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.

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.

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