J.-M. Lehn and A. Krief on Science and Responsibility

J.-M. Lehn and A. Krief on Science and Responsibility

Author: Vera Köster

Jean-Marie Lehn, Nobel Laureate and Professor at the University of Strasbourg, France, and Alain Krief, Professor at the University of Namur, Belgium, co-chair to an international symposium featuring a lecture by the chemistry Nobel Laureate Professor Ryoji Noyori, Saitama, Japan, on “Science and Technology for Future Generations”. Other speakers will include Professors Luisa De Cola, Don Hilvert, Stephen Matlin, Klaus Mullen, and Peter Seeberger.

The symposium is co-organized by the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD) and Namur University. Alain Krief is Executive Director and Jean-Marie Lehn President of IOCD.

IOCD promotes the pursuit and application of the chemical sciences for sustainable, equitable human development and economic growth, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Dr. Vera Köster took the opportunity to talk with Professors Lehn and Krief about the IOCD, responsibility in science in a globalized world, and how countries benefit differently from science.

Professor Krief, can you please explain what the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD) is?

The chemical sciences have been of immense benefit to mankind during the last couple of hundred years – contributing to economic development and advances in technology that have made people’s lives easier and healthier. But poorer countries have benefitted much less than the wealthiest ones from science and technology.

IOCD was established over 30 years ago to try to help address this gap. It was the first international non-governmental organization specifically devoted to enhancing the role of the chemical sciences in the process of development and involving chemists in low- and middle-income countries.

Over the years, IOCD’s mission has remained the same, but it has used a variety of approaches to engage chemists and foster capacity building. For example, IOCD has organized and funded research programmes in key areas, e.g., drug discovery, natural product exploitation, and environmental analysis; it has conducted and funded symposia and workshops; it has provided analytical services and then helped to build capacity for these within Africa; and it has supported initiatives for books, equipment, and online materials for chemical education.

Has the IOCD changed since its foundation in 1981?

The global landscape has changed dramatically since IOCD was founded and, as a modern organization in the 21st century, IOCD has had to adapt to these changes. The fundamental issue remains the same – that chemistry and other sciences have a vital role to play in ensuring human prosperity and wellbeing. IOCD’s current strategy focuses on three priority areas – chemistry for better health; chemistry for a better environment; and capacity building in chemical education.

As the capacities of low- and middle-income countries to conduct work in the sciences has increased, the focus of IOCD’s efforts has shifted increasingly to encouraging leadership by the chemists and institutions in these countries and to helping to promote national structures and policies that will support the conduct and application of the chemical sciences.

Professor Lehn, how did you get involved?

I was introduced to IOCD by Elkan Blout (1919–2006), a dear friend, former Professor of Biochemistry at Harvard University and former Academic Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. In 1992, I succeeded Glenn Seaborg as President of IOCD.

On July 5th the IOCD is holding a special event in Namur, Belgium. Can you say more about this please?

IOCD and Namur University NARC are collaborating to organize an International Symposium in Namur on 5 July 2012 entitled ”Chemical Development: Chemistry, a Crossway Towards Interdisciplinary Science”.

We are delighted that the Symposium will feature a lecture by the chemistry Nobel Laureate Professor Ryoji Noyori, RIKEN and Nagoya University, Japan, as well as Professor Luisa De Cola, University of Münster, Germany, Professor Don Hilvert, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, Professor Klaus Mullen, Max-Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz, Germany, and Professor Peter Seeberger, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Potsdam, Germany.

The Symposium will be followed by a Public Seminar, with presentations by Professor Ryoji Noyori on “Science and Technology for Future Generations” and by Professor Stephen Matlin, Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College, London, on “New challenges in chemical sciences for development”.

Overall, this event in Namur provides an example of IOCD’s work to stimulate young people, to promote the chemical sciences, and to highlight the vital role that they play in development globally.

Should universities or chemical societies play a greater role in making scientists more aware of their responsibilities towards society and culture?

It has long been maintained that pure science is, at its core, a cultural pursuit that adds to the stock of human knowledge – often referred to as a ‘global public good’. But the applications of science, of the knowledge, products, and tools that come from research, are complex: they can be used for good or bad ends; they can be used deliberately or unintentionally in ways that can harm people or the planetary environment. So all scientists need to be aware of their responsibilities and of the economic, environmental, political, and social contexts in which they work.

Of course, it is a shared responsibility, not just for universities and chemical societies but also for families, communities, schools, the media, and all our institutions, to raise awareness of the issues and to debate them in public in an open and well-informed way. And, it is not just a matter for scientists, but for society at large and policy makers, to be well enough educated in science and well enough informed of the issues.

In a globalized world, the correct answer to the question “whose responsibility?” is: “everyone’s”.

How helpful do you consider activities like the International Year of Chemistry (IYC 2011) to get this message across?

IYC 2011 generated a great deal of energy and enthusiasm for communicating the sciences and their benefits. All too often, the only times that stories appear in the press are when there are disasters and failures – such as environmental pollution or major technology-related accidents – so it has been good to see very positive news about science and its achievements and the generation of worldwide interest in science projects such as the Global Water Experiment.
It’s not yet clear how much impact IYC 2011 will have in the long term – we need to sustain the effort beyond a single year if we are to see more young people doing science and a better understanding of science and technology issues by society at large.

Do you see the international chemical community moving closer together?

The international chemical community is moving closer together – like all scientists and like eveybody, elso, too. Greater collaboration is being facilitated by the ease of travel and the increasing power of information and telecommunications technologies, but more importantly it is being driven by the fact that the world faces many big problems that need global science efforts to solve them.

Is it an advantage?

It certainly is an advantage, in particular for activities involving developing countries.

What fascinates you most about chemistry, Professor Lehn?

Chemistry has creative power over matter. It deals with the basic question of the self-organization of matter, from the physical laws of matter to the evolution of thinking matter. How does it work? How did it happen? What lies beyond? A BIG question, the biggest …

Thank you very much for this interview!

Alain Krief studied chemistry at the University “Pierre et Marie Curie” in Paris where he completed his Ph.D. in 1970 under the supervision of the late Professor Jacqueline Ficini. He preformed postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Professor Elias J. Corey, Harvard University, Boston, USA, where he worked, together with Professor Hisashi Yamamoto, on sterol biosynthesis. In 1972, he joined the faculty at the “Facultés Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix” in Namur, Belgium, as Associate Professor in the new Laboratory of Organic Chemistry. He was promoted to Full Professor in 1975. He is also Executive Director of the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD) based at the University of Namur, Belgium.

Krief’s research focuses on the synthesis of pyrethroid derivatives and chrysanthemic acid in particular. More recently, this has expanded to include monoclonal antibodies and the synthesis of pyrethroid-derived haptens and the subsequent production of antibodies, used as biocatalysts, directed towards the right chrysanthemic acid stereoisomer. He is also known as a pioneer in the field of selenium chemistry through his work on β-hydroxyselenides or selenoxides, his use of selenides as precursors of organolithium derivatives by selenium-lithium exchange, and by applying selenium compounds to organic synthesis.

Jean-Marie Lehn
studied chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, France, and gained his Ph.D. there in 1963. He performed postdoctoral work with Professor Robert B. Woodward, Harvard University, Boston, USA, on the total synthesis of vitamin B12. In 1960, he became a member of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and in 1966 Maître de Conférences (Assistant Professor) at the University of Strasbourg. He was promoted to Professor of Chemistry at the University Louis Pasteur of Strasbourg, France, in 1970. In 1979, he took up the position of Professor at Collège de France, Paris, and in 1980 took over the chemistry laboratory of the Collège de France when Alain Horeau retired. Since then, he has divided his time between the two laboratories in Strasbourg and in Paris. He has been the IOCD President since 1995.

Lehn’s research focuses on supramolecular chemistry, including the synthesis of cryptands, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1987. More recently, he has been looking at molecular recognition of nucleic acid features by macrocycles containing intercaland groups, implementation of molecular recognition in lipid vesicles, and reversible photochemical reactions for introducing switching capability into molecular wires.

The International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD)
was established in 1981 under the auspices of UNESCO, as the first international non-governmental organization (NGO) devoted to enhancing the role of the chemical sciences in development work and involving chemists in low- and middle-income countries – enabling them to contribute to key science and technology areas for development.

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