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Vol. 34 No. 4
July-August 2012

Project Committee Chair’s Column: A System Comes of Age

Some 10 years after the initiation of the IUPAC Project System it is appropriate to restate its objectives and to reflect on what has been achieved. The core activity of IUPAC is to provide critical evaluations of methods and data and to make recommendations for nomenclature, terminology, metrology, and measurement standards. This outcome is achieved through its projects (the Project System).

The Project System encourages experts worldwide to contribute to this process, regardless of whether or not they are members of IUPAC’s division (subject area) committees or standing committees. It makes this possible by funding meetings of task groups to plan and coordinate the contributions of team members working on an approved project.

IUPAC does not support original research, but the outcomes from projects provide the scientific community with authoritative articles based on the critical evaluation of peer-reviewed published literature. In this way, IUPAC is able to serve identified needs of industry, academia, teachers, and research chemists. In addition, several IUPAC projects are focused on enhancing the public’s perception of the contribution of chemistry to their daily lives.

How Large is this Enterprise?

IUPAC generates a sizeable output through its projects. For example:

  • Each year, an average of 40 new projects is initiated.
  • Currently, there are over 900 chemists from 59 countries contributing to over 190 IUPAC-funded projects.
Are you at that stage in your career where you are able to contribute?

Most evaluations produce a Technical Report or an IUPAC Recommendation (if terminology or nomenclature is being defined) that is published in Pure and Applied Chemistry; some lead to databases that are made available via the web. Many also lead to dissemination of results in conference presentations or workshops. This output is consistent with a medium-sized multinational organization, but the projects, each of which is focused on a stakeholder group, have considerable added value.

Criteria for IUPAC Projects

A key requirement for a project proposal is that the task group has wide international (or continental) representation and has the necessary expertise. Key tests of the suitability of a project proposal are that the outcome has a well-defined group of stakeholders and that there is a well-established need for the evaluation, the report, or recommendations. The project proposal must emphasize how the outcomes will be communicated to the stakeholders (e.g., via publications, conference presentations, or workshops). Successful proposals must demonstrate the project’s relevance to readily identified scientific communities and adequate methods of dissemination.

Scope of Current Projects

The scope of topics covered by IUPAC projects is illustrated by current projects from each of the 8 Divisions (subject areas):

  • Recommended Reference Materials for Phase Equilibrium Studies
  • Evaluated Published Isotope Ratio Data
  • Rules for Abbreviation of Protecting Groups
  • Critically Evaluated Rate Coefficients Associated with Initiation of Radical Polymerization
  • Requirements for Proficiency Testing on Environmental Sampling
  • Appropriate Consideration of Bioavailability of Metals/Metal Compounds in the Aquatic Environment
  • Human Drug Metabolism Database
  • Recommendations on Nomenclature of Flavonoids

Projects recently completed by Standing Committees—Committee on Chemistry Education (CCE), Chemical Research Applied to World Needs (CHEMRAWN) and Chemistry and Industry (COCI) —include:

  • Enhancing the Capacity to Provide Quality Chemistry Education at Secondary and Tertiary Levels in Ethiopia
  • CHEMRAWN XIX—A Renewable and Sustainable Energy from Biological Resources
  • IUPAC-UNESCO-UNIDO Safety Training Program Workshop, San Juan, Puerto Rico

How Does the Project System Work?

The Project System is the modus operandi for IUPAC. A project proposal can be submitted at any time by any task group that is internationally diverse and has the appropriate expertise. After submission of a proposal to the Secretariat, it is reviewed by internal (division and/or standing committee) and external reviewers. If found to be appropriate to IUPAC’s goals,1 it can be funded by an IUPAC division or standing committee.

The system works by providing task groups with the funding to proceed with the working plan presented in their original proposal, to draft and discuss interim working documents, and prepare final documents for publication. Most work is usually achieved by electronic communications, which may precede or follow a meeting of the task group. After a rigorous review process (including by the Interdivisional Committee on Nomenclature, Terminolgy and Symbols, ICTNS) the output is published, most frequently in Pure and Applied Chemistry, although, with approval, some Technical Reports appear as publications in journals that more directly serve the stakeholder group. The process involves the appropriate division or standing committee, which will also maintain contact with the task group, monitor progress, and contribute to the refereeing of the final document(s).

IUPAC requires wide international participation in task groups and this is borne out by the 31 countries represented in the technical reports and recommendations published in Pure and Applied Chemistry in the last two years and by the 59 countries represented in the current list of project task group members.

IUPAC also seeks to engage chemists from “outside” its division and standing committees. Currently, 52 percent of task group members have no current or previous association with IUPAC committees. However, only 14 percent of task group chairs are in this category, so there is still scope for some improvement in capturing interest and contributions from outside of the IUPAC committee structure.

To find out more about the Project System, see the Guidelines and Application Forms on the IUPAC website.2

Support for Conferences

Conferences that seek “endorsement” by IUPAC (sponsorship or funding) are also managed as part of the Project System. As with projects that produce publications, conferences must also meet appropriate criteria: sound planning, scientific content, international participation within the advisory board and plenary lecturers, and accessibility to the international community and young scientists.

IUPAC Sponsored Conferences

The majority of conferences that are “endorsed” by IUPAC are not funded by IUPAC, but are designated IUPAC-sponsored conferences. IUPAC sponsorship implies an IUPAC “seal of quality,” an endorsement of the international calibre of the organization, key participants, and the program of the conference. Although IUPAC sponsorship does not imply any financial assistance, IUPAC will assist in the promotion of the conference through its publications. Applications are made through the Secretariat using the appropriate form3 and are reviewed by the relevant division or standing committee. This seal of approval is sought for many international conferences.

IUPAC Funded Conferences

There are two categories of conference for which modest funding may be requested from IUPAC. The Financial Support for Conferences program can provide assistance for conferences in “scientifically emerging regions” (FSC-SER) or for conferences in which a symposium or workshop is dedicated to “new directions in chemistry” (FSC-NDC). In both cases, the proposal must be endorsed and submitted by an IUPAC division or standing committee, thus ensuring that there is close communication between the conference organizers and IUPAC. Applications are made through the Secretariat using the appropriate forms.4 The first step is often an enquiry from conference organizers, but divisions and standing committees are also encouraged to take the initiative and identify conferences that could benefit from IUPAC participation and support.

For the FSC-SER program, the host country does not have to be a member of IUPAC. The thrust of this program is to facilitate conference attendance for young scientists and advanced students from the host country and surrounding emerging scientific communities.

The success of this program is illustrated by the fact that during the last two years, it has helped over 200 students/young researchers from Ethiopia, Nepal, Thailand, Romania, India, Croatia, Southern and Central African states, and Sri Lanka to attend conferences and benefit from presentations on contemporary topics by internationally recognized plenary lecturers.

The FSC-SER program also makes it possible for an “IUPAC lecturer” to attend; typically this person, in addition to promoting the aims of IUPAC, provides a plenary lecture at the conference and also visits other institutions in the host country or city.

For the FSC-NDC program, funding is focused on supporting one or two keynote speakers around whom a conference symposium/workshop dedicated to a “new direction in chemistry” can be built. Symposium themes might encompass contributions of an emerging field to the core topic of the conference, or explore new “frontiers” or new interdisciplinary developments that benefit chemistry or are enhanced by chemical knowledge and methods. To receive FSC-NDC support, the host country must be a National Adhering Organization of IUPAC. The FSC-NDC program enables an IUPAC division or standing committee to make a strategic, leading-edge contribution to an international conference that will stimulate progressive and boundary-breaking research.

An Opportunity to Make a Difference

IUPAC sees itself as a catalyst for enabling those who have gained expertise in their fields to return a contribution to their profession by assisting in the critical evaluation of methods, data, standards, nomenclature, and terminology required by the practicing chemist.

  • Are you at that stage in your career where you are able to contribute to the enhancement of the work of other chemists in your field of expertise?
  • Are there issues in your field that require harmonization across countries or cultures?
  • Does your industry or field of research have needs for critical evaluation of established methods, of interdisciplinary issues, or of emerging techniques?
  • Would you consider contributing to the work of IUPAC through its Project System?

If yes is your answer, IUPAC provides you with an opportunity to make a difference.


  1. IUPAC Goals:
  2. IUPAC project system:
  3. IUPAC conference sponsorship:
  4. Financial Support of Conferences:

Kip Powell <[email protected]> has been chair of the Project Committee since 2008. Previously he was a member of the Analytical Chemistry Division Committee, serving as president for 2004–2005. He is a professor in the Chemistry Department at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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