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Thoughts on the International Union

[E. N. Baker]Technically I will no longer be President of the Union by the time you read this. The Glasgow Congress will be over, the organisers will be relaxing, and the rest of us will have arrived home, inspired by the science. For me this is also a final opportunity to speak through this column and an opportunity to thank you all for the support and friendship I have received over the past three years. To serve as President of the Union has been an honour that I never imagined would come my way and it is an experience I will treasure.

I would also like to use this occasion to reflect a little on the Union and its activities.Some of these are changing radically, driven by changes in our subject, or in science and society. The pressure on subscriptions to our journals is one that is facing all print journals and the move to electronic publishing is unavoidable. Looked at another way, however, it is also an exciting opportunity that can transform how our science is presented. We are also seeing a rapid evolution in the role and importance of structural databases. These are central to the interests of crystallographers everywhere and the IUCr faces challenges in helping to ensure that these data remain readily accessible to all.

Other roles and activities of the Union remain the same, however. Of paramount importance is our international nature; it is this that defines the Union, and it is only this that differentiates us from any other national or regional scientific society. My mentor, Dorothy Hodgkin, had links all round the world, visiting, working with and encouraging scientists as far afield as China, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. This spirit of internationalism is shared by many in the Union and is our main raison d’etre.

There are international challenges, - how to better support crystallographers in South America, or build crystallography in Africa, or involve more Asian countries in the Union, or help with financial problems in  Eastern Europe. It is also all too easy to be inward-looking, or to forget how our lives and our science are enriched by direct (not electronic!) contacts with colleagues who are far removed geographically and culturally. It is for these reasons that the issues raised by Richard Nelmes in this issue of the Newsletter are important and should be pondered. Speaking for myself, the greatest benefit that science has brought me has been the network of friends and colleagues all round the world, both in their friendship and in what I have gained scientifically. This has also been true of my three years as President, and it is what makes the “I” of IUCr so important.

Edward N. Baker