Issue Date: January 15, 2007
Despite its name, the American Chemical Society is an international organization. Non-U.S. scientists contribute more than half of the articles published in ACS journals, and a majority of the information covered by ACS's Chemical Abstracts Service Division originates outside the U.S. Nearly 15% of meeting participants who attend ACS national meetings call another country home, and 12% of ACS members reside outside of U.S. borders.
Thus, "there is huge interest in international activities among ACS members and staff," explains Nina I. McClelland, a former chair of the ACS Board of Directors and current chair of the Committee on International Activities (IAC).
According to ACS bylaws, IAC "is responsible for studying and recommending appropriate Society participation and cooperation in international undertakings pertaining to chemical education, professional activities, and scientific matters of interest to chemists and chemical engineers, and coordinating its efforts with those of the other organizations."
It's a big charge, and McClelland explains that IAC addresses its duties by dividing responsibilities among its three subcommittees.
Members of the Strategic Alliances Subcommittee create international contacts and partnerships with other chemistry and science and technology organizations. McClelland says the subcommittee has "been trying to sort out how ACS can help the local sections and the divisions to increase their international contacts." McClelland did divisional programming in the past and remembers how incorporating international content could be difficult without good resources.
ACS has always been close to sister societies in North America and Europe, she notes, and it increasingly collaborates with chemical societies and other organizations within China, India, and Brazil, as well as other countries.
When the rights of individual scientists and engineers have been violated, the Scientific Freedom & Human Rights Subcommittee of IAC asks ACS to take prompt action as soon as it learns about human rights concerns of scientists in poor or politically unstable regions. Through this subcommittee, ACS writes letters to try to assist those scientists who face execution or whose rights are being denied. "And, my goodness, it is just amazing to me how much of that is going on," McClelland says.
In 2006, letters went to officials in Libya, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Russia. "It seems as if every time I turn on my computer, I am witnessing another request to lend support to a scientist who is being confined or mistreated."
McClelland thinks the letters, which are publicly available (chemistry.org/international/humanrights.html), carry weight. "We have had letters back from both our government and other governments thanking ACS for its input," she says.
This subcommittee has also pioneered the conference series "Frontiers of Chemical Sciences: Research & Education in the Middle East," more popularly known as the Malta Conferences. In 2003 and 2005, researchers from about a dozen Middle Eastern countries met to share scientific information and plan collaborations. The International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry has recently assumed primary sponsorship of the 2007 conference, and ACS remains a strong supporter.
The Outreach to Developing Countries Subcommittee works to address the needs and interests of scientists in poor countries. This subcommittee helps to build scientific exchange programs, collaborative efforts, and other resources.
McClelland considers both catalyzing the Malta Conferences and the ongoing letter-writing in support of persecuted scientists as among IAC's top achievements. "I think it's extremely important because, in effect, it says that in spite of the politics, science can and is being exchanged."
Numerous ACS committees have formal liaisons to IAC, and representatives from many other committees informally attend IAC meetings. Unlike most committees, IAC has a hefty number of associates, or non-voting members, but McClelland and the rest of the committee find the opportunity for multiple perspectives appropriate. "I believe it's a committee where a larger number of associates and consultants is very much justified because there is such interest and such focus on the globalization of chemical issues" in the community, she says.
"One of my personal goals is to further support exchange among young scientists," adds McClelland, who works with student affiliate groups in addition to her committee work. "I just love what these kids do," she says, and she would like to give more student affiliates the chance to travel to other countries.
McClelland encourages any ACS members who are interested in IAC to come to its open meeting, which has a full agenda at each national meeting. The next open meeting will be held Saturday, March 24, 1-5 PM, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.
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