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Chemistry International

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Volume 41, Issue 3


Ernst Cohen and the Challenge of a Truly International Union

Jorrit P. Smit
Published Online: 2019-06-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ci-2019-0304


In 1925, the Dutchman Ernst Julius Cohen (1869-1944) was unanimously elected president of the IUPAC (in absence) at the annual meeting in Bucharest. Although quite well known as able linguist, physical chemist and student of J.H. van ‘t Hoff, no one could have suspected this turn of events three years earlier. On 21 June 1922, Cohen had organized an informal, purely scientific meeting in Utrecht— the International Chemical Reunion Utrecht (ICRU)—to restore friendly relations between scientists from all previously warring nations. However, Belgian and French chemists, headed by Jean Timmermans and Charles Moureu, boycotted this meeting as they had not yet forgotten the atrocities of the ‘chemists’ war.’ At the subsequent IUPAC meeting in Lyon (27 June - 1 July), Cohen, together with Hugo Kruyt, had to fend off harsh criticisms by their international colleagues [1].


  • 1.

    Smit, J. (2014). ‘Nuclei in a Supersaturated Solution: Utrecht Chemists and the Crystallization of International Relations after the First World War.’ Studium: Tijdschrift voor Wetenschaps- en Universiteits-Geschiedenis, 7 (3), 190–208. http://doi.org/10.18352/studium.9834Crossref

  • 2.

    Ibid, p.206.Google Scholar

  • 3.

    Cohen, E. (1928). ‘Prithee more zeal’. Reprint from Chemisch Weekblad, 1928, 25.Google Scholar

  • 4.

    Smit, J. P. (2015) ‘Purity in an Impure World. Ernst Cohen’s “General Chemistry” in Early 20th Century Netherlands’ (Thesis, Utrecht University, 2015). https://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/367747

  • 5.

    The last international congress had been organized in 1912 and it would take until 1934 for the next one to take place in Madrid. Whereas only delegates of the countries adhering to the IUPAC where welcome at the annual, and later biannual, conferences, admission to the scientific congress was open to anyone interested in the developments within chemistry. Google Scholar

  • 6.

    See the contribution by Robert Fox on the International Research Council in this same issue, p.7 Google Scholar

  • 7.

    Algemeen Handelsblad, 21/7/1928 Google Scholar

  • 8.

    Smit, J. P. (2017). ‘The politics of interwar chemistry. Neutrality and nationalism in the rhetoric and actions of internationalist chemists.’ In: Closing the Door on Globalization: Internationalism, Nationalism, Culture and Science in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Ninhos, C. & Clara, F. (eds.), 7-29. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

About the article

Jorrit P. Smit

Jorrit Smit < > is a historian of science with a background in physical chemistry. His research focuses on the societal relevance of 20th century scientific practices, from the internationalism of chemists in the interwar period to science policy and science parks in post-war Europe.

Published Online: 2019-06-14

Published in Print: 2019-07-01

Citation Information: Chemistry International, Volume 41, Issue 3, Pages 9–10, ISSN (Online) 1365-2192, ISSN (Print) 0193-6484, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ci-2019-0304.

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©2019 IUPAC & De Gruyter. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. For more information, please visit: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.Get Permission

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