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ACS Travel Awards to EuCheMS

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Katie Hurley


Posted by Katie Hurley Aug 31, 2012

While my other blog posts have been far afield from chemistry, I did actually learn some things about science at the EuCheMS chemistry congress!  As a reference for myself and any interested parties, I have listed a few exceptional talks I went to, along with links to representative papers.  I also learned of a number of books that I want to investigate.  If you have read any of them, let me know what you think!


Cool Science:


Gerhard Ertl - Nobel Laureate who uses scanning tunneling microscopy to see individual atoms moving on surfaces! See a transcript from a lecture of his here.


Han Zuilhof - a researcher from the Netherlands at Wageningen University who uses photochemistry to bind organic monolayers to various substrates.  Very beautiful work.  I need to read this paper of his.


Andreas Stein – a professor from my own institution, the University of Minnesota.  He gave an amazing lecture summarizing his work in hierarchical porous structures.  See here for a review.


Peter Heseman – a researcher from the Institut Charles Gerhardt, Montpellier, France.  His gave a very clear and interesting talk about incorporating organic groups into silica precursors for functionalized silicas. One of his papers can be found here.


Helmut Schwartz – a distinguished chemist from Technische Universitat Berlin who gave what I think was the best talk of the congress.  He spoke on his research in methane chemistry using hand-written slides that probably came from a transparency.  I loved his lecture style and really got interested in the chemistry, even though I am not an organic chemist.  Here is an author profile on him from Angew. Chem.


To Read:


“The Responsibilities of Scientists, a European View” by Richard Ernst (paper)


Selections from the “Living Ethics” books by Nicholas and Helena Roerich.  See here for a full list of titles.


“Scientists Behaving Badly” by Martinson et al. (paper)


“2000 Tips for Lecturers” by Phil Race (book)


“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter (book recommended by Madeleine Jacobs)


Overall I am incredibly grateful for the knowledge (scientific and otherwise) I have gained on this trip to EuCheMS.  If you are interested in keeping up with me, check out my individual blog!

Melissa Kern

Postcard from Prague

Posted by Melissa Kern Aug 30, 2012

The first couple of days in Prague were a whirlwind. It was mostly a jetlag blur of meeting lots of people, getting acquainted with the public transportation and trying to take in the breathtaking beauty of Prague. After a few days in Prague, I am started to get a feel for the city. I can see why so many people told me it is their favorite European city. The buildings are spectacular and each one is different from the next. At any moment walking down the street, you can come across a large cathedral with stain glass windows, a building with ornate carvings and gargoyles, or a beautiful statue in the middle of a cobblestone roundabout. There is really no opportunity to put the camera back in the case.


I think another reason people love Prague is the laid-back vibe of the city. Even on the public transportation during commuter hours, no one is pushy and no one seems in a huge hurry. From my limited interactions and observations thus far, my feeling is that there is an underlying kindness beneath a ‘just going about my business’ sort of attitude. This comes from the smiling graduate student at the poster session, the young man on the bus who got off to help an older woman, and the strangers who have stopped and helped us without a hint of agitation. I defiantly hope to spend more time in Prague and to see the rest of the Czech Republic in the future.

A very exciting aspect of this experience in Prague organized by the ACS is the focus on professional development. Today we went to the US Embassy here in Prague to learn about funding opportunities in the Czech Republic and all of Europe. The format and information of this event was even better than I had anticipated. In a small room in the American Center next to the Embassy, we were given talks by and exclusive access to representatives from the Fulbright, the Marie Curie awards, Czech University PIs, and a local Czech fellowship. As I am seriously considering Europe as my what comes next, I found it extremely useful and encouraging. However, I had not given much thought into the Czech Republic for a postdoc. Hearing about the amount of investment being put into scientific research in Brno has caused me to take notice. For me, it is not only about the new lab facilities or the fellowship opportunities. The level of commitment to building a strong, interdisciplinary, sustainable research program and the apparent excitement by the active participants is fthe most intriguing.

Victoria Mooney


Posted by Victoria Mooney Aug 30, 2012

Well, the 4th EuCheMS congress has ended, and I must say, it has been a wonderful experience. The range of topics presented during this conference was surprising. There was everything from synthesis, to chemistry and the environment, to ethics in chemistry. Some of the studies that stood out to me were the quirky ones, such the one involving using NMR to determine where and from what type of flower a Greek honey was made. I also love seeing applied research, which explains why one of my favorite talks was given by Reiner Salzer. His research involves using various spectroscopic techniques to monitor the brain during surgery. I had never thought of how the brain must readjust after the skull is opened for surgery, but it makes sense that the brain will have changed a bit from the pre-surgery scan. So cool!

               Aside from the talks, another thing I have enjoyed about coming to this conference is meeting some amazing people: my fellow awardees, the ACS students from Colorado, the students from the European Young Chemists network, as well as the ACS CEO and staff. Madeleine Jacobs, CEO and executive director of ACS, chatted with us several times, told us her story and about ceremonies she has gone to for the Nobel and Kavli prizes (which sound incredible), and encouraged us to excel in our careers. If you ever get the chance to hear her speak, take it. The rest of the ACS staff that we met here were awesome as well, especially Steven Meyers, who arranged our trips here and has gone out of his way to help arrange flights home for those of us that could have ended up stranded in Germany due to the Lufthansa strike. So thank you, Steve and everyone else that made this trip possible. It's been great.

                I have always known that there are different ways of doing things in different countries. Some of these differences are in the little things. For instance, I’ve learned during this trip that the serving sizes of soda and water are tiny compared to that of beer (200 mL compared to 500 mL). What surprised me, though, was when we were told on a dinner cruise that beer and wine were free, but coffee and water were not. Is it not common to drink water here?

However, I had not realized that the differences in protocol extended into the job application processes as well. I went to a clinic hosted by the European Young Chemist Network and the German chemical company Evonik, where they went over various ways to prepare a job application and for an interview. Some of their tips were ones I’m sure we’ve all heard before: Make sure you have an online presence, go over possible questions you may be asked in a job interview, etc. One difference that struck me was in the preparation of the CV. In Germany, it is expected that your photo be on your CV and it is also common to have your marital status, hobbies, etc. on your CV as well. Apparently, Europeans don’t sue people for discrimination like Americans do.

Actually, it had already been mentioned that Europeans don’t sue as often as Americans do during our trip to the American Embassy, when a representative for the Czech Fulbright program explained why the Czech Fulbright recipients are told soon after the decision has been made, but American winners aren’t notified until much later. The American recipients aren’t notified until after the Fulbright committee has received the final budget information, just in case they were to notify someone that they had won, only to later find out that there wasn’t enough money. It’s rather sad that other countries have to take those things into consideration when dealing with Americans. I think that if I were offered a Fulbright scholarship and it was later taken away, I would be devastated, but I wouldn't sue them over it. I don’t think I’m in the minority here, am I?

Plenary-Day 3

Posted by terrence.neumann Aug 30, 2012

To witness world-renowned scientists present their work at a conference is a special phenomenon.  Their command of their subject is unmatched and their presentations are polished by years of experience. This thought never occurred to me until my time with the EUCheMS though; the plenary talks are structured significantly different than the typical science talk.


Likely, a large reason for this is the time allotment.  While the majority of talks at this conference have been scheduled for 15-30 minute time slots, the plenary talks are granted an hour. It’s appropriate these individuals be granted more time to explain and expand upon the work and ideas that made them famous. I enjoy hearing the histories of their fields and the novel work they used to solve problems.


In addition to these well-known senior lecturers, I would also be interested in the conference highlighting a few younger, less-familiar speakers and their research.  Listening to a graduate student speak for 30 or 45 minutes about their research project could provide an avenue for scientists working in adjacent fields to gain insight into this new field.  It also could help other students develop their own ideas and strategies to solve problems in their own laboratory.


As a budding structural biologist, I was indulged by Professor Kurt Wüthrich’s plenary talk.  Protein structures play an integral role in many areas of biology, yet the first structure was solved just over 50 years ago.  The field grew and matured very rapidly.  Less than 30 years ago, Wüthrich published the first NMR solution structure.


It is intriguing to consider the progress we young scientists might achieve in the course of our careers. I consider the ongoing genome projects, and how critically important it is to translate sequence to structure to function. What would this mean for future generations? Plenary talks like Dr. Wüthrich’s serve to inspire, teach and challenge us to never stop asking questions.

I woke up this morning in Prague feeling refreshed and ready for the day. So today we all got together for breakfast and had a chance to listen to Madeleine Jacobs, ACS executive director and CEO.  Madeleine is a bright lady who I admire a lot. I would not get tired of listening to her when she speaks. Every single word she said was worth it to listen to, since she knows what she is talking about and it is nice to learn from her experience. I like when she talks about people and how they need to train themselves to get involved with others at work and school.

It seems everything is well organized for us. I feel like we are using every second of our time. I enjoyed attending the different professor talks from all over the world.  Definitely inspiring talks.

Overall I believe it is a good opportunely for everyone to listen to different scientists. I was listening to a talk which was related to my current research. It was given by Dr. Henry Anderson, a professor from University of Oxford. I was pleased to attend and asked a question regarding his research. I spoke with him in person after his talk. I know that I would not get a chance to talk to him since he is far away from America. After his talk, he mentioned that they have a postdoc position available, which is great to know.  So I can give the information to my friends who are living in England and looking for a postdoc related to his work.  Attending this type of congress is wonderful from many perspectives.

I wish the talks were 10 minutes apart from each other, so I could get there in time without losing the first five minutes of the talks.

I believe it is a good time to build our network in Europe since we have this chance to meet European scientists. Who knows, we might end up in Europe either to continue our studies, or get a job.

Later we had the poster session; I had some good conversations with scientists about either my work or their experiences. I also walked around the area and talked to other students and got some ideas about European research.

Nasim Ehterami

Welcome to Prague

Posted by Nasim Ehterami Aug 30, 2012

DSCN0056.JPGFinally I arrived in Prague on Saturday afternoon, a beautiful day to get off the airplane, and faced with a gorgeous city as I heard and read about it.  Yesterday I had dinner with Steve, other people from ACS, and students. We had a good time, listening to the live music which was performed by middle aged guys who were playing the accordion.  It was my pleasure to meet all the ACS winners; absolutely all are smart and studying at a good ranking school.  The food was good; we were treated with a welcome drink, followed by beer, which was amazing to me.  Totally different culture, No Water! Ok If you are thirsty you have to ask guys to bring water!

It was a good opportunity to meet people that you like to talk to.

It helped that we had a short distance from metro station and bus stop. We had an awesome walking tour from 8 o’clock in the morning, so the experience in Europe is about to start. I was afraid a little bit that I might get lost! However I felt more comfortable after walking through the city, and seeing all the tourists around.  I have realized that Prague is a historical place and there is a lot to see. Hopefully we get a chance to see more as the days pass. I took tons of pictures and cannot wait to upload some and get my friend’s comments.

After the tour we went to a fancy restaurant which is called Mlynec.  We were not able to use the GPS, but we had something better than GPS. Darci is the person who was in charge to direct us to the restaurant and back to the hotel. We made it without any difficulty, seems our GPS works awesome.

Although I have seen a plethora of scientific results in the last few days, I am choosing to write about the less quantitative results of an international experience such as attending this EuCheMS chemistry congress. Steve Meyers gave a great talk today on ACS’s GREET program, in which he mentioned several benefits of international collaboration.  In particular, he showed that students who had been a part of an international collaboration developed more confidence in unfamiliar situations, gained a global perspective, and displayed an increased desire for more international collaborations. These were the results of 6-8 week collaborations with lots of face-time with international colleagues.  My own observations come from brief visits to other countries, including this 5-day (so far!) visit to Prague.


Being in an unfamiliar situation has a number of advantages.  The first and perhaps most obvious is that the traveler is exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking.  I experienced this by observing the culture of Prague in general but also by listening to the scientific talks.  Many presenters offered opinions on chemistry, the role of a chemist, and the state of the world in addition to their specific results (this was particularly prevalent in the “Ethics in Chemistry” section I attended).  The next advantage of unfamiliar situations is a fun one – it brings people together.  I am fairly introverted by nature and have a hard time meeting new people, but it did not take long to make friends with the other winners of this ACS travel award to EuCheMS.  Not knowing the language or the layout of the city gave us a reason to stick together and made socializing (and exploring) easier. 


The biggest ‘unfamiliar situation’ benefit I have found is an enhanced awareness and attentiveness to almost everything I experience.  For instance, not knowing the language encourages me to pay close attention to landmarks, pictures, and repeated words and characters, and listening to talks given by presenters with accents requires me to focus while they speak.  This language barrier has another interesting effect: it makes me shut up.  Instead of talking about what I think or what I want, I listen and I observe.  These quiet activities develop humility and help to combat arrogant or judgmental assumptions I might have made previously.


I am fortunate to be able to spend several more days in Prague, and I hope this humility and attentiveness will develop even further.  Once I go home, I want to keep this attitude of constant learning.  I suspect that my science and my life in general will improve as a result.

Melissa Kern

Back to Basics

Posted by Melissa Kern Aug 30, 2012

The Plenary talk by Helmut Schwarz has by far been one of my favorites of the conference. I really liked the hand-written slides with reactions, thoughts and notes; though I feel empathy for the graduate student who probably had to scan in all of those slides. There was a real lecture type vibe and the hand-written slides somehow made me feel more connected to the thought process and motivation throughout his research.  There have been many impressive images throughout the conference, but somehow, hand-written diagrams and reactions really pulled me in.  I also think it brought home the point that the reactions he discussed, reactions with methane, are very simple on paper. But like so many things in science, what looks easy on paper is much more elusive in practice.

When I am at a conference such as this one, I also feel there is so much that I still need to learn. There are so many intelligent scientists doing excellent work and the world of scientific knowledge is so vast and always expanding. But for all of the things we collectively know and all of the complicated processes explained, there is still so much we don’t know. Schwarz made this point with his ‘simple’ reactions written out like we would in Organic I and it is something I have thought about before. The idea that my knowledge is just a small fraction of what is known and what is known is just a small fraction of what there is to know, is humbling and overwhelming. However, it also gives me hope and motivates me to go after more – one small chunk of knowledge at a time. I will return from Prague with a bit more scientific knowledge that I came with and renewed enthusiasm for going forward.

I am currently at the EuCheMS in Prague.  I am fortunate enough to be involved in two programs that have sponsored my trip - the ACS travel award and the Young Chemist Crossing Borders (YCCB).  As everyone is familiar with the ACS, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the European Young Chemists Network (EYCN), which sponsors the YCCB.  At the ACS national meeting last fall in Denver, myself and five other Colorado graduate students hosted a group from the EYCN.  The EYCN is mostly composed of graduate students with some young professors and professionals.  This fall, members of the EYCN are returning the favor and doing an excellent job hosting. 

Last night the ACS hosted a dinner at an excellent Czech restaurant and many delegates from the EYCN attended.  This gave us ACS students the opportunity to interact with our colleagues in Europe and share our graduate school experiences, among many other things.  I finally got a chance to learn more about the EYCN, which is an impressive organization.  The EYCN is made up completely of young chemists, under the age of 35.  This group of young chemists from across Europe, mostly students, is able to organize and raise all of their funds based on sponsorships from industry.  There are delegates from each country, all of the positions are volunteer, and everyone works together.  To me, it is an amazing feat that this organization is able to hold such wonderful programs, such as the YCCB, with no central funding source and no permanent or full-time positions.  I have really enjoyed getting to know young chemists from across Europe, many of whom at the same point in their career as myself.  I look forward to sharing the rest of the week with them as well as my fellow ACS students.  The two combined groups are full of bright young chemists who I look forward to being colleagues and friends with in the future.


Short note:  This was written at the beginning of the week.  I have been recording my experiences as they happen but due to time and a packed schedule, unable to post them immediately.

While listening to Professor Gerhard Ertl’s (2007 Nobel in Chemistry) Plenary lecture on Monday morning I was reminded of one of the most interesting things about chemistry: the fact that processes which occur at the atomic and sub-atomic levels are responsible for nearly everything. Muscle function, photosynthesis, respiration, and more - the list could literally go on forever. This juxtaposition between nanoscale properties and macroscale applications is striking. For instance, Prof. Ertl is perhaps most well-known for his discovery of the mechanism of the Haber-Bosch process, which reacts nitrogen and hydrogen gasses to form ammonia, which allows farmers to increase their yields to meet the needs of a growing planet.


Professor Roger Tsien (2008 Nobel in Chemistry) gave another Plenary lecture earlier today on his word in biological imaging. Tsien’s lab uses the relation between nanoscale (in this case even smaller) phenomena for selective chemical imaging of tumor cells. Further development of his lab’s work could lead to surgeons being about to more effectively remove tumor cells, resulting in lower healthcare costs and longer lifespans for patients diagnosed with cancer.


These types of nanoscale arrangements are all around us, yet often I lose sight of that fact. I shouldn’t, because the world seems a much more interesting place knowing that there are trillions and trillions of molecular interactions happening at every second.

     One of the talks here was about European women in chemistry. The speaker mentioned several famous female chemists including Rosalind Franklin (for whom there is talk of petitioning the Nobel Foundation for posthumous recognition of her work) as well as Marie Curie, her daughter Irène Curie-Joliot, and Ada Yonath, the most recent female winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. A clip was shown of a talk given by Ada Yonath, wherein she spoke of her five-year-old granddaughter’s invitation to tell her class about the ribosome. This goes to show that it is never too early to get children interested in science.

      I have seen several children at this conference: A pre-teen girl leaving the conference center carrying a poster tube (not hers, obviously), a boy chatting with one of the vendors (Sigma-Aldrich, I believe), and a one-year-old going to his father’s talk. My favorite was tonight, when I saw a few graduate students holding their one-year-olds while presenting their posters. This reminded me of the first time I brought my two oldest daughters to the “Molecules and Radiation” class in graduate school. My professor (whose lab I later joined) held my two-year-old on his hip while he went over the previous week’s homework. While this may be a bit young to go to graduate-level chemistry class, I have noticed that the ACS has several initiatives underway to expose kids to chemistry and get them interested; among them, project SEED for high school kids and the Chemistry Ambassadors program for younger children.  After a discussion at dinner tonight with some of the other ACS awardees about how math and science classes in high school may overwhelm students and cause them to steer away from these areas, I now have a greater appreciation for these projects. Showing children how fun chemistry can be may spark a life-long interest in science and stimulate greater scientific advancement in America.


  P.S. If you have any stories about children and science, leave a comment. I would love to hear them!

Presenting-Day 2

Posted by terrence.neumann Aug 28, 2012

It’s not uncommon for an oral presenter to feel anxious: “What if Senior Professor Dr. X asks a probing question I cannot answer?  What if there is complete equipment failure despite my efforts to mitigate them?”  Often, these nervous feelings are unwarranted and the presentation proceeds as planned.


I presented my oral talk today.  The title “Solution Structures and Models Describing the Thioreoxin System from Mycobacterium tuberculosis,” described my work at Marquette University.  Our lab is using NMR methods to calculate the solution structures of the thioredoxins—small proteins that control the protein thiol redox state in a cell—from M. tb.  Since M. tb. resists oxidative killing in part by this system, we are working to design new inhibitors that target this system with the goal of indentifying new therapeutics.


The presentation went as expected and seemed well-received.  Two follow-up questions were asked and I was able to answer them with confidence.  Overall, it was a great experience to present to an international audie


Posted by terrence.neumann Aug 28, 2012

Greetings from the 4th EuCheMS Chemistry Congress!  I am an ACS travel award winner and traveled to the conference to present my research.  Thanks to the ACS for this wonderful opportunity.


In my experience, the first day of a new conference is dedicated to meeting an assortment of new people; this conference was no different.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know the other travel award winners and fellow ACS members. These contacts might develop into useful collaborations down the road.  However, my favorite part of talking to new people is listening to their stories.


The most inspiring story so far has been that of a scientist from Milwaukee, Wis., where I currently reside.  Alfred Bader, founder of Aldrich Chemical Company, fled Austria at the age of 14 to escape Nazi persecution.  He attended Queen’s University, receiving his BS and MSc, before attending Harvard for his PhD.  After some time at Pittsburg Plate Glass Co, Bader recognized a need in the marketplace for additional research chemical suppliers, prompting him to start Aldrich while working out of his basement and garage.  After merging with Sigma Chemical Corporation, Bader would later serve as president and chairman of the joint company Sigma-Aldrich.


Stories like this illustrate the reality of entrepreneurship as a viable career path.  Leveraging knowledge and taking a calculated risk when opportunity presents itself can be the makings of an exceptional company.  

Over the last several days, I have been paying close attention to how chemists at every stage of their career communicate during presentations and poster sessions.  A few insights that I have gathered are discussed below.  I have to give the caveat that I am a teacher at heart and prefer educational talks.  I realize that other people have different presentation styles, and I would appreciate it if anyone wants to leave comments about the benefits of other styles.


What doesn't work:

  • Reading long lists from slides (especially if you don’t add any information to what is written)
  • Providing a summary of a vast amount of work with little experimental details or data
  • Saying “Due to time constraints, this must be simplified” or a similar comment often. I attended one talk in which the presenter took about two minutes from the allotted presentation time by making multiple comments similar to this.


In addition, I would like to comment that although a chronological presentation of your experimental journey is sometimes useful, it is not guaranteed to be the best way to make your point.


I have been fortunate to observe a number of techniques which do work!  These can be grouped into two areas: context and engagement.  I believe providing context should start even before your research introduction.  This applies more to a poster presentation than a talk, but introducing yourself and giving a one-sentence summary of the type of work you do will help to orient unfamiliar audience members before you launch into the science. During the presentation, provide some background for the work, keeping in mind that acronyms, molecules, processes, and techniques that are very familiar to you might not be familiar to your audience.  Be careful, however, to only include the pieces of context that are important for the talk.  It might be true that there are another three processes that lead to this one, but if they are not relevant to the data you present, it will only serve to distract your audience.


The last category I would like to discuss is engagement.  Thus far I have seen some great examples of this.  Those presenters who engaged their audience the most displayed a good balance between looking and talking at the audience and looking at the screen.  When presenting data, it isn’t realistic to say ‘never look at the screen,’ but that does not give one license to never look at the audience!  I have seen a few people balance this incredibly well.  I have also noticed that I am more engaged as an audience member when the presenter moves (a little!), gestures when appropriate, and varies their voice inflection as they tell their research story.


As I have reflected on this engagement piece, it occurs to me that there are many who might not agree with me.  My advice here is given as though the primary responsibility for engaging the audience lies with the researcher.  Some might contend that a presenter is not an entertainer and that it is up to the audience to keep up with the presentation.  I would appreciate hearing others’ thoughts on this balance in the comments below.

Glen O'Neil

Scientific presentations

Posted by Glen O'Neil Aug 28, 2012

Day one of talks at the 4th EuCheMS Congress in Prague is in the books, and I thought I would share a few pieces of advice for presenters. I think that in the vast majority of cases, the presentation is often perceived as being poor because of a few easily correctible mistakes: the presenter is nervous; they try to squeeze to much information into the allotted time; and they assume that everyone in the audience is an expert in the field. I think every presenter can benefit from the following three tips.


Relax. This applies mostly to graduate students without very much experience talking at conferences, but not exclusively. I understand that it takes a lot of nerve to get up in front of an audience of experts in your field (I did this myself yesterday), but if you are so wrought with nerves that you can’t complete a sentence, the audience will not be able to follow your ideas. The bottom line is that no one in the room knows more about the specific experiments you’re talking about than you. Others may know more about a small portion of your work or a particular technique you discuss, but no one else has slaved for months or years carefully collecting the data you are presenting. In addition, you’ve put it the effort in arranging all of that data to tell a good story – don’t let nerves get in the way of you physically being able to tell it.


Don’t discuss your entire career. This applies mostly to faculty members who have diverse research areas, but also to grad students eager to highlight all of their successes. Presenting thirty slides in a fifteen-minute talk doesn’t allow the audience any time to properly process the ideas or data you show. Do the math – it’s only 30 seconds per slide. The audience understands that you’ve worked hard for a long time, but racing through them is no way to convince anyone of how important or interesting your work is. My favorite talks discuss one paper (or a couple of papers if they build upon each other). In these talks the audience can understand the problem, the methodology to solve the problem and the solution. It’s nice to actually learn something from a talk


Which brings me to my third point: don’t assume everyone in the audience is an expert in the field. One minute of introduction at the beginning helps clarify everything. It sets up the big picture and stops the audience from asking, “why do we care” at every slide. If you’re feeling generous, you can even remind the audience why your data is important several times along the way. Your work is important, help everyone else understand why.


I think if more talks followed these simple suggestions, I would enjoy every one.

The first few days of any conference can be extremely overwhelming. The last conference I went to was a Gordon Research Conference - much smaller, and catered to a very specific audience. Almost by default, we were able to interact with celebrity professors on a very informal basis. Coming to a conference like this one, with thousands of people, can be a lot for a young graduate student. How do you really use a conference like this to network and build connections?


As part of the ACS Travel Initiative, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Madeleine Jacobs for an hour and a half breakfast. She made an extremely good point while we were discussing personality types (she's a Meyers-Briggs ENTJ). You have to work against your predispositions. I'm an ENFJ, but definitely border on I/E - meaning I struggle between being an extrovert and being an introvert. In situations like this conference, I really have to make an effort to tap into my 'inner extrovert'. There are so many amazing people that if you don't take personal initiative, you'll miss a chance to have an amazing conversation. So far we have had the opportunity to meet with not only Madeleine Jacobs, but Peter Stang (ACS Editor) and Peter Goelitz (Angewante Editor). Both are incredibly outgoing and love talking with students. I have definitely found that for the most part, initiating a conversation is about as far as you have to go. Most professors are more than willing to talk with you, especially if you ask them questions about how they see the field developing, or what the role of our generation is in the future of academic research. Though these are professors whose names we see on published papers on almost a daily basis, and to us are celebrities in our fields, it's worth getting out of your comfort zone and introducing yourself.


I've found so far that poster sessions make it extremely difficult to talk to people since there are so many people in small, crowded areas. The best places to talk are receptions. A lot of students tend to leave early or stay in groups amongst themselves, so the number of people decreases by a good bit. The best place to start a conversation is definitely in a more intimate environment, especially over good food and beer!

It is really quite amazing how people end up where they do over the course of their careers. Over the last few days, I have had the opportunity to hear about how some of the higher-ups in ACS came to be in their current positions. It has made me realize a few things that, as a graduate student nearing the end of her thesis project, have both reassured and inspired me.

I have learned that while you might have your career path planned out, you may have a few detours along the way doing jobs you had never considered while you were a graduate student. You can’t follow a route chosen for you by Google Maps to get from point A (graduate school) to point B (your ideal job). But that’s okay. Predictability can be boring; so having a few surprises along the way keeps life interesting, just don’t limit yourself. While knowing what type of career you would like to pursue is great, if the opportunity to do something different comes up, don’t immediately dismiss it, even if it is outside your comfort zone or isn’t what you thought you wanted.

I met a research scientist at one of the career seminars back home who told me that when he and his wife were in graduate school, he planned to teach and his wife planned to go into industry. Neither of them had any interest in pursuing other types of careers. However, now, about fifteen years later, they each have the career the other had planned: He is working in industry, she is a professor, and they are both exactly where they want to be. Although, that is not to say that their careers might not change again.

When people with careers in the sciences describe their lives since undergraduate or graduate school, I always get the impression that a career is a constantly evolving thing. Each job helps you build your skill set and connections until you move on to the next. Someone once told me not to worry too much about the job I get after graduate school, because it will only be the first of many. If I can have the type of successful career that I have heard about over the past few days, then having some variety in my career will be fine with me. I can’t wait to see where life takes me.

My organic chemistry professor in college used to tell his students, “Use your chemistry knowledge for good, not evil.”  It was something I always smiled at, thinking it to be just catchy line to say while showing students how one might use electrophilic aromatic substitution reactions to make TNT.  In truth, I don’t always associate ‘good’ and ‘evil’ with chemistry.  Although I desire to enrich the lives of people around me with everything I do, I admit that on very good days, the study of chemistry is its own reward.  I love learning about the beauty and complexity of the matter around me, and I often assume that other chemists share this motivation as their primary reason for continuing in science.  That assumption is why I was surprised today to hear a recurring theme throughout conversations, scientific talks, and celebratory receptions: “Chemist, do good.”


ACS calls us to do good in its vision: “Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.”  Madeleine Jacobs spoke about it at breakfast this morning, saying that none of the world’s pressing problems (energy, food, disease, etc.) would be solved without the involvement of chemistry.  ACS publishing contacts like Peter Stang and Sonja Krane demonstrated it during the question and answer section of the JACS publishing seminar. They addressed audience concerns thoughtfully and explained the reasoning behind publication access choices (electronic and print).


The most poignant example of “Chemist, do good” that I saw today was in a talk on ethics in chemistry given by Hartmut Frank.  He spoke about the inherent responsibilities of chemists, noting that “we make or mobilize chemicals, so we are responsible for them” (although we aren’t the only ones!) As he made a case for European chemistry societies to move towards accountability in sustainable practices, he commented that “academic education trains the mind, but we forget that humans have at least two sides.  We neglect the training of the heart.”


I am glad that my assumptions were wrong.  Chemists may study their science for the pure joy of discovery and the wonder of matter (I do!), but we also study for the benefit of the world.  Out of context, such a statement might sound corny to the point of being insincere, but I know this is not the case.  Each event I have attended today and reflection on my past experiences shows that chemists really want to do good.  Even better, we have the skills and tools to do so.

Having never traveled outside of the US there have been many new experiences in just one day. Being in the generation where we are addicted to our cell phones/computers it is strange being in a place where the Internet is not at my finger tips. It isn't too hard to disconnect and concentrate on the amazing science going on in Europe and this once in a lifetime trip the ACS has so generously organized for us. Except you don't realize how easy it is to find your away around when your iPhone shows you a little blue dot and a blue road to follow!  So the lesson we learned today is don't forget your basic map skills! Trying to remember if you are heading North or towards the river or which way you were headed on the metro takes some energy and makes you think! Which I suppose is an important lesson to learn. That while technology has taken us as a society to places we never thought were possible, there is nothing that can replace the human mind and it's ability to think, be creative, and problem solve. I anticipate that those characteristics will be echoed all throughout the EuCheMS Congress. With Nobel Prize winners, fantastic universities represented by both students and faculty, and industrial representatives all in  one place collaborations will be formed, friendships forged, and ideas exchanged.

Kristen Brown

The Chemistry of Prague

Posted by Kristen Brown Aug 26, 2012

After leaving Chicago on Friday, and arriving jetlagged and exhausted into Prague (Cz: Praha; meaning "threshold") on Saturday, I expected to have a day or two before it was time to focus 100% on chemistry. I doubt it was planned (though I wouldn't put it past our fabulous American Chemical Society hosts to throw some extra chemistry in on our day off), but our tour of Prague early Sunday morning was full of a couple fun chemistry facts about the city and history of Prague. Looks like I can't go anywhere without a lesson in chemistry!


One of the most amazing attractions in Prague is St. Vitus Cathedral (Czech: Katedrála svatého Víta), made primarily out of sandstone. Construction began in 1344 and was not completed until almost 600 years later in 1929. The Cathedral is inside of Prague castle, the oldest functional castle in the world. It's located in 'Castle Town', one of the four original towns that comprise modern day Prague (Castle Town, Little Town, Old Town, and New Town). The castle currently houses much of the Czech state department. The truly fitting part of the cathedral, however, is the chemistry behind the color gradient of its walls.

Though this picture hardly does it justice, it's clear (if you look carefully) that parts of the outer walls are much darker than other sections of the cathedral (most specifically, the far right side of the picture). As the castle ages, the sandstone oxidizes and turns from a light tan color to a much darker, almost black. (Brownie points if you know what causes the oxidation!) It provides a really cool, visual way to tell which parts of the cathedral were built the earliest!


Another really interesting chemistry fact (also oxidation chemistry, of course!) that stood out relates to the Charles Bridge which cross the Vltava River. All along the bridge are 30 statues of various saints and patron saints. Though wikipedia says that all 30 original statues have been removed and placed in museums, our tour guide mentioned that 3 of the originals still remain.

While most of the statues are a dark brown color, the statue of St. John is green. Unlike the other statues which were made of Clay, the statue of St. John was made of bronze. As it ages, it oxidizes to what is commonly called 'Patina'. wikipedia

Even though I wasn't expecting a chemistry lesson during our first visit out in Prague, it definitely helped remind me why I came here in the first place! The next five days will be full of amazing lectures by some of Europe's (and the world's) most renowned chemists across all fields. I'm looking forward to some amazing talks and really gaining a better understanding of how Europe approaches the field of Chemistry.


Na shledanou,



Prague in Pictures:

Recently, I was lucky enough to win one of the new ACS travel awards which has allowed me to come present at the 4th EuCheMS congress in Prague. As a part of the award agreement, I will be posting 5 blogs about this conference. It was suggested that the number of times people might wish to read blogs which can be summarized by “Oooh, Prague is so pretty, interesting, etc.” are few and that we should limit ourselves to only one blog in that vein. This will be mine.

                Obviously the architecture is amazing and many, if not most, of the buildings here are older than the United States. There is a huge castle, members of the Prague orchestra playing in the street, and artists drawing caricatures on ancient bridges. However, what I appreciated during the 4 hour walking tour we went on today, were the quirky little things we learned about the city and its inhabitants. For instance, there is a functioning monastery, the brothers of which run successful a hotel, a brewery, etc. A couple other things that stood out to me are 1) the famous defenestrations, 2) the communism museum and its posters (a teddy bear with a gun? Really?), and 3) the John Lennon wall, where you may go watch people paying homage to the musician by adding another layer of graffiti.

                Needless to say, after our tour, I had a new appreciation for Prague, and what was meant to satisfy my curiosity about the city so I can focus on the conference only increased it. However, the commencement of the conference revealed other opportunities to learn about new subjects and provided information that will be useful when preparing for my career after graduation. But that is a topic for another day.

Katie Hurley


Posted by Katie Hurley Aug 26, 2012

As I prepared my poster presentation for the 4th EuCheMS Chemistry Congress in Prague, Czech Republic, I was struck by the large size of my “acknowledgements” section. It contains references to collaborators and instrumental experts without whom I would have had a very difficult time collecting and analyzing my data.  It also mentions infrastructure which supports my work – grants, characterization facilities, and chemical societies.  I spent a fair amount of the plane ride to Prague reflecting on the fact that my research was made possible by the interconnectedness of the field of chemistry.


Later, at the opening ceremony and first plenary talk of the congress, I was reminded again of the network which exists within chemistry.  Several distinguished chemists were given awards for a lifetime of achievements.  As these achievements were listed, I thought of all the chemical principles which were discovered or refined by these people, and how much I owed to them – despite not having heard some of their names previously.  I suddenly became aware of the relative smallness of my knowledge of the history of chemistry.  Truly, I stand on the shoulders of giants, even if I don’t realize it all the time.


After the opening ceremony, I was fortunate to spend some time with Madeleine Jacobs, the Executive Director of the American Chemical Society, and some of her colleagues whose work relates to the publication of chemistry journals.  As we talked about alternative careers for chemists, she said that she greatly values those who work in chemistry publishing and journalism.  She contended that those employees were chemists, just not at the bench.  “They still support the mission of ACS, to improve the quality of human life through the transforming power of chemistry.” I thought about how my research and my career as a chemist are supported by infrastructure and societies such as ACS.


During my undergraduate career, I sometimes felt like I was learning chemistry in a vacuum.  I was just one person among thousands, maybe even millions of chemists around the globe learning a very well-established, immobile field.  As I grow, however, I am learning about the active and evolving nature of chemistry – how I as a student can impact the science with my research, and how that impact could not be made without the extensive network that I am now a part of.  I gratefully acknowledge that my discoveries and successes are only possible because of the people around me: the founders and teachers who came before me, the collaborators who move alongside me, and the societies and infrastructure which support us all.