Mounting a Positive Offensive
Our two-year wait is over: the International Year of Chemistry is upon us! Now that the official Launch Ceremony has occurred—that was on 27–28 January at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris—it is certainly time to start celebrating our beautiful science. One of the best ways I can think of to start observing IYC is by contemplating what chemistry means to you personally and how best to explain this to others.
As more of your friends, family, and acquaintances hear about IYC, you may be responding to more questions (or opinions) about chemistry. So, why not be prepared to countenance a false impression about chemistry. But be assured, I am not advocating that we, as chemists, be defensive. Instead, let’s make a collective New Year’s resolution to mount a “positive offensive” on behalf of chemistry.
As I see it, there are two main types of misperceptions about chemistry. One occurs because chemistry is seen as a “central science,” ubiquitous in all other fields of science. While this is certainly a wonderful thing, the danger is that chemistry becomes so diffuse across many different areas of science that it loses some of its identity in its own right. The other type of misperception exists mainly among the general public. In many countries (mainly Western), a rather large percentage of the population associates chemistry with issues such as environmental degradation or cancer.
Chemists must make sure that chemistry comes across loud and clear, and takes credit where credit is due. It’s time to remind everyone that, for example, many of the cutting-edge forensic techniques we regularly see played out on our TV screens are built on fundamental chemical principles. And that DNA sequencing—which enables us to figure out the genomes of an ever-increasing variety of species—would be awfully difficult were it not for advances in chemistry. In addition, we must point out that chemistry will be essential to solving any of the vexing problems facing humankind, including energy, sustainable development, health, materials, and food production.
If you need some inspiration in kicking off the celebration of chemistry, you should read the news item on page 16 about “Women Sharing a Chemical Moment in Time,” an ambitious project spearheaded by Dr. Mary Garson. On 18 January 2011, one week prior to the launch of IYC, women in chemistry gathered all around the world for breakfast networking meetings. Each country/region arranged its own event(s) and, at pre-arranged times, breakfasts were linked together by SKYPE/video, thereby creating a global chemical handshake. In addition to networking, the aim was to celebrate the pivotal role of Marie Curie in chemistry, and to reflect on the current landscape for women chemists.
Activities such as this, and the hundreds of others you will find on the IYC site <www.chemistry2011.org>, are very encouraging. When I see how most countries are keen to make IYC a great success, how determined and inventive they are, I can’t help but feel optimistic about the year ahead.
Wishing you a fruitful and happy chemical year.
Nicole J. Moreau <firstname.lastname@example.org> has been IUPAC president since January 2010. She has been an elected member of the Bureau since 2000, a member of the Executive Committee since 2006, and vice president for 2008-2009. She is also general secretary of the French National Committee for Chemistry.
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Published Online: 2011-03-01
Published in Print: 2011-03-01