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Vol. 25 No. 3
May - June 2003

Officer's Column

Edwin (Ed) P. Przybylowicz

This guest column is by Edwin (Ed) P. Przybylowicz, elected member of the IUPAC Bureau and Executive Committee since 1998, and member of the IUPAC Finance Committee since 1993. In 1991, after over 35 years with the Eastman Kodak Company, Przybylowicz retired as senior vice president and director of research. He is an ex-officio member of the U.S. National Committee for IUPAC, which he chaired until 2002.

A Challenge to the World’s Scientists

In a recent editorial in Science,1 U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote about the important contributions that science must make to world peace and prosperity:

"The scientific community’s basic concern for human welfare makes it an indispensable partner of the United Nations. With your help, the world can achieve the ‘blue revolution’ it so urgently needs to deal with current and emerging water crises. Your research can enable Africa to move toward a ‘green revolution’ that will boost agricultural productivity. Your solidarity can help developing countries build up their capacity to participate effectively in negotiations of international treaties and agreements involving science."

The importance of what organizations like IUPAC can contribute to these tasks cannot be underestimated. A number of IUPAC activities, such as past and future CHEMRAWN conferences2 and recent IUPAC reports,3 have addressed or will address issues that Secretary General Annan refers to in his editorial.

Last year, the World Bank published World Development Report 2000/2001: Attacking Poverty, an extensive analysis of world poverty and recommended actions to address this urgent problem. The report explains, and the data confirm, the reasons why certain nations find it difficult to rise above the poverty level. The lack of significant innovation within a country is a major contributor to the problem.

The number of patent applications filed by domestic inventors is one metric of the innovation activity within a country. There is a strong correlation between innovation activity and the economic well being of a country. The World Bank data show that in high-income countries, there was 1 domestic patent filing for every 1300 people (in 1997); in middle-income countries, 1 patent application for every 20 000 people; and in low-income countries, 1 patent application was filed for every 144 000 people. There are many related reasons for this discrepancy. One of those reasons is that there are five times as many scientists and technologists in research and development activities in high-income countries than medium-income countries. Low-income countries are even further disadvantaged. This factor along with capital-formation differences between these countries leads to the uneven distribution of economic growth throughout the world.

Secretary General Annan’s editorial could not have stated it better:

"Science has contributed immensely to human progress and to the development of modern society. The application of scientific knowledge continues to furnish powerful means for solving many of the challenges facing humanity, from food security to diseases such as AIDS, from pollution to the proliferation of weapons. Recent advances in information technology, genetics, and biotechnology hold extraordinary prospects for individual well being and that of humankind as a whole."

Annan points out the inequality of scientific activity between the rich and developing countries, and states that "it will require the commitment of scientists and scientific institutions throughout the world to change that portrait to bring the benefits of science to all."

Reflecting on Secretary General Annan’s editorial and our vision statement–"IUPAC advances the worldwide role of chemistry for the benefit of Mankind"–it is clear that IUPAC is one of the "bridge builders" in our global society. It must not only help bridge the gaps between rich and poor countries, but also bring scientific understanding to international peace-building efforts to end and prevent conflict in the world.

. . . it is clear that IUPAC is one of the "bridge builders" in our global society.

Advances in chemistry are made by creative and innovative scientists and technologists throughout the world. The "hotbeds" of invention and innovation have migrated around the globe over the past 150 years. In chemistry, European countries provided much of the leadership throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. North America began to provide many innovations in chemistry during the mid- and latter part of the 20th century and Asia began to gain strength in the latter parts of the 20th century. A look at the country of origin of Nobel Laureates in chemistry shows this same migration throughout the world.

These trends are evidence that chemistry has been international in scope for well over a century. Furthermore, it underscores the "seamlessness" with which chemists interact. Common language, nomenclature, standards, and education using the written, spoken, and "electronic" word are indispensable if chemistry is to benefit all countries of the world.

For the past 80 years, IUPAC has been providing an international chemical infrastructure to facilitate the development of chemistry throughout the world. The History of IUPAC by Roger Fennell4 documents the development of the organization. According to this record, the first truly international chemical conference took place in Karlsruhe, Germany, as far back as September 1860. The primary "mover" behind the conference was Auguste Kekule, of benzene structure fame. The objective of that conference was the standardization of nomenclature and formulae in the publication and presentation of scientific papers. Consensus apparently was not reached in this first meeting, since almost 30 years later another international conference, this time in Paris in 1889, addressed the same issues. From that effort an International Commission of Chemical Nomenclature was created. This led to a succession of international conferences from which the Geneva Nomenclature emerged as the first international agreement on the naming of chemical compounds.

During this same period, industrial organizations held their first international conferences, covering such fields as sugar refining, precision apparatus, chemistry applied to medicine, toxicology, and pharmacy. It was clear that chemistry was transcending national boundaries and there was a need for international communication in the field and standardization of nomenclature and physical constants if chemistry was to progress as an international science.

The development of international consensus on what can be considered operational matters in chemistry (i.e., nomenclature, atomic weights, physical constants, etc.) gained momentum through a series of international conferences and confederations of national chemical societies in the early 20th century that finally led, in 1919, to the formation of IUPAC. IUPAC began to play an important role in developing, as Professor Zamaraev4 of Russia called it, "the international language of chemistry." Chemistry made enormous strides throughout the 20th century in the developed countries of the world and became an enabling science and technology for the advancement of mankind.

For example, in health and medicine, chemistry was key to the development of morphine, aspirin, cortisone, insulin, medical imaging, penicillin, cancer chemotherapeutics, and cardiovascular drugs. Agriculture has benefited from the Haber-Bosch process for the production of ammonia, crop protection and pest management agents, and pesticides. Food processing, preparation, and packaging have benefited from advances in refrigerants. Food additives such as vitamins, sweeteners, and packaging have ensured longer shelf life and safety for foods. In the areas of energy and transportation, chemistry has provided efficient fuels and many critical chemical intermediates derived from crude oil, such as advanced materials for roadways and bridges, metal alloys for aircraft, and high-performance plastics for automobiles.

The international chemical community can justifiably take pride in the accomplishments that its field has provided humankind over the past 150 years. Reflecting on these accomplishments should give us confidence that the challenge given to us by Secretary General Annan in his editorial, while daunting, can and will be solved by scientists throughout the world, including chemists. All it will take is the active involvement of chemists throughout the world in addressing these problems. I continue to believe that IUPAC can and will play an important role in this future challenge.


1 Annan, Kofi, Science, 299, 1485, March 7, 2003.

2 Norling, Parry, Chemistry International, 25(2), March-April 2003

3 Impact of Scientific Developments on the Chemical Weapons Convention (IUPAC Technical Report), Pure and Applied Chemistry, 74(12), pp. 2323-2352, 2002.

4 Fennell, Roger, History of IUPAC 1919-1987, Foreword by Kirill Zamaraev, Blackwell Science, 1994.

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