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Science Communication

Big initiatives are ahead for the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies

by Tom Spurling, John Webb and David Winkler
January 26, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 4


This is a guest editorial by Tom Spurling, president of the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies (FACS) from 1989 to 1991; John Webb, codirector of one of the FACS’s early network projects; and David Winkler, president of the FACS from 2017 to 2019. Spurling and Webb are professors at the Centre for Transformative Innovation at Swinburne University of Technology. Winkler is a professor at both Monash and La Trobe Universities. This editorial is adapted from Spurling and Webb’s presentation“The Federation of Asian Chemical Societies: Forty Years On,” given at the 18th Asian Chemical Congress and 20th General Assembly of the FACS in December 2019.

Two and a half thousand chemists from around the world gathered in Taipei, Taiwan, in December for a feast of chemistry to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies (FACS).

In the 1970s, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and many national aid agencies understood the important role the application of chemistry had in developing the social, economic, and environmental well-being of nations. UNESCO also understood the vital role that professional societies play in fostering chemical capability and helped organize the formation of the FACS using the model that had been used to create the Federation of European Chemical Societies, now the European Chemical Society.

Chemical societies from Australia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Thailand founded the FACS in 1979. Chemical societies in Japan and New Zealand joined in 1981. Both the Chinese Chemical Society and the Chemical Society Located in Taipei joined in 1984. The FACS now includes 32 chemical societies, and it has successfully fostered the development of chemistry in the region through networks, working groups, and collaboration.

In 1980, the Asia-Pacific region contributed only 19% of world chemistry papers, with only Australia (1.7%), India (4.8%), and Japan (12.7%) contributing over 1% to the total. In 2018, the then 30 member countries of the FACS covered much of the Asia region and contributed about 56% of all the world’s chemistry papers. Seven FACS member countries contribute more than 1% of world chemistry papers: Australia (2.1%), China (32.9%), India (7.0%), Japan (5.7%), South Korea (4.0%), Taiwan (1.4%), and Turkey (1.2%). And nine members contribute a higher percentage than their percentage of the world’s population: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, and Turkey. The region is now the epicenter of the world of chemistry.

However, chemical capability is still underdeveloped in many of our member countries. The FACS has a great opportunity to use the research and education strength of many of its members to help improve the capability and performance in those member countries still developing. We note that achieving at least 8 of the 17 sustainable development goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 will require chemical capability. Achieving these goals is important for all countries but particularly important for the FACS’s less-developed member countries, such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, and East Timor, as well as potential member countries, such as Bhutan, Myanmar, and Laos.

The FACS now has two important tasks. The first is to further enhance science and technology for high-performing chemists in the region. The Asian Chemical Congress, most recently held in Taipei in December 2019, is the FACS’s large, biennial chemistry meeting that is rapidly becoming the go-to event for engaging with chemists in the Asia-Pacific region. The 2021 congress will be held in Istanbul, and the 2023 congress will be in Bangkok. The FACS also organizes smaller, focused networking projects in years between congresses.

The second task for the FACS is to foster and support the development of chemistry in those countries still developing and, as necessary, those that are not yet members of the federation. Possible initiatives include the provision of equipment and instrumentation surplus to established or discontinued laboratories, together with training for maintenance and repair. Such initiatives could be carried out in collaboration with established chemical societies such as the American Chemical Society or the Royal Society of Chemistry, both of which are supporters of the federation.

Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ACS or C&EN.



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