The IUPAC Has High Hopes for the IYC 2011
Building Blocks - The International Year of Chemistry is now in full swing, and if the list of events on www.iyc2011.org is any indication, then the entire industry around the world is getting involved. But the IYC 2011 isn't just a vehicle to showcase chemicals and the chemical industry - the organizers of the year-long celebration have several important issues on the agenda that they are pushing forward during 2011.
International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) Executive Director Dr. Terry Renner talked to Brandi Schuster about the main goals for the year and what needs to be done to improve the chemical industry's image in the public eye.
CHEManager Europe: Dr. Renner, what are the most important topics within IYC 2011?
T. Renner: The unifying motto for IYC 2011 is "Chemistry - our life, our future." IYC 2011 is offering a wide range of interactive, educational and entertaining activities for people of all ages. The intent is to reach out around the globe with opportunities for public participation at the local, regional, national, and international levels.
In many circles chemistry, and in particular the chemical industry, has a quite negative perception, despite the vital contributions that chemical knowledge and technology continue to make toward the sustainability of human life. For instance, many people are not aware that the human body is arguably the most complex chemical reactor that exists. Without chemistry there can be no life. The fundamental objective of IYC 2011 is to face this negative image head-on and to bring about a new awareness among the general public - a kind of rebirth of chemistry.
The population of the earth today is faced with serious challenges such as adequate water and food supplies, declining energy sources, effects of climate change on the environment, and provision of health care, especially in developing regions. Chemistry must play a vital role in the solutions to all of these issues.
What are the main objectives for the IYC 2011?
T. Renner: We aim to increase the public's appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs; to increase young people's interest in chemistry; to generate enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry; and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Madame Maria Sklodowska-Curie's Nobel Prize, as well as the 100th anniversary of the founding of the International Association of Chemical Societies (IACS), the immediate predecessor of IUPAC.
No single person and no single country can address these challenges alone. International cooperation among chemical scientists together with a socially enlightened and better educated global population offer hope for the future. The personal achievements of Madame Curie serve to inspire young people, in particular young women, to pursue careers in the chemical sciences.
The International Year of Chemistry is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lay the groundwork to address the serious problems of sustainability that the world is facing today. Although we are not likely to have a formal IYC again in the near future, the final challenge for IYC 2011 is to leverage the progress that is made during this year itself to carry early successes on into future years. The importance of education for the general public, and especially for young people, cannot be emphasized too strongly. Today's global problems require the brightest and most innovative and curious minds to discover real and lasting solutions through careers in chemistry and the other sciences. It is the task of the global chemistry community to stimulate and encourage today's youth to follow the necessary career paths toward our common goals.
What role do you think chemistry plays in today's society? What needs to be done to foster an interest in chemistry early on? What needs to be done in order to avoid a serious skills gap in the chemical industry?
T. Renner: The problems faced on the earth today absolutely cannot be solved without chemistry. Chemistry is the pervasive factor in all of our daily activities without which there can be no life. The earlier that young people begin to appreciate this fact, the more likely it will be that they will consider chemistry for their careers. Comprehensive science education should begin at the earliest age possible, even at the beginning of formal elementary education.
The general public must come to the realization that chemistry is an essential part of all life and that working as a chemical scientist is an honorable and important activity that contributes to the well-being of all humans. Industry must be a true partner in this undertaking, for it is industry that puts into practice the knowledge that is acquired from both academic and industrial chemical research. More scholarships for study of chemical sciences and opportunities to work as interns in the industrial setting are ways that industry can guarantee a steady and well-qualified source of employees in future years.
This is also the 100th anniversary of the founding of the International Association of Chemical Societies, which IUPAC succeeded in 1919. How has the role of the union changed over the years?
T. Renner: Toward the end of the 19th century and early in the 20th century, chemists around the world were searching for ways to share their newly found chemical knowledge and to collaborate on many technical issues that were relevant at the time. Many of these issues initially focused on nomenclature for organic and inorganic chemistry and on standardization of critical physical property data. For various reasons, not the least of which was World War I, progress was limited and a truly robust and effective international organization was not firmly established. Finally, in 1919 IUPAC was born. After some early organizational difficulties, IUPAC ultimately became a scientific association with truly global extent in 1931.
Today IUPAC is acknowledged as the world authority in the development of chemical terminology, including the naming of newly discovered elements and the definition of chemical nomenclature. IUPAC also deals with standardized methods of measurement, atomic weights, and other critical physical data. The Union sponsors major international scientific meetings in all areas of chemistry.
Today IUPAC has 57 national adhering organizations and four associate national adhering organizations as its membership. Although day-to-day operations are managed by the Secretariat located in Raleigh, North Carolina in the U.S., most of the scientific activities of IUPAC are carried out by approximately 1,000 chemists around the world who contribute their time and effort on a voluntary basis.
What are your primarily focused on nowadays?
T. Renner: A key focus of IUPAC today is to encourage the participation of more countries, especially those in developing regions, as full members of the Union. Significant effort is also expended on matters of education and the application of chemical research and knowledge to world needs. This is consistent with the objectives of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.
The chemical industry often only makes headlines when scandals occur; what does the industry need to do in order to increase public appreciation for its contributions to society?
T. Renner: Unfortunately, the word chemistry is usually associated by the general public with environmental pollution or some industrial disaster. This negative perception is often reinforced by the news media. One way to overcome this adverse image is through education and raising general awareness of the importance of chemistry in everyday life. IUPAC has encouraged its members to conduct special activities during IYC 2011.
To this end a dedicated website - www.iyc2011.org - has been established where participants around the world may post ideas for activities and share and discuss them with other interested scientists around the world. This method of open communication permits chemists to present a unified and consistent voice to the general public concerning the importance of chemical science and technology toward a sustainable future for all humankind.
The immediate goal is to keep the spark ignited by IYC 2011 alive well beyond the end of the calendar year 2011.
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