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.