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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 Cubamostly
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
Department of Chemistry
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA