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Chemistry International
Vol. 23, No. 1
January 2001

News from IUPAC


Think IUPAC Project

The Secretary General's Report

Dr. Edwin D. Becker

It has been a rather long time since I have used the columns of Chemistry International to present an informal discussion of important activities within the Union. During most of the 1990s, the principal issue in IUPAC seemed to be "restructuring" or, more broadly, "the scientific policy of the Union." With the development of a mission statement and a set of long-range goals, the strategy of the Union came into focus. A far-reaching decision by the Bureau in 1998 and final approval by Council in 1999 changed the basic framework for carrying out scientific work in IUPAC from a system largely dependent on a number of Commissions to one driven primarily by the inception of individual projects.

Everyone involved in the governance of IUPAC spent a great deal of time and effort in developing proposals for the new structure and operational system, in arguing for or against various aspects, in making many modifications and improvements, and in seeing the program finally approved. However, the year 2000 was really much more demanding as we have begun to implement the new system. The seven Division Presidents, in particular, have borne a heavy load as they continue to guide their Commissions to successful completion of their work by the end of 2001 while concurrently they strive to broaden the base of expertise in their Division Committees and to encourage all current members of IUPAC bodies to propose good projects for the future. We all owe the Division Presidents a sincere vote of thanks for their superb response to these challenges and for their dedicated leadership during the 2000–2001 biennium.

IUPAC Projects
Submission Form and Guidelines for Completion
(revised 12/2000)
Project Review Procedure
Advice for Project Reviewers

In this report, I would like to point out some of the features of our new procedures and to focus particularly on the Union’s efforts to reach out–to IUPAC Affiliates and Fellows, to national and regional chemical societies, and to the worldwide chemistry community

What is new about a project system? IUPAC has always had projects, based on meeting some perceived need, and often resulting in the publication of a technical report, a recommendation, tables of evaluated data, and other outputs. Early Commissions were formed usually to attack some particular problem, but over time most Commissions came to represent primarily a particular subset of chemistry. Discussions within a Commission usually generated ideas for specific projects, and these were carried out within the financial resources made available to the Commission. The sequence might be summarized as follows:

Resources Commission Discussion Ideas Project

Now we have a system that is driven by the proposal to carry out a project. Only after the proposal is reviewed in detail and approved by a Division Committee are funds made available to the task group formed to carry out the project. The new sequence might be summarized:

Ideas Proposal Review Resources Task Group Project

All of us who have advocated such a project-driven system believe that it will permit IUPAC to address problems more quickly, to provide funds where needed to expedite completion of a project as expeditiously as possible, and–perhaps most important–to seek ideas more broadly so that we can be certain to address those problems of greatst importance that are within IUPAC’s scope

Will the project system work? I hope and believe that it will–but not without some thought and effort.There are three necessary components to developing and completing an IUPAC project: good ideas, able and willing people, and adequate resources.

  • The Union can provide the organizational frame-work, assistance from our professional Secretariat, and financial support (modest, but nevertheless real).
  • A comparison of the two schemes illustrated above makes it clear that one advantage of the Commission system is the initial appointment of people interested in a particular area and the financial support for them to meet regularly for discussions that might identify both suitable ideas for projects and people (usually from the Commission or its subgroups) who might carry out the project. Without going back to a system of permanent Commissions, IUPAC can and will convene ad hoc groups to "brainstorm" in particular areas, as identified at least partially by Division and Standing Committees. However, discussions leading to proposals for IUPAC projects need not be organized only by IUPAC. Any individuals or groups who identify problems that IUPAC might reasonably address are welcome to submit proposals or to seek more information and guidance from the Secretariat or the IUPAC web site,
  • Ideas without scientists committed to carrying out the work will not go very far in an organization like IUPAC that depends on volunteers. So we need good ideas and scientists who are able and willing to devote some time to help improve worldwide chemistry.

What are suitable IUPAC projects? IUPAC’s role involves international chemistry. Traditional projects include the international standardization of nomenclature and terminology, publication of glossaries in particular fields, setting standards for presentation of spectral and other data, establishing uniform scales for quantities such as pH, forging agreement on analytical methods, and a host of similar matters. Other IUPAC projects are directed at compilation and evaluation of quantitative (usually numeric) data in areas where there are international needs, such as thermodynamics, kinetics, metabolism, etc.

Even with limited resources, IUPAC can play a very important role in exchanging information among national groups and in coordinating activities that call for international leadership. For example, following the recent report of IUPAC’s Education Strategy Development Committee, the Union is considering areas in which it can usefully complement activities of national chemical societies and others. Innovative projects with an educational or training component can be considered, as can other proposals that emphasize IUPAC’s international coordinating efforts in the broad area of the chemical sciences.

The Union does not have the resources to support research, and it does not wish to intrude on matters that are handled adequately by national or private organizations. However, we are interested in novel ideas, as well as in proposals in areas exemplified by the listing of current projects on the web site.

Who will propose and carry out projects? Even with its smaller structure after 2001, IUPAC will have hundreds of scientists participating in various bodies. Many will propose projects and will serve on task groups that carry out a project. However, IUPAC has a much broader base of knowledgeable and interested scientists– IUPAC Fellows and Affiliate Members. Moreover, scientists with no long-term affiliation with IUPAC may well be interested (individually or in groups) in tackling a project that will assist their research efforts or applications in chemical sciences.

  • There are already nearly 500 Fellows, whose terms on IUPAC bodies have concluded, and after 2001 there will a significant increase in this number. Fellows have served IUPAC, and I believe that most retain considerable interest in the Union’s programs. Fellows are in an excellent position to take on new projects.
  • We have over 4 500 Affiliate Members, all of whom annually renew their interest in IUPAC. All receive Chemistry International as the principal means of communication, and many now receive IUPAC e-news, the e-mail newsletter that complements CI. I extend a special invitation to Affiliate Members to think about ways that IUPAC might assist chemistry and to consider initiation of proposals for suitable projects.
  • Most chemists participate in many professional groups related to their special field and/or to geography, in national or regional organizations. Discussions in such groups may well lead to ideas that can be developed into IUPAC projects. For example, standards or guidelines established in a particular field or location might be "internationalized," or concepts tested in workshops or classes in one place might be transformed into a broader international context.
Online Note
IUPAC e-news is an electronic newsletter, initially distributed to all members and bodies associated to the Union. It is principally to inform members by e-mail of recent additions to the IUPAC website. The e-news membership list is open to whoever want to join. Note that if you recently changed e-mail, you will have to resubscribe online, just like first time subscriber. To subscribe, visit <>


As IUPAC moves into a new mode of operation, we should all be alert to opportunities for the Union to enhance its contributions to the chemical sciences. In short, as you handle daily business, Think IUPAC.

Edwin D. Becker


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