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Chemistry International
Vol. 24, No. 2
March 2002



Chemical Nomenclature and Structure Representation

Alan McNaught

by Alan McNaught

This year sees the birth of a new division of IUPAC. Its conception dates from a survey carried out in 1998 for the Organic Division, in which the chemistry community was asked for opinions on future nomenclature requirements. Comments received highlighted the increasing need for a body to oversee IUPAC nomenclature development across all disciplines, to ensure compatibility with previous work, and to coordinate related activities. The resulting report1 drew attention in particular to the need to integrate nomenclature standards with computerized facilities, and to push ahead with efforts to define for each unique structure a single preferred IUPAC name, correlated with other names in common use.

This report stimulated further consultation. A strategy roundtable in March 2000, involving people from many professions with a need for standard chemical identifiers, reinforced the views from the original survey and added some important new items.2 In particular, the need for a IUPAC standard for computerized representation of a chemical structure was recognized.

The roundtable recommendations led IUPAC's Executive Committee to establish a temporary Committee on Chemical Identity and Nomenclature Systems,3 which developed plans for future management of IUPAC's nomenclature work and launched the IUPAC Chemical Identifier project.4 The work of this ad hoc Committee culminated in a proposal for a new IUPAC division. The IUPAC Council endorsed this proposal, stressing the continuing importance to IUPAC of nomenclature and related activities. And so, the Division of Chemical Nomenclature and Structure Representation5 was established on 1 January 2002.

So What Will the New Division Be Doing?
Most importantly, it will bring together work on nomenclature of chemical compounds with development of other methods of designating chemical structures. The Chemical Identifier project is a first step in this direction. It will also be tackling interdisciplinary issues that have been difficult to deal with hitherto. For example, we have a project group considering divergent recommendations arising from the development of preferred names for organic compounds in parallel with revision of the inorganic nomenclature rules. Also, we will study the applicability of naming systems developed for polymers with particular reference to macrocycles, rotaxanes, and catenanes. Additionally, we will be assessing to what extent recent developments in conventional organic nomenclature and phane nomenclature can allow us to deal conveniently with these and other structures.

Other areas of activity will include the following:

  • Extension to all chemical compounds of procedures for identifying IUPAC-preferred names
  • Organometallic nomenclature
  • Computerassisted cluster nomenclature
  • Stereochemical nomenclature
  • Fullerene nomenclature
  • Dendritic and hyperbranched polymers
  • Databases of synonyms for compounds in common use

How Will the New Division Operate?
A division committee has been assembled consisting of 12 members plus National Representatives, including people with extensive experience in developing conventional nomenclature recommendations and others with expert knowledge of computerized systems for designating chemical structures. The division has an advisory subcommittee of about 40 people, charged with advising the division committee on the needs of the community, and developing project proposals. This subcommittee contains many individuals with experience in nomenclature work, as well as chemical software developers, journal editors, and a range of other users of IUPAC recommendations. It is expected that these people will lead or otherwise participate in projects as well as provide advice to the division committee. Apart from meetings of task groups, most of the subcommittee's work will be carried out via electronic communication. A Web discussion board has been set up, to which drafts of new recommendations and comments on them are to be posted. Where possible, meetings of task groups will be organized to take place concurrently, to enable informal discussions between members of different groups. At suitable intervals (probably about every 5 years), we will convene a roundtable meeting with the user community to review results and define future requirements.

Division Committee

Alan D. McNaught, UK
Division President

Warren H. Powell, USA
Division Secretary

Michael Dennis, USA
Michael Hess, Germany
Herbert D. Kaesz, USA
G. Jeffery Leigh, UK
Gerard P. Moss, UK
William G. Town, UK
Antony Williams, USA
Stephen Heller, USA
Alexander J. Lawson, Germany
Bruce M. Novak, USA

National Representatives

Roberto de Barros Faria, Brazil
Jiasong He, China
Jean Marie François Toullec, France
Yohsuke Yamamoto, Japan
Osman Achmatowicz, Poland
Bernardo Jerosch Herold, Portugal

Of course, this way of working is quite new to IUPAC, and we shall need to adjust our procedures as we gain more experience. However, this scheme will allow better use of resources than previously, and will expedite the development of the standards that the community needs.

This new arrangement also accommodates the IUPAC/IUBMB Joint Commission on Biochemical Nomenclature, as a commission attached to the new division. This commission meets jointly with the Nomenclature Committee of IUBMB and the combined committee acts essentially as a single body. Its main responsibility is the upkeep and development of the Enzyme List, a very substantial and ongoing project.6 It is also increasingly involved with standards for bio-informatics, needed to accommodate the explosion of information on bio-polymers. In addition, JCBN has traditionally dealt with specialist biochemical nomenclature systems (e.g., carbohydrates, lipids, and

polypeptides), and this is where a close link with the new Division of Chemical Nomenclature and Structure Representation is important. For nomenclature work, this commission has always operated through project task groups, something we envisage for future work managed by the new division.

We should not lose sight of the fact that IUPAC can retain a credible role in nomenclature development only by paying close attention to the needs of the community and responding to them. We need to give wide publicity to the fact that IUPAC's project system now allows ideas for future work to be developed by anyone. My colleagues and I welcome project proposals7 from any source, and are happy to discuss suggestions informally. Only if we have a clear view of what our "customers" want can we hope to make the best use of IUPAC's resources.





Alan McNaught is President of the IUPAC Division of Chemical Nomenclature and Structure Representation. He is General Manager of the Production Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, UK.




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