First Impressions of South Africa

I am in Johannesburg, South Africa, with ACS President Nancy B. Jackson and Denise Creech, director of the ACS Membership & Scientific Advancement Division, attending the 40th meeting of the South African Chemical Institute (SACI), the oldest chemical society in Africa, and the third meeting of the Federation of African Chemical Societies (FACS), a group formed in 2006. Over the weekend prior to the SACI/FACS meeting, I spent two days in Cape Town. It is a beautiful city on the southwest coast of South Africa, 70 km north of the Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern most point on the African continent. I took a day-long tour of the cape peninsula, and at the risk of annoying readers who don’t seem to like me publishing photos from my travels—especially photos of interesting/cute animals, here are a few. There is a penguin colony that established itself some 30 years ago on the eastern side of the peninsula in the town of Simonstown. No one knows why the penguins decided to make the place home, but about 3,000 of them now reside there. They are very cute, 14”-tall birds that are utterly unconcerned about the presence of humans. Signs around town attempt to protect the penguins from the depredations of automobiles. The Cape of Good Hope is a spectacular, wild place where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Of course, people argue about whether that statement is true or not. No matter, this photo from the lighthouse on the slightly more southern Cape Point captures the beauty of the place. Today marked the opening of the SACI/FACS meeting, which is the first in a series of events planned by UNESCO and IUPAC to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) in 2011. The official kickoff event of IYC will be celebrated (naturally) by the French in Paris at the end of next week (Jan. 27-28). Thus, the meeting in Johannesburg is being billed as a “prelude” to the first official event. An aside: The Brits, who we all know never compete with the French, will host an IYC event next Monday, January 24, three days before the official event in Paris. Hey, it was the only day when there was a venue open in Parliament, RSC President David Phillips told the assembled chemists in Johannesburg during the opening ceremonies of the SACI/FACS meeting. Numerous dignitaries from chemical organizations are represented at the SACI/FACS meeting, and several spoke during today’s opening ceremonies. Temechegn Engida, president of FACS and one of the originators of the idea for IYC 2011, said that “2011 represents a new spirit of chemistry in Africa celebrated not through holidays but through hard work in applying chemistry to sustainable development in Africa.” Engida also used the occasion to announce that a number of individuals, including Jackson, had been made honorary members of FACS. Sir David King, director of the Smith School of Enterprise & the Environment at University of Oxford and director of research in physical chemistry at University of Cambridge, gave the first plenary lecture. During IYC, “celebration is in order,” King said, “but we also need to look at the challenges we face and the roles that chemistry and other sciences will have to play in addressing them. Those challenges stem from our successes in the 20th Century.” More on King’s talk tomorrow.

Jackson (left) working on a talk and Creech reading our favorite magazine at the ACS information booth at the SACI/FASC meeting.

Author: Rudy Baum

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