Significance of the International Year of Chemistry 2011


For the first time in the 100-year history of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the worldwide chemistry community will be celebrating throughout 2011 the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humankind. At its 44th General Assembly in August 2007 in Torino, Italy, IUPAC unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the proclamation of 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry (IYC 2011: In April 2008, the UNESCO Executive Board recommended the adoption of such a resolution, submitted on behalf of IUPAC by Ethiopia. Subsequently, in December 2008, the UN General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry.

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Under the unifying theme, ‘Chemistry—our life, our future’, IYC 2011 will offer a wide range of interactive, educational, and entertaining activities for all ages. IYC 2011 is intended to reach across the globe, with opportunities for public participation at the local, regional, and national levels, in addition to the international level.

In spite of the tremendous contribution of chemical knowledge and technology to the quality of human life, the public’s opinion and attitude toward chemistry have been increasingly negative, especially since the start of the second half of the last century. The basic goals of IYC 2011 are to dispel this undesirable image of chemistry and bring about a Renaissance of Chemical Science in this century. Chemistry’s intrinsic creative nature and its ability to respond to societal needs help it play a major role as a problem solver in urgent global conundrums such as energy, the environment, climate change, human health, and personal and national security. It is my belief that open international cooperation among chemical scientists backed by constructive social consciousness would mitigate most of the anxieties pertaining to chemistry currently being voiced around the world. To quote part of the IYC Prospectus, the activities planned during IYC 2011 will:

  • 1.Increase the public’s appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs: Chemistry, which is appropriately called the Central Science, is both a philosophical inquiry and an applied scientific endeavor. The science of chemistry is fundamental to humanity’s understanding of the world and the cosmos. Molecular transformations are central to the production of foodstuffs, medicines, fuels, and metals, that is, virtually all manufactured and extracted products. Through IYC 2011, the chemical community will publicly celebrate the art and science of chemistry, its key contributions to the development of human knowledge, the advancement of economic progress, and the fostering of a wholesome environment.
  • 2.Increase young people’s interest in chemistry: In order to ensure that first-rate minds continue to be attracted to and challenged by this central science, IYC 2011 will underscore the role of chemistry in managing natural resources sustainably. In partnership with the United Nations, the International Year of Chemistry will make a strong educational contribution toward the goals of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, particularly in the key action areas of health and the environment. The national and international activities carried out during the International Year of Chemistry will emphasize its important role in maintaining the natural resource base required to sustain life.
  • 3.Generate enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry: Humanity’s understanding of the world is grounded in our developing knowledge of chemistry. Creative opportunities to discover exciting new principles and applications continually appear as our understanding of molecular properties grows. Chemists will inevitably play a key role in overcoming the challenges facing today’s world, for example in helping to address the United Nations Millennium goals. A deep understanding of this science is essential for developing molecular medicine and creating new materials and sustainable sources of food and energy.
  • 4.Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Mme. Curie Nobel Prize and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the International Association of Chemical Societies (IACS), the predecessor of IUPAC: The year 2011 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Marie Sklodowska Curie, recognizing her discovery of the elements, radium and polonium. Dr. Curie’s achievements continue to inspire students, especially women, to pursue careers in chemistry. The year 2011 also marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding in Paris of the International Association of Chemical Societies (IACS) to address the need for international cooperation among chemists and the international standardization of nomenclature, atomic weights, physical constants, and scientific communication.

IACS, founded in 1911 following a proposal made by Albin Haller (the then president of the French Chemical Society) in the previous year, could not function properly as originally designed, due to the outbreak of World WarI. At the conclusion of hostilities, the establishment of an interallied organization of chemists was discussed in November 1918 by Paul Kestner, President of the Société de Chemie Industrielle of France and Henry Louis, President of the Society of Chemical Industry, UK. In July 1919, Charles Moureau and Jean Gérard, both from France, were elected as the first President and Secretary General of the Union, respectively. IUPAC ( now has a truly global reach with approximately 80 adhering organizations encompassing about 85 % of the world’s chemical scientists and technologists. About 1000 chemical scientists throughout the world are engaged on a voluntary basis in the scientific work of IUPAC, primarily through projects associated with its eight divisions and various other committees. UNESCO (, an important UN organization with 193 member states, is closely cooperating with IUPAC in the promotion of IYC 2011.

IUPAC is recognized as the world authority in the development of chemical terminology, such as the naming of new elements and the definition of chemical nomenclature. IUPAC is also concerned with standardized methods of measurement, atomic weights, and many other crucial data. The Union sponsors major international meetings that range from specialized scientific symposia to the series of conferences on Chemical Research Applied to World Needs (CHEMRAWN) and chemistry education.

IUPAC has planned several international ‘cornerstone’ events for IYC 2011:

  • An advanced publicity event at PACIFICHEM in Honolulu on December 15–20, 2010
  • An official launch with UNESCO in Paris on January 27–28, 2011
  • The 43rd IUPAC Congress and 46th General Assembly in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 30–August 7, 2011.
  • A closing event in Brussels in November 30–December 1, 2011.

In addition, IUPAC is encouraging its Adhering Organizations, Divisions, and Committees to hold special activities in IYC 2011. It goes without saying that the success of IYC 2011 primarily depends on the success of the IYC events taking place in local, state, regional, and national venues. The participation of industry in IYC 2011 is strongly urged, because without its active participation IYC 2011 will not be as successful. I would like to emphasize that IYC 2011 provides a rare opportunity for chemists worldwide to present a unified voice to the general public concerning the importance of the healthy growth of chemical science and chemical technology for the secure future of humankind and our planet.

During my presidency (2007–2009), I greatly enjoyed meeting with eminent chemists such as Latin American representatives, American Chemical Society officers, leaders of the major Asian, African, and Arabian chemical societies, representatives of the European Union countries’ chemical societies, officers of the Royal Society of Chemistry, distinguished members of the Russian Academy of sciences, and presidents of major chemical societies in South America. My visit to the UN headquarters in New York City and meeting with UN Secretary General Ki-Moon Ban (Figure 1) in January 2009 were amongst my most unforgettable experiences. Mr. Ban’s deep concern for the sustainable development of this world is very impressive. He demonstrated a profound understanding of the importance of the chemical sciences and also a strong interest in environmental protection, energy resources, and the improvement of science education for children. More recently, I was asked to deliver a speech on the IYC 2011 during the opening ceremony of the 3rd EuCheMS Congress in Nürnberg, Germany (Figure 2). I have consulted with worldwide leaders in the field of chemistry with a view to reviving its role as the creative center of the natural sciences and preparing global and successful celebrations for IYC 2011, and they all displayed fervent determination and enthusiasm to make the most of IYC 2011.

Figure 1.

With Mr. Ki-Moon Ban, January 2009.

Figure 2.

During the opening ceremony of the 3rd EuCheMS Congress, August 29, 2010 Nürnberg, Germany.

IYC 2011 is a perfect opportunity for the worldwide chemistry community to engage with the general public and young people through interactive communication, awakening them to a sense of the true value of chemical knowledge and technology. After all, all the matter around us is composed of chemical elements or their compounds. Humankind’s understanding of the nature of this world and all living processes is based on our knowledge of chemistry. The world of modern chemistry enjoys a richness and diversity that make it the central pillar encompassing all of the various disciplines, with molecular science being a major focus. Promoting service to society through chemical science knowledge and technology and contributing to global issues are the visions that IUPAC most treasures.

We, chemical scientists, should be aware that IYC 2011 will represent only the first, small step toward the Renaissance of Chemistry in the 21st century. We should be determined to continue to devote ourselves to generating creative chemical knowledge that is both relevant and useful for solving the problems faced by our global society. Let’s unite under the banner, Chemistry—our life, our future.

Jung-Il Jin

Immediate Past President of IUPAC

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