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Report from IUPAC-Sponsored Symposium


4th International Congress on Chemistry and 13th Caribbean Conference on Chemistry and Chemical Engineering,
16-20 April 2001, Havana, Cuba

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The 4th International Congress on Chemistry in Havana doubled as the 13th Caribbean Conference on Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. It was organized by the Cuban Chemical Society and cosponsored by IUPAC, the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB), and the Third World Academy of Sciences. More than 800 people attended this meeting; over 300 were from outside Cuba–mostly from various countries in the Americas.

I attended the first four days of the congress and gave a short opening lecture as appointed representative of IUPAC. The sessions were generally well organized, with plenary lectures (free-standing) mostly at the beginning of the morning session (with two at the very end of the congress) and section and contributed lectures in the late morning and all afternoon. Many posters were also presented. The only problem was that several plenary lectures did not start on time and thereby intruded upon the schedule of the contributed papers (which was also not always followed exactly as programmed).

Section and contributed lecturers were grouped in the following areas: analytical chemistry, agricultural chemistry, biochemistry, carbohydrate chemistry, chemical education, chromatography, environmental chemistry, history of chemistry, industrial chemistry, natural products, organic chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, physical chemistry, and supra-molecular chemistry. As usual, the quality of the papers varies from outstanding (especially in the Supra-molecular Chemistry Symposium organized by Prof. Luis Echegoyen of the University of Miami) to trivial. The number of papers with biological relevance was strikingly large.

The spirit of the congress was excellent, with many young people in attendance. The registration fee included a very good group lunch each day, which encouraged mingling of the participants.

The congress took place in a very good, relatively new conference center with a large auditorium for the plenary lectures and a number of medium and smaller lecture rooms for the concurrent contributed papers. Unfortunately, the large auditorium was somewhat "super-modern" in that it provided for projection of PowerPoint material (as did the smaller lecture rooms), but not for projection of slides and overheads! I had to give my lecture without slides, which problem I solved by giving it alternately in English and Spanish. For subsequent plenaries, slide and overhead projectors were made available but they were inadequate for the size of the room. The hotel in which I stayed was more than satisfactory and was connected with the conference center by a covered passage.

General conditions in Cuba have vastly improved since I traveled there in 1996. There is much reconstruction of old buildings and construction of new ones, and there are many good restaurants and hotels. One also sees an increasing number of late-vintage automobiles (not including U.S. makes!). I was informed that the chemistry department of the University of Havana is undertaking a much needed renovation of their laboratories. When I inquired about the source of the still quite limited government funds, I was told that, in addition to income from tourism, the government benefited from successful nickel mining by a Canadian company and was also deriving some funds from licensing and royalty fees from prospecting for oil (which had now actually been found!).

The American Chemical Society (ACS) was well represented by three former presidents, the administrator of the International Activities Office, and an additional dozen or so members. There was discussion at the congress about establishing closer relations in the future between the ACS and the Cuban Chemical Society.

Prof. Eliel, a former American Chemical Society president, who studied at the University of Havana during World War II, was declared an honorary member of the Cuban Chemical Society at a special session of the meeting in Havana in April. Leslie Yanyez Gonzalez of the University of Havana presented Prof. Eliel with a copy of his undergraduate research thesis and a bound copy of his matriculation papers and records from his student days at the university.

Ernest L. Eliel
Professor Emeritus
Department of Chemistry
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA


> Published in Chem. Int. 23(5), 2001

Page last modified 21 August 2001.
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