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Education and Engagement: Key Elements to Achieve a World Free of Chemical Weapons


Alejandra G. Suárez, Universidad Nacional de Rosario. Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas. Argentina

05/09/16 to 05/13/16

Education and outreach are long term strategic tools for the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) that actively promote the peaceful use of chemistry. Thousands of new chemicals are reported every day; which can render enormous benefits for the common good. However, as with any science, there is always the possibility that chemistry may be misused as it has been done in the past. This work will refer to preliminary initiatives undertaken to address awareness-raising about the multiple uses of chemical substances and the potential dual -use of scientific knowledge which are being implemented in different levels of chemistry education and public outreach programs. The OPCW has placed a priority on education and engagement with the development of tools and materials relevant to the Convention; we will describe these tools and the regional and national meetings that were organized to highlight the incorporation of the CWC´s issues into the chemical curricula in South America. The paper will give special consideration to The Hague Ethical Guidelines, another initiative to support a culture of responsibility in the chemical sciences and to guard against the misuse of chemistry.  These guidelines were recently formulated by an international group of chemistry practitioners and serve as a set of elements to engage scientists in the ethical dimensions of their work. Education and outreach to future generations to promote the peaceful uses of chemistry is an essential part of achieving the goal of a world free of chemical weapons.






Alejandra G. Suárez

Facultad de Ciencias Bioquímicas y Farmacéuticas - Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Instituto de Química Rosario - CONICET, Suipacha 531, Rosario, S2002LRK, Argentina,


Chemistry, the discovers of chemistry, and chemical products are vital and beneficial to daily life. Chemicals, both natural and synthetic, are all around us. They are also within us, part of the fundamental structures of living systems. Chemicals can be designed to serve specific purposes, such as in medicine or in a wide array of industrial applications.

In most cases, chemistry is used to improve the quality of life for humans; however, although chemicals supply with a vast array of benefits, they also present the potential for misuse. Important industrial chemicals can be used to create chemical warfare agents, some of the world's most terrible weapons. Despite the screening of thousands of chemicals only few of them satisfied the appropriate physical, chemical and toxicological properties to enable their use as chemical warfare agents.  These types of chemicals have been created with the purpose to kill or injure humans, which have been used through history in several regional wars and conflicts.

During World War I, took place the first large scale attack with chemical weapons1 at Ieper, Belgium, on 22 April 1915. Since this event an extensive activity was carried out to develop chemical weapons as well as defense countermeasures.

Throughout history there were several international attempts to codify the ban on chemical weapons, but those agreements did not prevent their use and their production. Finally, in 1993 the countries of the world formulated the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC),2 the first disarmament treaty to include a time frame for the elimination of an entire class of weapons of mass destruction, but it is also the first multilateral arms control treaty to incorporate an extensive verification regime.

The full name is Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons, and on Their Destruction. In 1997 it came into force after 65 nations had ratified it in1996, and subsequently that number has risen to 192 States Parties nowadays, representing about 98% of the global population, as well as 98% of the worldwide chemical industry.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)3 is the implementing body of the CWC, with the mission to destroy all existing chemical weapons under international verification by the OPCW; to prevent their re-emergence in any member State; to provide protection and assistance to the States Parties against chemical threats; to encourage international cooperation to strengthen implementation of the Convention and promote the peaceful uses of chemistry.

The OPCW Headquarters is located in The Hague, Netherlands. In 2013, in recognition of its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons, the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.4  While the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons was the most visible demonstration of these efforts; the real success has been the verified destruction of over 90 percent of the world's declared chemical weapons.5   

Everyone engaged in the use of chemicals and chemical technology should understand the intend of the CWC – to recognize what aspects of chemicals it prohibits and to appreciate the much broader applications of chemistry that it not only allows but encourages. Chemicals per se are not good or bad but even chemicals and technologies intended for the best of purposes could be misused.


Education and outreach at the OPCW

Education and outreach are strategic tools for the implementation of the CWC and the peaceful use of chemistry. They are also considered key elements in preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons as well as serve a number of specific purposes including, inter alia:

a. Raising awareness of the Convention among the broad community of relevant professionals who should be aware of the Convention, including students, educators, the global scientific community and the chemical industry;

b. Stressing the potential risks posed by the multiple uses of chemicals;

c. Contributing to national implementation of the Convention;

d. Contributing to the prevention of the misuse of toxic chemicals;

e. Facilitating chemical safety and chemical security;

f. Building skills and capabilities in areas relating to the peaceful uses of chemistry; and

g. Educating future generations of the societal benefits of upholding a world free of chemical weapons and the need to prevent their re-emergence.

The Scientific Advisory Board (SAB),6  a subsidiary body of the OPCW, at its Seventeenth SAB meeting in November 2011 recommended the establishment of a Temporary Working Group (TWG) on Education and Outreach on Science and Technology Relevant to the Convention.7 The Director-General endorsed this recommendation and established the TWG8 that met from 2012 to 2014. Based on the findings and activities carried out by the group during this period, the TWG produced a final report,9 that contains seven main recommendations regarding the sustainability of OPCW education and outreach efforts. Among them, it can be mentioned:

- “Education and outreach with respect to the responsible use of science, particularly as it is relevant to the Chemical Weapons Convention, should remain a core activity of the OPCW, so as to achieve and maintain a world free of chemical weapons”.

- “An ongoing expert advisory group on education and outreach with respect to the responsible use of science, particularly as it is relevant to the CWC, should be established to help OPCW fulfill its mandate for education and outreach”

Recently, the Conference of States Parties10 in the twentieth session adopted a decision on the establishment of an Advisory Board on Education and Outreach (ABEO).11 This ABEO is expected to commence its work early in 2016.

Education and outreach has become a core activity of the OPCW, supported by its Member States. Whereas education and outreach was earlier seen in the limited sense of raising awareness among particular groups of society about the provisions of the CWC, today it is seen in a much broader and more substantive sense as an important element of national implementation and as a foundation for preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons.

To facilitate awareness raising about chemical disarmament and chemical safety and security issues the OPCW engages in social media and makes a number of publications intended to be accessible to broader audiences:

Fact Sheets that cover historical, procedural, and some technical aspects of the work of the OPCW,12  

OPCW Today is an in-house periodical with articles contributed by OPCW staff and outside experts,13

OPCW Science and Technology Monitor, a science focused newsletter.14 



The OPCW website also hosts other links to resources for students and teachers interested in topics relevant to the CWC,15 which includes:

E-learning modules about the OPCW and online training tools for those involved in CWC related activities;16  

• Materials from the conference “Education for Peace: New Pathways for Securing Chemical Disarmament” held from 22-23 September 2014 at the OPCW Headquarters that brought together stakeholders to discuss best practices for raising awareness on disarmament and non-proliferation issues in educational institutions;17 

“Fires” project,18 a series of short films exploring personnel stories with chemical weapons related dimensions. Fires stories include the ethical dilemma raised by the use of one’s chemistry training to produce weapons (e.g. Fritz Haber)19 and the story of a man who as a child survived a 1988 mustard agent attack in Halabja.18

“Chemistry in Conflict” is an educational module for high school students, designed to introduce students to chemical weapons, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ethics in science.20 



The OPCW supports projects by science educators, a recent example being the IUPAC “Multiple Uses of Chemicals” project, to develop an interactive online tool that explores the beneficial uses, misuses, and abuses of multi-use chemicals, both historically and presently; the website is designed to be informative for students, educators and policymakers.21

Link to Multiple Uses of Chemicals Website


Education and outreach in Argentina

Chemists have limited or no exposure to the ethical norms and to the aims of the CWC during their careers. On the other hand, the new developments in science and technology that are paving the way for a multitude of opportunities beneficial to humankind could also open the door to unforeseen challenges and abuses. The scientific literature and technical information is accessible nowadays, which can be searched quickly and thoroughly with adequate computer facilities.22 With the availability of the procedures and some starting materials it makes evident that awareness-raising about the multiple uses of chemical substances and the dual use nature of scientific knowledge is an urgent need, in particular in the field of chemical education. 

This scenario motivated different debates in the academic and scientific community in our Institution, Facultad de Ciencias Bioquímicas y Farmacéuticas - Universidad Nacional de Rosario. It was arrived to the general consensus that chemistry educators have a duty to prevent the misuse of chemistry and the need to educate people about chemical safety, waste disposal, and the responsible use of chemistry. This approach represented a new challenged for educators, scientists and decision makers. During the debates, one of the main question that rose was:

 How to address awareness raising about the multiple uses of chemicals and the CWC in higher education?

Some professors were not aware about the need to introduce these subjects into the chemical curricula and for the ones who considered it important, it was not evident for them how these concepts can be introduced. On the other hand, there was a generalized idea that it will implied to create new subjects in the already crowded curricula. A general consensus was that awareness raising about the multiple uses of chemicals and the potential dual use of the scientific knowledge need a multidisciplinary approach, chemist, pedagogist, specialist in e-learning and ethics, among others. The new objective was focused on the consideration of issues of ethics, responsibility and the CWC in the chemistry curriculum at all levels of education. After a deep debate and taking advantage of the design a new curricula for the Degree in Chemistry in our Institution, it was decided to include these topics in curricular activities, elective courses and complementary activities.

Among the curricular activities, the seminars for undergraduate students of the first and second years of the career, which usually approach different topics related to the student future professional activities, were reformulated to stress the achievements of chemistry and its contribution to the humankind, examples of the misuse of chemistry (waste disposal, chemical accidents, and chemical weapons), the history of chemical weapons, the objectives of the CWC and the achievements of the OPCW. Second year, exercises of certain topics includes case studies regarding problems arise from inappropriate waste disposal. Other subjects along the careers includes “Epistemology and Methodology of Research” in which it is discussed the responsible use of the scientific knowledge; “Legislation, Hygiene and Safety”, topics of this subject consider particular aspects of the CWC. Among the elective courses, related to the responsible sciences it can be mentioned “Green Chemistry”, “Bioethics” and “Education for sustainability”.

The students are also invited to participate in all complementary activities that were developed. The first of them was a pilot workshop entitled “Chemistry for Peace: ethics and professional responsibility in education” was held in Rosario, Argentina, on 27 and 28 June 2013.23

Members of the TWG on E&O and former SAB members that participated in the workshop

The participants were academics, scientists, and representatives of professional and scientific associations, from all over the country. The objectives of the workshop were to provide an opportunity to exchange experiences, and to develop proposals for chemical education related the prevention of the misuse of toxic chemicals; facilitate chemical safety and chemical security; build skills and capabilities in areas related to the peaceful uses of chemistry; raise awareness of the CWC among the broad community of relevant professionals who should be aware of it; and build networks in chemical education.


The workshop included two round tables: one on institutional policies, and one on strategies in chemical education. The round table panels were made up of representatives of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the National Research Council, Professional and Scientific Associations, and the Forum of Deans from Schools related to chemistry.

The topics of general discussion were:

• How can undergraduate and postgraduate education programs address the ethical and practical aspects of preventing the misuse of chemistry?

• How can we encourage universities to reflect the issues of the CWC in their curricula?

• What information should be provided?

• Strategies for the implementation

• Teaching material for professors

The main conclusion from the workshop was a complete general consensus on the urgent need to address the subject of professional ethics and responsibility at different levels during the careers of the future professionals. The OPCW has contributed to the participation of international experts who belonged to the OPWC´s TWG on Education and Outreach. The workshop had an important recognition and the results were reflected by radio interviews and articles in newspapers to the general public. This workshop was the first activity in Argentina regarding E&O relevant to the CWC, which was a catalyst to generate different educational programs that are supported nowadays by the National Authority and the Ministry of Education, as well as additional initiatives in other universities of the Argentina.24 


Participants of the event

Another activity that was organized devoted to teachers and professors in chemistry as well as graduates and undergraduates students from our institution was the workshop “The challenge to educate in Chemistry” (November, 2014).25  Thanks to the support of the OPCW, it was possible to have the participation of Mr. Chretien Schouteten, a retired chemistry teacher from the Netherland who spent most of his career being concerned about chemists´ responsibilities towards society.26 Among the different activities develop during the workshop, undergraduate students interpreted an extract from "The Chemist" a moving play wrote by Mr. Schouteten about the tragic life of Fritz Haber and his family. This activity was used as starting point for a general debate among the participants to create awareness about the potential misuse of chemistry and challenging them to imagine what they would do if their knowledge were demanded not for noble causes, but for evil purposes.

The 22 of April 2015 was the centenary of the first massive use of chemical weapons,27 which was a paramount opportunity to promote the objectives of the CWC and the achievements of the OPCW as well as the responsible use of chemical substances and the scientific knowledge among chemistry educators and students. For this reason, it was organized the event “The commemoration of the Centenary of the First Massive Use of Chemical Weapons” (April, 2015), focused to raise awareness about the OPCW and its activities, but also to promote responsible science. There were different presentations about the history of chemical weapons, the purpose of the CWC and description of the main achievements of the OPCW.

“The Chemistry Week” is activity carried out annually devoted to teachers and high school students.28 It’s a great opportunity for youth to get connected with the wonders of chemistry and to appreciate the positive aspects of chemistry through hands-on experiments, games, demonstrations, lectures, exhibitions and more. Teachers are encouraged to explore with their students the impacts of the chemistry involved in everyday life. Taking advantage of this event we introduce topics of the responsible use of chemical substances and the scientific knowledge by the conference “Chemistry for Peace”.

Although our Institution was able to make good progress in our objective towards including relevant educational issues related to the CWC in the chemical curricula, some aspects are still being implemented, and the project is constantly under review. We are devoted to the design of tools to measure the impacts of the new curricula in order to make the necessary modifications to achieve our objectives.29 

In April 2014 took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the First Regional Meeting on Education in the Responsible Application of Knowledge of Dual-Use Chemicals for the Latin America and the Caribbean region. The OPCW Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, delivered an opening statement to the regional meeting, in which he mentioned that education and outreach are opening “a new front” in the OPCW’s efforts to guard against chemical weapons, a front that “must bring together a well-integrated community of scientists and researchers working proactively for chemistry that benefits, and never harms, humankind”.30 This workshop was a result of the need to disseminate the topics and issues contained in the Convention among professionals of the chemical, industrial, academic area, and society in general.31




The Hague Ethical Guidelines

Awareness of the CWC could be placed in a broader educational context of ethical concerns in chemistry. As a way of promoting a culture of responsible conduct in the chemical sciences and to guard against the misuse of chemistry, the OPCW facilitated two workshops involving a group of more than 30 scientists and chemistry professionals from over 20 countries, including all regional groups. The objective of these events was to discuss and draft possible ethical guidelines for the practice of chemistry under the norms of the Convention. The workshops took place at OPCW Headquarters in The Hague.

The first workshop on Ethical Guidelines for the Practice of Chemistry under the Norms of the CWC was held from 10-11 March 2015,32 included eighteen participants representing academia, industry and chemical societies. Key elements of CWC relevant ethical guidelines, principles and best practices for drafting guidelines, and synergy with other current initiatives were discussed. A report from this workshop is available on the OPCW public website.32

The second workshop took place the 17-18 September 2015,33 with the attendance of thirty-three participants, chemistry practitioners from all regional groups, including fifteen of the original eighteen participants of the first workshop. The workshop arrived at a consensus text, The Hague Ethical Guidelines, which was endorsed by participants from both workshops held in March and September, is posted on the OPCW public website.34  

The Hague Ethical Guidelines is intended to serve as elements for ethical codes and discussion points for ethical issues related to the practice of chemistry under the Convention. The core element of the guidelines, which draw on many existing elements, is based on the premise that "achievements in the field of chemistry should be used to benefit humankind and the environment". The guidelines provide a useful framework for debating the vital dimension of ethics in relation to chemical disarmament and non-proliferation.

The workshop participants deeply discuss the best way to promote and disseminate The Hague Ethical Guidelines, and recommended that the document could be usefully shared with all National Authorities of the CWC, education ministries in CWC States Parties, government agencies and ministries responsible for the practice of chemistry, scientific societies and professional associations, among other relevant stakeholders. It is expected that the new Advisory Board on Education and Outreach of the OPCW will contribute to this efforts.


Workshop participants and observers, 17-18 September 2015


Final Comments

Education and outreach efforts should be tailored to different types of audiences (such as: age, profession, educational background, country and region). The educational programmes should be addressed to primary and high school students and teachers, university undergraduate and graduate students and faculty, professionals, trainers, scientists, journalists, lawmakers, and diplomats. The important role of partnerships between national and international scientific organizations, national academies of sciences, and other international organizations should allow increasing cooperation to maximize efficiencies and avoid duplication of efforts. The challenge is to cover holistically all disarmament and non-proliferation issues including chemical-, biological-, and nuclear-focused organizations.

Only with a focus on the long-term of education and outreach to future generations we will come closer to the goal of a world free of chemical weapons and make chemistry always be at the service of humankind.



  1. “What is a Chemical Weapon?”
  2. a) “The Chemical Weapons Convention: A Synopsis of the Text”. Full text available at: b) “Origins of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the OPCW”.
  1. “The Structure of the OPCW”.
  3. To be informed about the updates statistics of the OPCW visit:
  4. The Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) is formed by 25 members from different States Parties, that renders specialised advice to the Director General in the areas of science and technology relevant to the Convention. SAB members serve in their individual capacity as independent experts. This board meets once or twice a year at the headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague. The SAB reports are publically available on the SAB website at: More information about the SAB: a) Suárez, A. G. The Scientific Advisory Board. OPCW Today, 2014, 3, 6-7. b) “Scientific Advisory Board”.
  5. Subparagraph 16.6 of SAB-17/1, dated 23 November 2011, available at push&docID=15239.
  6. Temporary Working Group on Education and Outreach in Science and Technology Relevant to the Convention. The TWG was chaired by Professor Djafer Benachour and comprised 14 international individuals with expertise in: education and outreach in science and technology, perspectives from chemical industry, representatives from relevant international organizations, professional associations and scientific unions.
  7. Education and Engagement: Promoting a Culture of Responsible Chemistry; Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, November 2014, and references cited therein. Full document available at:
  8. The Conference of the States Parties is the plenary organ consisting of all members of the OPCW. It is the principal organ of the Organisation, and has the general power to oversee the implementation of the Convention, and to act in order to promote the object and purpose of the Convention. More information can be found at:
  9. (C-20/DEC.9, dated 3 December 2015).23.1
  10. Fact sheets. Available at:
  11. OPCW Today. Available at:
  12. OPCW Science and Technology Monitor. Available at:
  13. See
  14. OPCW e-learning tools can be found at:
  16. Fires project.
  17. Fires: A Teachers Mission;
  18. Chemistry in Conflict. Juurlink, L. Chemistry in conflict: Spreading the word to high school students. OPCW Today, 2013, 2, 25-26.
  19. Multiple Uses of Chemicals. See also: a) Mahaffy, P.; Zondervan, J.; Hay, A.; Feakes, D.; Forman, J. Chemistry International. September –October 2014, 9-13. b) Hay, A.; Mahaffy, P. Multiple Uses of Chemicals: Choices for Chemists and the Public. OPCW Today, 2013, 2, 23-24.
  20. Sydnes, L. K. Update the Chemical Weapons Convention. Nature, 2013, 496, 25-26.
  21. Suárez, A. G.; Spanevello, R. A. Projects in Education and Outreach Relevant to the CWC: A Pilot Activity in Argentina. OPCW Today, 2013, 2, 27-28.
  22. a) More information about the National Project in Education at: b) National Authority: Each State Party of the OPCW is obliged to designate or establish a representative called National Authority to ensure that the Convention is implemented effectively. More information at:
  23. More information at:
  24. Schouteten, C. Chemistry and Ethics in Secondary Education: 25 years of experience with classroom teaching on chemical weapons. OPCW Today, 2013, 2, 33-35.
  25. Everts, S. When Chemicals Became Weapons of War. Chemical and Engineering News. 2015, 93 (8), 8-21.
  26. Press release: a);


  1. Research projects: a) “Química en contexto: estrategias para el mejoramiento de su enseñanza en el marco de la responsabilidad social” (Ref. 2010-148-14). Secretaría de Estado de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación de la Provincia de Santa Fe, Argentina. b) “Responsabilidad social en la formación en química para la promoción del desarrollo sustentable” (Ref. 1BIO505). Universidad Nacional de Rosario. Argentina.
  2. More information at:
  4. Report of the First Workshop on Ethical Guidelines for the Practice of Chemistry under the Norms of the CWC.  
  5. Report of the Second Workshop on Ethical Guidelines for the Practice of Chemistry under the Norms of the CWC.

  1. The complete text of “The Hague Ethical Guidelines”, preamble, key elements and endorsement, in the official languages of the OPCW can be found at:




Bob Belford's picture

Hi Alejandra,

First, let me say what an amazing paper you have written, in fact, it seems like you have written two papers, the first dealing with OPCW education programs, and the second with programs in Argentina.  I honestly must say that I am very impressed with what you have been doing at your school, and in Argentina.  Frankly, I do not believe most schools consider ethics to be part of the science curriculum and I suspect you are facing many of the same challenges the green chemistry movement in the US has faced.

Are you familiar with the GEMs (Greener Education Materials for Chemists) data base/site Julie Haack at the University of Oregon runs?

The GEMs site allows people to contribute a wide variety of instructional material related to Green Chemistry, while also giving people an opportunity of performing refined searches, and discuss their experiences with the material.  Is anything like GEMS being developed with regard to OPCW education outreach?

I also have a rather simple question that you may not be able to answer, but the high-school level “Conflict in Chemistry” material is being revised and has been take off the OPCW website, do you, or anyone else on the list know when it will be reposted?

Alejandra Suárez's picture

Dear Bob

Thank you very much for your kind comments.

I am familiar with Greener Education Materials for Chemists you mentioned, as we considered this data base site to prepare the elective subject we teach at University “Introduction to Green Chemistry”. Through this subject we also find a great opportunity to consider with our students the concept of responsibility in chemistry and responsible science.

The material for education and outreach related to the CWC and the OPCW can be found at the official web page of the organization. I am not aware if something like GEMS is being developed. I guess that Joseph Ballard, one of the authors of the previous paper, can give us information regarding this matter as he is taking care of issues of education at the OPCW. I guess that he can also give more details about the status of “Chemistry in Conflict”, which I found very useful material for high school education.

Thanks you for providing us with a very interesting and useful paper.

I think there are different challenges for introducing the issues relating to chemical weapons, depending on whether these issues are presented in a chemistry class or a class in other non-science disciplines. The students in classes taught by participants in this conference will have the necessary science background to understand the material available about chemical weapons. The challenge for these instructors is to find the class time in an already packed schedule to present the issues relating chemical weapons. For students and instructors outside the science realm, the challenge is more likely to be a lack of understanding of basic science. I'm more interested in what the OPCW might have done to help instructors and students in the second category.

I team-teach a class with a biologist and a physicist called Science and Technology for Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. The goals of this course are (1) to teach enough basic science to allow the students to understand the issues relating to chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, (2) describe these weapons, and (3) explore the issues relating to them. MIIS is a graduate school, so my students all have an undergraduate degrees, but most of these degrees are in non-science areas. It's a real challenge to figure out how to introduce the basic science in a minimum amount of time that allows enough time to explore chemical weapons in some detail. Has the OPCW made an attempt to develop a primer that introduces the non-science major to the fundamental scientific concepts and tools necessary to understand the issues relating to chemical weapons? I'm thinking of some sort of a brief introduction to atomic theory, chemical bonding, molecular structure, the symbolic ways chemists describe molecules (e.g. Lewis structures, ball-and-stick models, space-filling models, line drawings), chemical changes, and chemical equations. 

Thanks again

Mark Bishop

Alejandra Suárez's picture

Dear Mark

As far as I know all materials developed for education and outreach relevant to the CWC are at the web site of the OPCW.

Regarding your concerns about the need of material for education devoted to students and instructors outside the science realm, I think that is a good issue to consider by the new Advisory Board on Education and Outreach from the OPCW recently created.

I am really interested in your valuable teaching experience. I hope to have an opportunity to learn more about it.

From my perspective, education and outreach material  relevant to the CWC and other international treaties is very important. I hope that some of the international organization related to weapons of mass destruction can organized an event regarding education so as to share experiences and lessons learned. It would be very useful.

Hi Mark and Alejandra,

While we have not put together a formal primer on chemistry (and other sciences relevant to our work), we have been using our “Science for Diplomats” initiative to provide introductory science lessons/concepts related to specific topics of interest to non-technical decision makers; the initiative began as a way to help explain the technical dimensions of Scientific Advisory Board recommendations.  More information can be found here

Looking across the science for diplomats materials, materials available for in-house training and presentations produced by some of our staff members, we certainly have enough information to compile and edit appropriately to produce a primer like you suggest.  I can see a possible intern project in the making.

Hi Jonathan, 

Although I have not yet looked at all of the presentations for the OPCW Science for Diplomats course, what I have seen has been very interesting. I especially appreciated the information about CW as unintended products or intermediates in industrial processes, the brief description of the pre-treatment for nerve agent exposure, and the new possible treatments for nerve agent exposure. 

I noticed that your name was mentioned at the beginning of the presentation for the first PDF on the page. Have you been the instructor for the Science for Diplomats course? If so, what sort of response have you gotten from the crowd when you present a slide that contains line drawings, ball-and-stick models, and space-filling models. For example, the fourth slide in the presentation contains symbolic representions that blend line drawings with some indications of geometry. Do the members of the crowd know what they describe? Does it matter whether they do or not? Is it assumed that the attendees already know about these things? Do you try to briefly explain them? 



Hi Mark,

Thanks for looking at some of the science for diplomats materials, it is a fun project (and has been quite helpful for improving our science communication with policy makers, from every session we learn more about how to best relate the scientific concepts to issues that concern the policy makers through the Q&A).

It’s not really a course, more a series of briefings designed to focus on a specific topic that has been gaining visibility to the policy makers (often through Scientific Advisory Board Reports).  The format is to bring in guest speakers and I facilitate and give a short introductory presentation.  As the topics change from session to session and often cover multiple scientific areas (“convergence” of the sciences as I often hear it called), we’ve taken the approach to explain fundamental science concepts required to appreciate the presentation as they are needed, rather than expect the audience to already be up to speed or to have been taught it at an earlier event.  Feedback has been positive (and I’ve learned that is easier to convey scientific concepts and why they are important to the issues at hand to the diplomats, than it is to try and explain diplomacy and all its nuances to scientists!).

In the introductory session in 2014 (which took place during the world cup), I did explain a few fundamental chemistry concepts and used an infographic of the chemistry of a soccer ball to explain that many other international organizations have a need for chemistry in decision making too!  The OPCW Lab provided some nice explanations of chemical analysis methods for non-scientists (and showed 3D movies of enzymes to explain how nerve agents and their countermeasures work) in the sessions they helped with as well.  The presentations from 2014-2015 have been compiled in the pdf you mentioned

In addition to the science for diplomats, I give several presentations every year outlining some basic scientific concepts and science and technology issues that come up at workshops held in The Hague for CWC National Authorities, at a yearly workshop where we welcome new diplomats at OPCW and occasionally for OPCW staff members.  Some of these presentations are available on the science for diplomats page of the OPCW website as well.  In general, the presentations are designed to be descriptive and highlight concepts rather than dive  deeply into the nuts and bolts of a more traditional science lesson, this has been helpful in getting some of the non-technical people to engage in discussion on the topics.

Hi Jonathan, 

Thanks for the detailed response. I noticed at the beginning of the science for diplomats materials that, "Graphics and materials contained within this document may be freely used elsewhere provided that the material is reproduced verbatim and acnowledgement of its source is made." Is it possible to get the PowerPoint files for your presentations? It would be great to be able to use some of the graphics and photographs in my own presentations for my MIIS class. 

Many thanks

Mark Bishop 


Hi Mark,

As only the pdf files are hosted online, best to contact me directly

Hi Jonathan, 

I made an attempt to figure out how to contact you directly and failed. My email address is (My apologies for bothering the rest of you with this personal message.)



Thanks for this comment.  As a non-scientist myself and an OPCW staff member, I'm really aware of the need to ensure that basic understanding of the science behind CW underpins all of the discussions here.  You've pinpointed an area that we could be doing better in our broader outreach.  As Jonathan noted, he and his team have developed a really interesting series to help inform the national delegates to the OPCW about these issues, but we haven't really got a more publicly available and consolidated primer.  With the help of our new Advisory Board on Education and Outreach, we're going to look to develop our offering in this area, including through a planned revamp of our website.  Your suggestion will be really useful in that respect.

thanks again

Joe Ballard

Thanks Bob - The link to the Chemistry in Conflict module was removed from the OPCW pending a revision, as you note - I don't have a timeline on getting it back up again but we'll try to get it back up as soon as possible!  It's a great resource that many have already benefited from.


Hi Alejandra,

Thank you for this nice contribution.  It is great to see so many educational resources being developed and made available.  I have two somewhat related questions.


First I wonder what recources are being developed for the less scientificaly literate audience.  I not the previous comments about non-majours and your discussion of "chemistry week", but I am more thinking about OPCW material targeting school age children and those who do not have access to university or college level science courses at all.  Are specific resources being developed for these groups of citizens and what is the educational plan for this


Second, which is related, is a question about how the resources are being used.  For example, has anyone developed a way to track who is using the multiple uses of chemicals website?  Is it university lecturers that are pointing students to the resources?  Are citizens finding the recources apart from university level classes and events?  Do you know if grade school classes are picking up on the recources?

It strikes me that future resource development would depend on answers to these types of questions.


Thanks again for your great article.



Alejandra Suárez's picture

Dear Kris:

Thank you for your comments.

Regarding the educational resources for high school student, the Chemistry in Conflict book is very useful. Unfortunately it is not available at the moment. You may consider initiatives developed by Mr. Chretien Schouteten, who has a very valuable experience in high school education regarding the topics under consideration. I am not aware about other specific educational material for school age children.

I use some material from the “multiple uses of chemicals website”, even to make presentation for high school students, and found it very inspiring and useful. Prof Peter Mahaffy led this joint IUPAC/OPCW project “multiple uses of chemicals”, I guess he can provide information about who is using this web page. As far as I noticed from my experience, it will be important to consider “train the trainer courses” to encourage and train teachers and professors to use this and other educational resources related to the CWC.

I am very confident that the new Advisory Board on Education and Outreach of the OPCW will consider some initiatives to develop more educational materials relevant to the CWC for all type of audiences.

Best regards,


Hello Kris and Alejandra,

Thank you Alejandra for this paper, it was a fascinating and thorough summary of many of the issues I have heard mentioned quite consistently over the time I have spent at my university (The King’s University). Also, thank you Kris for the comments you have made, you’ve raised several very important ideas.

Though I did not personally help with creating the Multiple Uses materials, I am a current employee of The King’s Center for Visualization in Science, one of the groups that helped develop it. Unfortunately at this time we have not developed any programs that would record this sort of specialized tracking. However, it is an interesting question that you raise. Though these resources were developed with a specific audience in mind, understanding who these resources are actually targeting is a question that needs to be answered before future resources are developed. Demographic tracking is certainly something for resource developers to consider.





Alejandra Suárez's picture

Dear Mckenzie

I know that the group in your university has a very valuable experience in Multiple Uses materials. I am wondering if there can be other way to continue discussion this topics, share experiences and lessons learned beyond this ConfChem for all the ones interested in this issues.

Best regards,


Hi Alejandra and all,

If there is an interest in a continued "birds of a feather" discussion people can self-subscribe and continue discussions.  At the end of the discussion I unsubscribe the ConfChem list, but if you and others self-subscribe, you can continue the discussion.

There is also the option for an international intercollegiate hybrid course like the Cheminformatics OLCC that we ran in the Fall of 2015 and are organizing for the Spring of 2017, .  On that site we have additional features like file sharing, and the ability to follow both comments and updates to a page, and see who else is following (so you know who is getting an email).  The thing is, you have to log in to see anything beyond the paper and the discussion.  But we have extended the ConfChem system to enable intercollegiate courses and one of our objectives was to enable projects that students from different campuses could collaborate on. We could easily set one of these up if there was an interest.


Hi Alejandra,

I enjoyed reading your insights on the importance of education in the multiple uses of chemistry.

As you emphasized, applications of chemistry can be used to harm or benefit humankind and the environment. Raising awareness on this issue can help promote peace.

As an undergraduate student in science, I was wondering what you feel is the best way to educate science students on this topic.

Do you propose that ethical uses of science be more widely integrated into existing course curriculum or do you feel it would be more effective to create a separate course altogether on the Ethics of Science that would be made mandatory to all science majors?

Or alternatively, do you believe this topic be best presented in the form of a discussion in a seminar?


Rachel Hislop-Hook

Alejandra Suárez's picture

Dear Rachel

Thank you for your comments.

With my colleagues we considered the different approaches you mentioned to introduce awareness raising about the multiple uses of chemicals. The introduction a new course like Ethics of Science was not the alternative of choice as the chemical curricula is overcrowded, this seems to be the situation in other universities within the country and worldwide.

We decided to make discussion seminars for the first and second year of the career and developed case studies as examples for the exercise certain topics in chemistry. I would like to stress that students had an important involvement in the complementary activities, as we asked them to prepare specific topics regarding the responsible use of chemistry to share with the educational community.  

We are also focused on the development of tools to measure of impact of this approach to evaluate the strategy and improve the methodology applied.

At our school there are meetings each month with the participation of professors, undergraduate and graduate students, to discuss academic issues; students always express their strong support to every activity we offer for awareness raising about the multiple uses of chemicals.

We are open to any suggestion of experience you would like to share with us.

Best regards,