236th American Chemical Society Meeting – Philadelphia, 17th-21th August 2008

Outside the meetingOutside the meetingDue to the financial support gratefully awarded to me by the Simon Wolff Charitable Trust, I was able to attend the “236th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting and Exposition” recently held in Philadelphia, USA  from 17th to 21st August 2008. This was the first time that I had been fortunate enough to participate in an international conference and I found the whole experience to be immensely rewarding and enjoyable.

ACS National Meetings are internationally recognized, prestigious multi-disciplinary conferences which occur every 6 months at different locations in the United States and attract more than 11,500 scientists from a variety of backgrounds and locations. The ACS Meeting programme is sub-divided in 33 technical divisions which cover all the scientific fields related to Chemistry and 4 secretariats that focus on multi-disciplinary topics at the chemical interface. Thus, clearly the opportunity for a junior chemist like me to participate at such a major conference will undoubtedly have a significant impact on my future career. As the 236th ACS National meeting was so large, in order to accommodate everyone the sessions were timetabled at a variety of conference venues across Philadelphia; however, the main talks were held at the Pennsylvania Convention centre. Parallel sessions ran throughout the day with talks given by PhD students, post-docs and leading academics. As it was the 100th anniversary of the Organic Chemistry division of the ACS, a number of talks were given at this meeting by distinguished, internationally renowned Organic Chemists in which they gave historical overviews of their particular research areas. Thus, it was truly remarkable for me to have the opportunity to see and hear famous Chemists in person, such as Grubbs and Sharpless who up until now have only been textbook names. They talked about their early research careers and described how they became interested in the fields of research where they have since made their names.

At this ACS meeting, I had the opportunity to present the current results of my Ph.D. research project towards developing a novel colorimetric nucleic acid biosensor using peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) as the recognition element and polydiacetylene (PDA) liposomes as the sensor unit, both orally in the Analytical Chemistry technical division on 17th August and through a poster in the Medicinal Chemistry technical division on 20th August. As this was also the first time that I had given a research talk in front of a diverse, large, international audience, I found the whole experience invaluable. The skills that I learnt here from giving these presentations will definitely be useful later in my career. Furthermore, both my talk and poster presentations, allowed me to discuss my work with peers and to receive feedback from a variety of people from different research backgrounds. I definitely came away from the conference with a number of good ideas and motivating comments which will be useful in helping me to finish my project.
As already intimated above, as well as presenting at the 236th ACS meeting, I also attended a lot of talks given by others. In addition to those that I already mentioned, another talk that I particularly enjoyed was that given by Linda Hsieh-Wilson (in the Arthur C.Cope and Athur C.Cope Scholars Award Symposium), Associate Professor at California Institute of Technology, on chemical approaches to neurobiology. In her talk, she showed how organic chemistry can be used to explore the chemical basis of brain processes and how her research group has utilised this in developing a potential treatment for nerve spinal damage. I found this work very interesting because it showed a novel application of organic chemistry. It was fantastic and very inspirational to listen to such a successful young woman carrying out great work. Another speaker that I was particularly impressed to listen to was Raz Jelinek (in the Analytical Chemistry division), Chairman of the Department of Chemistry of Ben Gurion University. His research interests aim at studying cell membrane processes for biotechnological applications and a large part of his work uses PDAs. In this talk, he focussed on the preparation of chromatic living cells sensors. This was of particular interest to me because this work has a lot of analogies with my own Ph.D research topic.

Although I did not go to Philadelphia for sightseeing, in free sessions I took the opportunity to explore the city. It is a nice, reasonable sized American town and I found the walk from the hotel to the conference each morning and evening pleasant. I was lucky enough to see the Liberty Bell and the steps used in the film “Rocky” in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and I enjoyed having lunch at the Reading Market.

Finally, I would like to thank the Simon Wolf Charitable Trust once again for supporting me in my work and allowing me to attend such a memorable, important scientific meeting I have returned from the 236th ACS conference with a renewed enthusiasm for my studies and with plenty of new ideas.

Jennyfer Goujon
PhD student
Heriot-Watt University
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