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Chemical Sciences in Development

About: History

Visionary founders
Two prominent chemists played key roles in establishing IOCD. One was the Nobel Laureate Glen T. Seaborg (19 April 1912 - 25 February 1999), one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century. Seaborg was responsible for the identification and production of plutonium and discovery of nine additional elements, as well as for a major revision of the Periodic Table through his development of the actinide concept. The 20th anniversary of his death falls in the year which is also the UN International Year of the Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). IOCD will be marking this triple, interconnected group of anniversaries linked to the Periodic Table with a number of publications and reflections on the contributions of Seaborg.
Seaborg worked industriously for international cooperation in science, seeing this a means of promoting peace and sustainable, equitable global development – and stressing the central role of chemistry. He participated in the founding constitutional meeting of IOCD in 1981 (see box below), where he was elected President of IOCD, and served in this role until 1992, when he was succeeded by another Nobel Laureate, Jean-Marie Lehn.
During his period of office, Seaborg was a staunch supporter of IOCD, promoting its mission in talks and articles. In an article in 1985, he wrote that “we scientists fortunate enough to work in developing countries, with comparatively rich resources in education, facilities and funds, have a special obligation to share these resources and our energies with scientists in less developed countries and work together to seek solutions to the world's most pressing problems. Among these, problems are many areas (for example, improved control of disease and increased food production) whose solutions may well be reached through the field of chemistry”.
The foundation of IOCD was the direct result of efforts over many years by the chemist Pierre Crabbé, well known for numerous chemistry contributions relating to steroids and prostaglandins and applications of optical rotatory dispersion and circular dichroism in organic chemistry. An account of his role is presented in the box below.


  1. G. T. Seaborg, Chemistry in the Third World. The Chemist (Am Inst of Chemists) 1985, 62, 21. Reprinted in G.T. Seaborg, A Scientist Speaks Out: A Personal Perspective on Science, Society and Change. World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., Singapore: 1996, 387-388.
IOCD's founder was Pierre Crabbé, a Belgian chemist with a distinguished career in research and a strong commitment to pursuing science for the benefit of people everywhere.
Crabbé had worked in the newly developing steroid industry in Mexico in the 1960s and also undertook research and teaching at the university in Mexico City. In the early 1970s, Crabbé returned to Europe and, while working as an academic at the University of Grenoble, he also served as a chemistry consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNESCO. His experiences in Mexico and elsewhere opened Crabbé's eyes to the many barriers that hinder the efforts by scientists in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to carry on research and to contribute to national development: low levels of funding for science, inadequate laboratory equipment, a lack of up-to-date books and journals, long periods of isolation from mainstream scientific activities, etc.
His experiences convinced Crabbé that chemistry had much to offer in helping scientists to improve the health, nutrition and environment of people — especially those living in poor conditions. Crabbé's deep ethical concern for the plight of people everywhere and his vision for a better world , were captured in a book which he wrote with Léon Cardyn in French in 1981, 2 years later re-published in English under the title “The Time for Another World”. Not only a visionary, Pierre built on his experiences of organizing successful international science programmes in which the skills of chemists in LMICs were engaged to synthesise compounds for pharmaceutical evaluation . Crabbé designed IOCD to stimulate capacity building in LMICs and enable chemists in these countries to contribute to key science and technology areas for development .
The greatest shame of our time is still to accept that every day tens of thousands, perhaps one hundred thousand people continue to die of hunger.
Pierre Crabbé, Léon Cardyn, The Time for Another World
University Printing Services, Columbia, Missouri, USA, 1983

IOCD was launched in Paris in 1981 as the first international non-governmental organization specifically devoted to enhancing the role of the chemical sciences in the development process and involving chemists in LMICs. Crabbé worked hard to convince others to join him and in 1981 a group of distinguished scientists from 15 countries meet with him at UNESCO, Paris, to consider giving sustained support to the research of chemists in LMICs. The result was the birth of IOCD — created by UNESCO and chartered two years later in Belgium. The founding group elected officers: as President, Glenn Seaborg, a Nobel Laureate chemist from Berkeley, California, USA; as Vice President and Treasurer, Elkan Blout, Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, USA; also as Vice Presidents, C.N.R. Rao, Head of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, and Sune Bergström, Nobel Laureate chemist from Sweden. The founders also set up two initial scientific Working Groups, one on development of compounds for male fertility regulation, and one on development of agents to treat tropical diseases. These groups enabled chemists in LMICs and high-income countries to collaborate in research and to network through IOCD-sponsored site visits and conferences.

In this 1986 photo taken in Berkeley, California, several founding members of IOCD can be seen. From left to right: Carlos Rius, IOCD's first secretary; Pierre Crabbé, IOCD founder; Elkan Blout, IOCD's first treasurer and one of three founding vice presidents; Carl Djerassi, one of the inspirations behind IOCD; Sune Bergström, a founding IOCD vice president; Sidney Archer; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Thomas Goodwin of Hendrix College, Arkansas, Glenn Seaborg, IOCD's first president and associate director of the Berkeley Lab; C.N.R. Rao, a founding IOCD vice president; and Joseph Fried, of the University of Chicago.
To provide support and capacity building for scientists working in settings with limited resources, IOCD began a programme in the 1980s to provide analytical services for chemists in LMICs. This was initially a North-South network, with chemists in the Mexico, the UK and USA receiving samples from chemists in a range of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and providing, free of charge, infrared, ultraviolet, NMR and mass spectra and, at the invitation of the submitting group, giving assistance with the interpretation of spectra and the elucidation of structures of synthetic and natural products.
Tragically, Pierre Crabbé was killed in a car accident in 1987. IOCD perpetuated his memory, most importantly, by sustaining the organization he founded, but also, on the 20th anniversary of IOCD's founding, giving the Pierre Crabbé Award to three distinguished chemists working in Africa.
IOCD's officers lost no time in finding a new Executive Director to take forward the organization — Robert Maybury, a retired chemist from UNESCO then working at the World Bank in Washington, DC. The following paragraphs outline highlights of IOCD's activities with Maybury as Executive Director (1987 to 2010). A more complete history of IOCD's activities appears in the pages of IOCD's different working groups.
Within two years, Maybury organized two additional working groups, one on plant chemistry and one on environmental analytical chemistry, convincing outstanding chemists to accept leadership of these new groups. In 1992, IOCD supported the launch of a new activity, the Network for Analytical and Bioassay Services in Africa (NABSA), based at the University of Botswana. NABSA promotes the development of scientific activities in Africa by offering analytical, bioassay and literature support services to chemists; cooperates with active scientists in a joint short-term intensive-research undertaking by inviting them to the reasonably well equipped laboratory in Botswana; and promotes the professional development of young scientists by arranging sub-regional symposia. From 2005, NABSA's focus shifted into research cooperation with research groups in selected countries and institutions, particularly in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, in order to help build and strengthen capacities and increase the overall impact of the collaboration.
Again in 1992, the US National Academy of Sciences invited IOCD to cooperate with Professor Thomas Eisner of Cornell University in setting up a global body that could promote expansion of bioprospecting in LMICs. IOCD accepted this challenge and organized the Biotic Exploration Fund (a name proposed by Professor Eisner) as an IOCD working group.
In 1996, IOCD scientists, working through the Biotic Exploration Fund, responded to the request of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research of South Africa for assistance in setting up a national bioprospecting programme in South Africa. In 1998, working as the Biotic Exploration Fund, IOCD scientists cooperated with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya, to establish that country's bioprospecting programme. In 1997, these scientists worked with Nepal and in 2000 with Guatemala, but the efforts did not prove successful. In 2005, the efforts by IOCD scientists working as the Biotic Exploration Fund did succeed in enabling the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology to establish a plan for that country's bioprospecting programme.
In 2004, IOCD established the Books for International Development project to help organize the transfer of large quantities of journals and technical materials to developing countries. IOCD has also promoted the use of micro-scale chemistry, helping support an international programme that provides low-cost, small-scale equipment to enable students to gain hands-on practical skills in experimental chemistry even in very resource-poor settings.
With the retirement of Robert Maybury in 2010, the distinguished Belgian chemist Alain Krief took up the role of Executive Director. IOCD celebrated its 30th anniversary the following year, taking the opportunity to reflect on its achievements and to consider new directions and opportunities.
In its first 30 years of operation, the overall impact of IOCD included:
  • helping highlight the importance of the chemical sciences as major contributors to development;
  • raising the profile of the field and its practitioners;
  • initiating, promoting or helping sustain a number of technical, managerial, policy and collaborative projects or networks that have advanced the chemical sciences in LMICs; and
  • contributing to vital resources for teaching, learning and research.


  1. P. Crabbé, L. Cardyn. The time for another world, University Printing Services, Columbia Missouri. 1983, 70pp.
  2. P. Crabbé. A new challenge for the university, Interciencia, 1983, 8, 279.
  3. P. Crabbé, E. Diczfalusy, C. Djerassi. Injectable contraceptive synthesis: an example of international cooperation, Science. 1980, 209, 992-994.
  4. P. Crabbé, S. Archer, G. Benagiano, E. Diczfalusy, C. Djerassi, J. Fried, T. Higuchi. Long-acting contraceptive agents: design of the WHO Chemical Synthesis Programme, Steroids, 1983, 41, 243-253.
  5. D.A. O'Sullivan. Group to use chemistry to solve developing countries' ills, Chem. And Eng. News, 1983, 21-24.
  6. G.T. Seaborg. An international effort in chemical science, Science, 1984, 223, 9
  7. J.-M. Lehn, E. R. Blout, R. H. Maybury.IOCD: 20 Years of Building Capacity in Chemistry in Developing Countries. Chemistry International 2002, 24(3).
  8. S. A. Matlin. Pierre Crabbé Memorial Oration. Delivered during the opening of the First Asian and Oceanic Congress of Andrology, 9-12 November 1992, Nanjing, China. IOCD 1992, 5pp. International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development, Namur, 2011.
For further details about the history of IOCD see:
  1. Article published in Chemistry International — click here.
  2. The Pierre Crabbé Memorial Oration — download here.
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