So long ... till Melbourne!

Hanna Dąbkowska

It is summer already and, at the time of writing this Letter, we are only 50 days from the beginning of the 26th IUCr Congress in Melbourne. I often visit the Congress website and smile back at Michael Parker, the Chair of the Organizing Committee, and Brendan Kennedy, the Program Chair. They both look relaxed and in a very good mood, but it is well understood how much work and stress lies behind the organization of such an event. Unlike all the other IUCr Congresses, the Melbourne teams had only two years to prepare the venue, usually prepared in three. It is a very big difference and the effort is very much appreciated.

This is my eighth and last Letter. I am grateful to those of you who have commented on my Letters and encouraged me to continue. In these Letters I have tried to highlight what has been happening in different parts of our community. Staying positive is not easy in these challenging times – but now I realize that it never was. Natural cataclysms and man-made wars and conflicts add to the stress we all have to deal with. Fortunately, with COVID-19 now in the back mirror, we can concentrate on implementing the vision for the future. This is what the IUCr Commissions will be suggesting during their discussions with the IUCr Executive Committee (EC) in Melbourne. This is what the IUCr General Assembly (GA) will be discussing as well.

To understand what is happening around us, the EC will also be listening to the reports of IUCr Representatives to other organizations (ISC, CODATA, COSPAR, IOCG, IUPAC, ICTNS, ISO). All these organizations face similar challenges to those faced by the IUCr – we all have to promote new, emerging science and embrace different ways to approach research, learning and teaching. We have to encourage the inevitable change of generations and the important fact that many more people from around the world are making their input ... . There is a lot of unknown in the future: How should ethical problems be addressed? Will artificial intelligence help in solving today's questions? Are we creating a better world for the future of humanity? Are we moving too fast? Too slow? For sure crystallography is in the background of many innovations. Are we only solving the imposed problems or are we being really creative like our Prize winners, proposing new questions (and answers) for science? How are we dealing with new (and old ...) challenges? How can we stop “for-profit” journals (and travel sites!) taking a bite from our income or some pseudo-scientific groups announcing “crystallographic” meetings in suspiciously attractive places? No President or EC or even GA can answer these questions. But we all have to be aware of them and not be misled.

Fortunately, the IUCr is blessed with an active, international community of leaders in many corners of science, a loyal staff and an excellent reputation. Our schools, conferences, workshops and OpenLabs teach new generations of structural scientists, providing a good background and understanding of crystallography for future leaders in such diverse areas as solid-state physics, materials science, chemistry, structural biology and pharmaceutical research. We are well positioned to be successful in the near future and in the next 75 years of this organization.

Of course to achieve it all, the IUCr needs a lot of support from all of us volunteers: teachers, lecturers, organizers, leaders. Aside from our “day jobs”, we work to prepare meetings, schools, congresses. We dedicate our time assessing applications, refereeing papers, attending meetings around the world.

Being a scientific union we try to be as non-political as possible but at the same time we have to declare our position in addressing injustice in the world and promoting a better and safer environment for our meetings and well beyond. We have no direct influence over devastating forest fires or tornadoes around the world but we can actively help to develop vaccines and cures for known and not so well known diseases. We are essential in the search for new, technologically important materials, assessing resources and in investigating the behavior of materials in extreme conditions – opening the door for limitless future explorations. We understand our own strengths, but more action is needed. We need to project our values to other communities, so the name Crystallography means something. It meant a lot 75 years ago, it meant progress. Now it is time to decide – are we sticking to this name or are we changing it to something more appealing to the new generation – like Structural Science perhaps?

To be able to proceed and promote our research we need to actively support IUCr Journals. This means publishing our best results in these journals, citing the published papers and confirming that they are available in our universities and company libraries. I stressed many times that unlike our main competitors, all the surplus income generated by our journals goes to supporting future crystallographers to attend schools and meetings.

I apologize for not visiting as many conferences and meetings as some of my predecessors. This was partially because of the lingering COVID threat at the beginning of my term. Despite many invitations I did not manage to attend any African meetings in person, but I am extremely happy to be the President connecting the African Crystallographic Association (AfCA) to the IUCr. And I am immensely grateful to the many of you who worked so hard to achieve it. I am very sorry that Professor Claude Lecomte, Chair of the Steering Committee for the IUCr Crystallography in Africa initiative, is not able to join us in Melbourne. I hope he will come and celebrate the African success with us at the next Congress in Calgary.

And here I would like to end my Letters. I want to thank you all for trusting me with this fascinating job and I am also very grateful to a long line of people who helped me over these two years and who helped this Union to flourish.

I am looking forward to seeing many of you in Melbourne, please stay safe.

28 June 2023

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