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A World View: A Chemist's Perspective

by Judith L. Benham
December 20, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 51

Judith L. Benham
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Chair, Committee on International Activities
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Chair, Committee on International Activities

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. All institutions—education, industry, government, and social—are challenged. Yet the issues facing our world and the centrality of chemistry in addressing challenges remain largely unchanged, as demonstrated by the timelessness of Nobel Laureate Glenn T. Seaborg’s observations made nearly 40 years ago in personal correspondence:

“The world has reached a stage where substantial interdependence among developed and developing countries is essential to the fulfillment of human needs. We need to match limited global natural resources—for providing energy, materials, food, and water—with the requirements of growing populations. … In these efforts, chemistry, perhaps the most utilitarian of all sciences, and chemists and chemical engineers worldwide must play a vital role. Success will call for much greater international cooperation. Humanitarian instincts may be a significant motivating force, but inevitably so will our own self-interest. The economic and social futures of the advanced and the developing countries are inexorably entwined.”

From its inception, the American Chemical Society has maintained a global character in its interests and activities. This commitment is perhaps best articulated in Article II, Sec. 3 of the ACS constitution: “The Society shall cooperate with scientists internationally and shall be concerned with the worldwide application of chemistry to the needs of humanity.”

The ACS Committee on International Activities (IAC) was formed in 1962 and works to assist scientists and engineers worldwide to communicate and collaborate for the good of the chemical and chemically related sciences, chemical engineering, and their practitioners.

IAC carries out this mission through activities at and between ACS national meetings, with focus on the needs of key geographic regions (the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia) and on global issues related to human rights and scientific freedom. Working groups address specific topics and opportunities.

This year, IAC defined its strategic intent as the ­following:

■ Fostering ACS international collaborations driven by global challenges.

■ Sustaining momentum of the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) beyond 2011.

■ Extending ACS international chemistry education and training.

■ Supporting developing countries in cooperation with partner societies.

These interests align with ACS’s strategic goals ( and ACS President Joseph S. Francisco’s global initiatives vision related to enhancing opportunities for international research and innovation exchange among chemists of all levels.

When IAC convened during the ACS national meeting in Boston this August, the committee created four working groups that support its strategic directions. One will develop and launch a ChemLuminary Award for contributions to the celebration of IYC 2011. Another will help make ACS’s website ( more welcoming, inclusive, and relevant to a global scientific audience. A third will explore collaboration with Seeding Labs (, which is dedicated to expanding scientific research in developing countries by providing affordable, reclaimed laboratory equipment and facilitating connections within the global scientific research community. The fourth group will support development of sustainability initiatives as part of IYC 2011 and beyond.

In other activities, IAC members participated on the ACS Presidential International Center Task Force. The center is intended to provide leadership in research, education, and technology transfer while encouraging U.S. talent to engage in international research experiences, learn about innovation in the global chemical enterprise, and transfer this knowledge to the marketplace. IAC created the ACS Global Research Experiences, Exchanges & Training program, which will foster new global collaborations through international research experiences for faculty with students. The committee recommended establishment of two new ACS international chemical sciences chapters in Shanghai and Thailand while supporting the continuing activities of chapters in Hungary, Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong. IAC organized two forward-looking symposia for the spring 2011 ACS national meeting in Anaheim, Calif.: “Scientific Freedom and Human Rights in the Chemical Sciences” and “International Collaboration in the Chemical Sciences—Best Practices.”

In 2011, IAC plans to continue to pursue our strategic directions with additional specific initiatives. The international collaboration symposium will highlight creative collaborative initiatives that expand our ability to participate in the global enterprise and might provide options for ACS support or engagement. The symposium on scientific freedom and human rights will explore the role that a scientific society, and scientific community, can and should play in service of human rights. IAC will begin discussion with other ACS groups about the appropriate scope for ACS engagement across the human rights continuum, from support for challenged scientists, to scientific freedom of research, to access to general education and science education, to science in service of human rights. We will begin to address international aspects of education in science, both in this country and abroad. And we will identify ways to extend the momentum of IYC 2011 into the future.

IAC plans to amplify its engagement with ACS committees, local sections, technical divisions, and regional meetings to address global issues, support IYC 2011, and respond to the call to action articulated by Dr. Seaborg so many years ago. We welcome your suggestions and participation.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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