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Chemistry International

The News Magazine of IUPAC

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Volume 38, Issue 2


Secretary General’s Column

Richard Hartshorn
Published Online: 2016-03-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ci-2016-0203


As I sit down to write this column, IUPAC is about to tick off one biennium and begin another. Each time this happens the organisation renews itself as new people cycle into the positions and committees that plan, initiate, and undertake the work of the Union. It is a time when we look forward and consider our priorities—we seek to make our marks and to advance the discipline.

Before we do that, though, it is important to look back—to see what we have achieved in the most recent biennium and the ones before. Of course, that will help in setting the foundation of the work to come, but it also provides an opportunity to think of and thank those who have just passed on the torch in the IUPAC relay.

In my case, I am just about to take over as Secretary General. Even a cursory examination of the Statutes and Bylaws of the Union makes it clear that I have a significant task on my hands. But that is looking forward. First, I must thank Colin Humphris, my predecessor, for shepherding the Secretariat through some serious challenges—all the more so because he took on those challenges in an “acting” capacity. From the outside, some may have speculated that he was press-ganged into the role, but the Bureau was actually following the instructions laid out in the Statutes for filling occasional vacancies. Fortunately for him, the Bureau did not adopt any other trappings from the Royal Navy of Napoleonic times, either. Perhaps maggoty ship’s biscuits and flogging with the cat-o-nine-tails will be reserved for those who miss deadlines or blow out budgets?

From my perspective, it is clear that the Secretariat has undergone something of a rebirth and is poised and ready for whatever challenges need to be met. A new Executive Director in Lynn Soby, new modern offices, and up-to-date financial management systems are exactly the kinds of strong foundation on which we can build the work of the Union. I also wish to take the opportunity to thank the stalwarts of the Secretariat, Linda Tapp, Enid Weatherwax, and Fabienne Meyers, for their sterling work, performing admirably in unprecedented circumstances, and that other stalwart of the Union, Sean Corish, our departing Treasurer, for his many years of service in challenging times.

The other key development from the departing biennium is the new Strategic Plan that was adopted by the Council at the Busan General Assembly (see CI Jan-Feb 2016, p. 4) . By the time you read this, others will have commented on the detail of that plan and the ways that we can use it to guide our innovative and constructive project work. As for my role in this, the position of Secretary General is a leadership role and my intention is to lead by example; by performing my role as efficiently and effectively as possible so that you can do yours in that way too. I urge all members of the Union, and particularly those in leadership positions, to look closely at the Strategic Plan and consider how your activities might be judged against the challenges and objectives laid out therein. Of course, new ideas and possible initiatives in your area, or those of the wider IUPAC community, should be shared and I look forward to hearing of them.

A key goal of the new Strategic Plan is the provision of scientific expertise to address critical world needs. These are real world problems that tend to be interdisciplinary by their very nature. This means that we will need to approach them in appropriately interdisciplinary ways and identify and improve the appropriate mechanisms with which to do this within existing IUPAC structures. Or perhaps we will need to consider how our structures can change to reflect these priorities?

At the last two General Assemblies, we have taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by bringing together scientists from all the Divisions and Committees to hold cross-Divisional meetings in an attempt to find common ground and areas for collaboration. There are also a limited number of examples of sub-committees that have been set up in particular areas, such as materials chemistry and green chemistry, and we have a significant history of running inter-Divisional projects. We will need to do more of these kinds of things if we are to demonstrate that we are an indispensable worldwide resource for chemistry.

I come to the role of Secretary General having spent significant time in the development of nomenclature in the Chemical Nomenclature and Structure Representation Division (Division VIII), and representing that Division on the Committee on Chemistry Education (CCE). Nomenclature is certainly one of the things for which IUPAC is best known, and chemistry education is also of very wide interest, which should stand me in good stead when dealing with the wider community. However, it is clear that one of my key early tasks will be to find out more about the activities of the other Divisions and Committees within the organisation.

Nomenclature provides an interesting example of a key dilemma that IUPAC faces. We want to be engaged and responsive on topical issues in chemistry, but we also want to make sure that we give a considered response that is thorough, correct, and future-proofed. From the point of view of nomenclature, scientists will want or need to name an example of a new class of compounds as soon as it is made, and perhaps even before that, hence a sense of urgency. However, in determining how to approach nomenclature for such a class of compounds, we might best wait to see the extent of the new class; to see how new molecules that are made may confound some of the possible approaches to naming this new class.

This is the test faced by the task groups that will produce nomenclature for nanomaterials. IUPAC is rising to the challenge put forward by the International Organisation for Standardization’s (ISO) Technical Committee on Nanotechnologies (TC 229). These materials have been around for some time, and the subject of much research, but it is only relatively recently that sufficient structural detail has become available to make nomenclature development possible. It is necessary to know what structural features are present and where they are located before they can be used in name construction (as distinct from classifying compounds into categories based on structural features, which involves terminology). It remains to be seen how the difficult challenges in this area will be overcome, but it is vital that we take them on, and that we look to collaborate with other people and organisations when doing so, not just to progress the science, but to invigorate IUPAC and to bring new people into the IUPAC world.

IUPAC’s responsiveness may be limited by practicality and circumstance, but it is vital that we make our best efforts to work productively with groups and organisations that approach us for help. My role as Secretary General will be to help make this happen, and to look for ways to improve our responsiveness and our ability to react in a timely manner on topical issues in chemistry.

About the article

Richard Hartshorn

Richard Hartshorn < > is a member of the chemistry faculty at the University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, New Zealand. So far, his involvement with IUPAC has been largely based in nomenclature, and dates from the late 1990s, when he was persuaded to join the group preparing a revision of the Red Book (“Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry, IUPAC Recommendations 2005”, ISBN 0-85404-438-8). Since then he has been involved in numerous projects and has been a member of the Committee on Chemistry Education (since 2006). He was elected to positions of responsibility in the Division of Chemical Nomenclature and Structure Representation (Titular member 2003-07, Vice President 2008-09, President 2010-13) and the Bureau (2014-17), and took over as as IUPAC Secretary General in January 2016.

Published Online: 2016-03-19

Published in Print: 2016-03-01

Citation Information: Chemistry International, Volume 38, Issue 2, Pages 2–3, ISSN (Online) 1365-2192, ISSN (Print) 0193-6484, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ci-2016-0203.

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