Letter from the President
[Gautam Desiraju] Gautam R. Desiraju
I visited the IUCr executive and journals offices in Chester last November. Chester is our unseen face and we need to appreciate all the work done by the permanent staff there. Apart from maintaining communication between the various branches of the union, the executive office coordinates the activities of the finance committee, the important body that manages our money, so that various programs run efficiently. The effectiveness of an organisation is always determined by its financial health. Most of IUCr income is obtained from journal sales. In these uncertain times, it is critical that our journals attract the very best papers and in large numbers too. Increasing the impact factors of the journals and the numbers of papers in them is therefore an overwhelming priority.

The journals staff are truly professional; the methods employed for the deposition and checking of crystallographic data are excellent. It is said that if a structure is published in Acta Cryst., it must indeed be of the very best quality. But there is a problem: while we attract outstanding talks in congresses and in meetings of regional associates, this high impact work is not necessarily reflected in our publications. This was not always the case – during the first two decades of the IUCr, cutting edge crystallographic research appeared regularly in Acta Cryst. The situation has changed over time and we find now that some of what we publish, while technically above reproach, is not of the highest impact and outreach. It is important to publish articles of a scholarly nature even if they might not attract large numbers of readers, but at no stage should a journal ever be termed 'boring'. A journals review committee has been appointed to critically survey the state of the journals to suggest ways and means of improving both impact factors and increasing submissions. The report of this committee is expected in early 2012.

Good science need not necessarily have immediate commercial application and the recent Nobel awarded to Dan Schectman reminds us that there is still joy in doing science for its own sake. The appeal of the truly unexpected marks the discovery of quasicrystals, and the beauty of this discovery is that we do not know if there are other ways of obtaining ordered structures that lack periodicity. The IUCr can reflect with satisfaction that it changed its official definition of the term crystal as far back as 1991 to take into account the discovery of quasicrystals. What of the future? Can we envisage a time when less ordered materials can be more routinely studied by diffraction methods? Diffraction of X-rays, neutrons and electrons by single crystals is such a powerful means of structure determination that we often do not stop to ask if the very effectiveness of this technique has limited our understanding of less ordered forms.

The work of the union is international and the executive has recently appointed a committee chaired by Vice President Claude Lecomte to coordinate activities in Africa. We have been assisting in modest programs there for about a decade now and it was felt that we could do more. IUCr hopes to initiate moves to send crystallographic equipment to Africa, increase the number of teaching and training programs there perhaps by strengthening the visiting professor scheme and enhance cooperation between crystallographers in the Anglophone and Francophone regions of the continent.

I would like to extend my compliments of the season for a productive and scientifically stimulating 2012.

Gautam R. Desiraju (gautam_desiraju@yahoo.com)