Letter from the President
[Gautam Desiraju] Gautam R. Desiraju

The union by its very character plays a facilitating role in promoting international cooperation in crystallography. Exciting work in crystallography continues today all across the world due to inspired and hard working individuals and the funding mechanisms in place in the government and private sectors of various countries. The IUCr does not influence this process, and indeed it should not. Some funding bodies of nations also have schemes for bilateral international cooperation. What can the IUCr do to facilitate international cooperation that other organizations cannot? How can it make a difference, with the modest monetary outlays that are available?

Why is international cooperation important? Science is universal but the ways in which scientists try to achieve its goals can be subtly yet significantly different in different countries and cultures. International cooperation makes it possible to synergise these very local effects for the overall good. All countries, be they rich or poor, benefit from international scientific cooperation. All three modes of activity, north-north, north-south and south-south, need to be encouraged.

It is important that crystallography is encouraged in parts of the world where scientific enterprise is still not well developed. The Africa committee, chaired by Claude Lecomte, has now come up with a set of recommendations that the executive committee is considering. There are good groups in South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria and also some crystallographic associations. The needs of each country are different. The Maghreb countries need equipment more than teaching schools. A country like Cameroon possibly needs teaching schools initially. African crystallographers need to be taught by experts. Depending on the country of origin, African students go to say, France, England, Germany, Belgium or latterly to North America for higher studies. But they are often not able to practise their subject to their satisfaction when they return home; therefore there is a tendency to remain abroad. This brain drain is nothing new and Asian countries have experienced it in the past. The IUCr would like to facilitate matters so that a qualified African student is able to work with dignity in his or her home country. One possibility is to select some pilot universities and introduce crystallography teaching and research, make links between these pilot universities (south-south cooperation) and encourage them to start sub-regional crystallographic associations. The IUCr can identify the best young researchers in these countries and encourage them to spend some time in laboratories in more well-endowed countries and also attend international meetings.

Another initiative that has been mooted to the regional associates is that the IUCr may be willing to support the travel and subsistence of up to five students or post-docs to attend meetings of a regional associate other than the one to which their country of residence belongs. In effect, IUCr would support up to 15 students every year. A student from Germany for example may wish to attend the AsCA meeting being held this year in Adelaide, or a post-doc from Korea may want to attend the August ACA meeting in Boston. Some of our strongest and most important academic connections are the ones we make early in our research life. Just travelling to a country far away is an education in itself, and if one is able to travel in the context of one’s research work, so much the better. The regional associates have responded enthusiastically to this scheme and the executive committee is working out the modalities for its operation.

In the end, however, our financial commitments will depend on the union’s income and this depends critically on the scientific health of our journals and other publications. The IUCr is all of you and I would invite you to send your next exciting manuscript to one of the IUCr journals, whether you consider yourself a physicist, a chemist or a biologist. I would also like to ask those of you who are interested in writing a book to submit a proposal to the book series committee.

Gautam R. Desiraju (gautam_desiraju@yahoo.com)