Chemical & Engineering News


September 25, 1995

Copyright © 1995 by the American Chemical Society.

European Chemical Society Aims To Represent Chemists, Promote Chemistry

Fledgling organization hosts first symposium, strives to attract new members and funds from throughout Europe

Michael Freemantle

C&EN London


The fledgling European Chemical Society (ECS) is beginning to spread its wings. Launched in January, the society is attracting increasing numbers of members throughout Europe - especially from the younger generation of chemists. And last month, the society achieved a milestone by holding its first European Symposium at Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.

"The society is gaining momentum all the time," says Anita Maguire, a lecturer in organic chemistry at University College, Cork, Republic of Ireland, and one of three vice chairmen of the ECS administrative committee. "The committee has been very encouraged by the enthusiasm and support received from chemists from many countries both within Europe and elsewhere."

Maguire: society is gaining momentum

ECS is being driven forward by a youthful mix of determination, energy, and optimism. Its administrative committee members, all relatively young, are confident of overcoming the problems of establishing a new society and are undaunted by reservations expressed by some national chemical societies in Europe (C&EN, April 3, page 6).

"The role of ECS is complementary to that of existing national chemical societies and the organizations which unite these groups," says Maguire. "National societies provide an excellent service to their members and deal with issues at the national level particularly well. ECS looks forward to working together with the existing organizations to promote chemistry at the European level."

Maguire points out that the new society is multidisciplinary in nature, consisting of members from all areas of chemistry including, for example, computational chemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry, and synthetic chemistry. "Members include industrial and academic chemists from all countries in Europe," she says. "The strength of the society will be this broad representation. While we envisage that most of our members will be from Europe, membership is open to chemists worldwide."

The administrative committee sees the growing membership of ECS as evidence of the society's appeal. "We currently have about 500 members, mostly young chemists," says ECS secretary Ari Koskinen, who is professor of organic chemistry at the University of Oulu, Finland. In contrast, the Federation of European Chemical Societies - composed of 40 national chemical societies throughout Europe - represents more than 150,000 chemists. "More and more people are joining and we are beginning to get positive responses from some national chemical societies in Europe," Koskinen adds.

Koskinen: members mostly young chemists

The initiative for the new society arose from a Young Chemists Symposium held in 1993 in Ghent, Belgium. "The people who started it off were younger chemists," explains Maguire. "We envisage that ECS will attract a lot of the young chemists in Europe, but it's not exclusively for young chemists."

The society aims to promote European chemistry and provide a single voice for European chemists. "We want to unite chemists across Europe and look at issues that affect chemists in Europe without becoming involved with the national aspects in each country," says Maguire. "We have a vision of helping to improve and present a very positive and dynamic image of European chemistry. I think that our enthusiasm, which may be a little naive, will carry us through to this vision in the future."

Maguire is heartened by the response to the Louvain symposium. The symposium, which focused on organic chemistry, was the society's first open meeting. More than 120 chemists from about 10 European countries registered for the meeting. "So many people from different countries have come along to the conference, and they are all very positive about the society," she says.

"It's exciting, particularly for young chemists," observes Martin E. Maier, associate professor of chemistry at Martin-Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. Maier lectured on "The Design of Biologically Active Analogs of Natural Products" at the symposium. "In the future, more and more management and funding of science in European countries will occur at a European level. So it is important that we meet together as European chemists," adds Maier.

Trafford Clarke, research manager at the Lilly Research Center, Windlesham, England, also welcomes the opportunity to get together with other European chemists. He explains that the Lilly Research Center is involved in a central nervous system program involving, for example, amino acid work. "We know who the key players are in the U.K., but I don't know who the key players are in Europe," says Clarke. "This symposium is an ideal forum to meet people, particularly young practicing chemists from across Europe." Lilly Research Center was one the symposium's 12 industrial sponsors.

"The atmosphere of the occasion was totally unique. Never before have I attended a convivial gathering of like-minded people which combines top-quality science with such a discernible sense of purpose and common goals," comments Donald Craig, lecturer in organic chemistry at Imperial College of Science, Technology & Medicine, London. "It is clear to me that people are fired-up and excited by the concept of the new society." Craig's lecture at the symposium was titled "New Cyclization Strategies for Organic Synthesis."

The society is now building on this enthusiasm and setting up structures and mechanisms to strengthen contacts between chemists in Europe. Its secretariat is located in the department of chemistry of the Catholic University of Louvain, which is near Brussels. "ECS has a contract with the university," notes ECS treasurer Dieter Schinzer, a professor of chemistry at the Institute for Organic Chemistry at the Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany. "We have a room, fax machines, telephone, and computer hardware."

Schnizer: on-line employment service

ECS plans to use computers and electronic media extensively. "Although the administrative committee meets every so often, we use electronic mail and the Internet a lot to communicate between us and arrive at decisions about the direction of the society," says István E. Markó, chairman of the ECS administrative committee.

Marko, a professor of chemistry at Louvain, points out that the Internet is already used to inform people of ECS activities through the society's home page on World Wide Web (http:// ecs.tu-bs.de/ecs). ECS may also be contacted by mail: European Chemical Society, Department of Chemistry, Université Catholique de Louvain, Bâtiment Lavoisier, Place Louis Pasteur 1, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.

Marko: secretariat relies on the Internet

The society's first newsletter, which is about to be published, will be available on the Internet, according to Markó. It will include a description of the society and its aims, as well as a report on the August symposium. ECS newsletters will also be distributed as hard copy.

Schinzer points out that chemists will also be able to obtain information on the Internet about job vacancies in Europe as soon as they arise. "When a company calls and offers a postdoctoral or permanent position, it will be on the Internet within minutes," he says.

"We are also starting to build up a directory of European chemists on a computer database," adds Markó. "The university is helping us to set up the database."

The administrative committee recognizes that it needs to tackle a number of problems in order to propel ECS forward. "There are a lot of practical obstacles we have to overcome to bring ECS to a really successful, vibrant society," says Maguire.

Funding of the society is currently a major concern. To improve benefits for members and promote chemistry across Europe, the society will need a substantial in-flow of funds. But to increase revenue, the society will need to boost membership.

ECS membership dues are deliberately being kept low to encourage younger members. Dues for industrial or academic chemists are about $66 for those who are already members of national chemical societies and about $100 for those who are not. The corresponding dues for students, including postdoctoral researchers, are about $20 for national chemical society members and $26 for nonmembers. However, the expense of transferring small amounts of money across borders in Europe may be deterring some chemists from joining the society.

"This is just a temporary problem," says Schinzer. "We are already negotiating with credit card companies to allow members to pay by credit card. We are also planning to set up bank accounts and have representatives in each country. The representatives will then collect the money in that country and transfer it, say, once a month, to the ECS account in Belgium."

"One of the real problems we are facing is to get information about the society across to individual chemists," observes Koskinen.


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