributed to physical organic chemistry, broadly viewed, or who utilize the results of physical organic chemistry. Thus in addition to physical organic chemists, they include experts in organic synthesis, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, physical and theoretical chemistry, solid-state chemistry, and applied chemistry, with a wide representation across the world, and including researchers from universities, research institutes, and industrial laboratories. Authors were asked to look to the future, rather than emphasize past research contributions, although they were encouraged to review the previous development of their field if that would help put the future prospects in perspective. They were given flexibility to focus on selected aspects of a particular area or areas or alternatively to present an overview of a broad field. They have been very generous to expend the time and effort to make their contributions, and the chemical community is the richer for this.

We expect that these results will provide guidance to the Commission and to IUPAC, to the chemical community, to practitioners of physical organic chemistry who wish to plan their research and their grant proposals, and to students who need to be aware of the diversity of this field. Students must be advised about what research areas to enter to be well placed to participate in leading research in the next century. We also seek to advise students, educators, and textbook writers as to what subjects must be generally known. At a time when funding for research is likely to remain static or even decrease, we must try to judge priorities for the future. It is our obligation to advise science managers of where the research budget should now be invested for the best return in the next decades. Here is a set of opinions, not always in agreement, about the most promising directions, the opportunities, the challenges, and the potential obstacles.

C. L. Perrin

University of California

San Diego


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