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Creating a more inclusive society for our international chapters

by Jens Breffke, Chair, ACS Committee on International Activities
August 19, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 33


Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
Jens Breffke

In today’s globalized world, one’s action will have an impact, and we as chemists know that for every action there will be a reaction. So what should our role be as the American Chemical Society?

As a scientific nonprofit organization, we hold ourselves to the highest standards to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.

ACS has more than 150,000 members, with 27,000 members (approximately 18% of the membership) living or working outside the U.S. This comes with a responsibility to respect other parts of the world and our sister societies in these places. We need to ask ourselves if our actions truly reflect our mission.

From 2008 to 2018, ACS’s total membership decreased from just over 160,000 to just under 151,000, a decrease of 5.7%. Domestic membership has decreased by 10.9% (from 138,000 to 123,000), while its foreign membership has increased by 27.5% (from 21,000 to 27,000). Several factors contribute to that increase, including increased online journal benefits and the establishment of ACS’s international chemical sciences chapters and international student chapters, which facilitate ACS activities abroad and help catalyze membership.

However, with the establishment of international chemical sciences chapters and international student chapters, ACS faces a growth challenge like many corporations face: Expansion is productive only when leaders deliver on their promise.

As of July, ACS has 21 international chemical sciences chapters and 51 international student chapters. In the early days, after the founding of the first international chemical sciences chapter in Saudi Arabia in 1993, the demand for new chapters was moderate, and each petition to charter a new chapter was a big deal. Now, this process has become more streamlined, and ACS has dedicated a staff unit to supporting those entities abroad.

A distinct difference exists when comparing the international chemical sciences chapters with ACS local sections­—namely, that it is incumbent on our international chapters to work cooperatively with national chemical societies. ACS is a member-driven society but also a guest abroad; it has a lot to offer and a lot to give, but that doesn’t mean we should just show up and become the gorilla in the room. We need to be respectful in our actions when we are in a different country.

We need to be respectful in our actions when we are in a different country.

International chemical sciences chapters and international student chapters need to be aligned with the respective domestic chemical society. Therefore, the ACS Committee on International Activities requires that international chapter applications and annual reports demonstrate collaboration with the national chemical society. The dialogue between the ACS international chapter and the national chemical society must be established from the beginning and embrace a spirit of joint venture rather than competition in serving the needs and priorities of the local chemistry community.

Growth is good, but it should be for the benefit of all parties involved. To strengthen its membership, ACS needs to continue its effort to collaborate abroad and be a leader and a partner. Last year, at the IUPAC World Chemistry Congress in São Paulo, Brazil, the International Younger Chemists Network held its inaugural meeting. IYCN aims to create a unified global network of young chemists to communicate, collaborate, educate, and mentor. Since the meeting, more than 15 countries and their chemical societies have joined the network. Among the network’s projects is the Periodic Table of Younger Chemists ( in celebration of the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization’s International Year of the Periodic Table in 2019. While IYCN has many contributors, ACS’s leadership through both the ACS Younger Chemists Committee and the ACS Committee on International Activities is helping this community grow strongly.


Our members need to be careful in their actions when representing ACS abroad and be respectful of our sister societies. ACS is growing internationally, and we may need more policies to systematically support our efforts, but for now, the society relies on the sensitivity and respect of our members abroad as well as domestic members initiating international projects.

The ACS Council has an opportunity in Boston to show its support for the growing ACS community of international chapters. I urge you to read the petition up for action at the council meeting and encourage your councilors to vote in favor of removing restrictions on our international chapters to create a greater sense of inclusion and belonging. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



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