Overview of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry is an important organization within the chemistry world. In this lesson we will go over what this organization does and why it is important.

What is IUPAC?

In chemistry we often refer to the 'IUPAC name'. But what is this name? How was it decided that this name is the 'official' name? What is the IUPAC?

IUPAC stands for the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. It is an international organization which sets specific standards in chemistry in order to maintain consistency from one chemist to another. This allows chemists to talk to each other and always understand exactly what the other chemist is talking about.

History of IUPAC

In the 1800s the study of chemistry, as it is known today, began. But as scientists shared their discoveries with one another, it was difficult to know exactly what each scientist was talking about. Scientific journals had no specific method for talking about chemicals, nor did they have methodologies for testing chemicals.

In 1911 the IUPAC's predecessor, the International Association of Chemical Societies, discussed what needed to be standardized within the field of chemistry. In 1919 the IUPAC was organized as a chemistry standardization organization. It was also set up as a group through which chemists could collaborate in order to further chemical knowledge.

One of the main accomplishments of IUPAC was standardizing chemical language, processes, and procedures. They also encourage scientific research by receiving and reviewing chemistry proposals, support and backing those accepted.

Responsibilities of IUPAC

When IUPAC was first organized there was a list of issues that needed to be addressed:

  • Nomenclature, naming compounds
  • Standardizing weights and constants
  • Establishing proper review and publication of scientific papers

IUPAC standardized the periodic table
Periodic table

Today IUPAC has met all of these goals. We have a standardized weight for each of the elements, a specific number for Avogadro's number, and many other standards based on the work of IUPAC. There is a name for each molecule that any chemist can use to determine the structure of the molecule, based simply on the name.


Nomenclature isn't the only thing that IUPAC has developed, but it is one of the most well-known purposes of IUPAC. When we say 'the IUPAC name of this chemical is…' we are referring to the name of the chemical based on IUPAC naming guidelines. Nomenclature refers to the systematic naming guidelines of a compound.

Based on the IUPAC name, ethanoic acid, we can determine the structure
ethanoic acid

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