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Biological Chemistry

Complications of a Journal's Birth

February 23, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 8

The Swiss Chemical Society founded Helvetica Chimica Acta in 1917 partly to gain admission to the International Association of Chemical Societies, the precursor of the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry. The Swiss Chemical Society, it seems, originally did not consider having a national journal to be a top priority.

That attitude was not surprising, according to M. Volkan Kisakürek, the journal's current editor. "Switzerland is a funny and strange federal system, a mixture of cultures," he explains. "For a Swiss in Geneva, a Swiss from Zurich can be as strange as a German or a Russian. They don't have cultural connections, but they share common benefits of Swiss citizenship--neutrality, prosperity, and a Swiss passport. Helvetica Chimica Acta was one of the first actions of Swiss chemistry for which all parts of Switzerland could join in the venture."

World War I was raging when the journal was founded. Paper was scarce, and the journal needed the federal government's permission to use 500 kg of paper, Kisakürek tells C&EN. Then a printer had to be found. The only company that could handle the printing of a scientific journal was Emil Birkhäuser, Buchdruckerei und Verlage, in Basel. But it was owned by a German, and Switzerland is sensitive about its neutrality. Only after a top-secret investigation was the company approved.

Also because of Switzerland's neutrality, the journal originally was restricted to Swiss authors or authors working in Switzerland. The restrictions were eased over the years, but it was only in 1989 that the journal became open to all.

The first issue was "a sensation," Kisakürek says. By the journal's second year of publication, it had carried 1,500 pages, reflecting the enormous chemical activity in Switzerland during a period when the world was at war.

The journal's history is chronicled in the book "Highlights of Chemistry as Mirrored in Helvetica Chimica Acta," edited by Kisakürek and Edgar Heilbronner (Verlag Helvetica Chimica Acta, Basel, 1994).



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