Leverhulme Travel Bursary recipient, Wojciech Zawodny reports from the 254th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, Washington, USA

21 November 2017

21 Nov 2017

Wojciech Zawodny was awarded a Leverhulme Travel Bursary in May 2017 to attend the 254th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, Washington, USA, 20 - 24 August 2017. Wojciech is a PhD student at the University of Manchester. Here, he describes how his attendance has broadened his scientific interests and the opportunity to be exposed to different areas of chemistry.

'This year I attended the 254th ACS National Meeting and Exposition, which was held in Washington, DC from 20 to 24 August 2017. The National Meetings of the American Chemical Society is a biannual event with about 16,000 attendees, making it one of the largest scientific conferences in the world. As a participant of the conference, I was exposed to a wide array of different areas of chemistry and enjoyed the atmosphere of the meeting. The scale and size of the event was quite overwhelming at first. Each day required careful planning, since many interesting sessions took place simultaneously and were often held in different parts of the Washington Convention Center. Therefore, it was sometimes necessary to sprint to another room after a given talk of interest finished. However, all the planning process was facilitated by the mobile application that was prepared for the conference.

'I delivered my oral presentation during the first day of the conference, on Sunday morning. My talk described the main project of my PhD, which led to the development of a novel approach to the synthesis of alpha-tertiary amines by combination of biocatalysis and organolithium-mediated rearrangements of ureas. The research involved a collaboration between Prof. Nicholas Turner’s and Prof. Jonathan Clayden’s groups, and I was glad that I could showcase the methodologies developed in both groups. I received many questions from the audience after my talk, and had discussions that will help to direct the future work. My work stood out from the rest of the presentations in the program of the event, since there were relatively few papers and talks that mentioned biocatalysis. Some of the attendees came and spoke to me about my research after the talk. Since I submitted my PhD thesis a month after the conference, being asked various questions from researchers from different areas of organic chemistry was a very useful preparation for the viva.

'Once my talk was over, I could focus on attending numerous interesting symposia. I was delighted to be able to see Nobel Laureates in action, including Ben Feringa, Fraser Stoddart and Bob Grubbs. I really enjoyed talks by Corinne Schindler, John Hartwig, Matthias Beller, Sarah Reisman, Eric Jacobsen and Troels Skrydstrup. My favourite seminar was entitled “Modern Chemistry of the Amide Bond”, and it included talks by Brian Stoltz, Michal Szostak and Neil Garg. Firstly, Brian Stoltz’s talk introduced the idea of destabilisation of bridged bicyclic lactams due to the delocalisation of the nitrogen lone pair. Then Michal Szostak showed how this destabilisation can be utilised in the cross coupling of amides by C-N activation. The last presentation of the session was delivered by Neil Garg and focussed on nickel-catalysed Suzuki-Miyaura coupling of amides.

'The spectrum of chemistry shown during the poster sessions was also very impressive. Having briefly researched photoredox catalysis, I liked especially the presentations by members of Gary Molander’s group. One of the highlights of the conference were the presentations by Phil Baran. Firstly, he presented a new piece of equipment that facilitates adoption of electrochemistry for preparative organic synthesis. However, I preferred his second talk about the applications of redox-active esters in alkyl-alkyl cross coupling reactions. His presentation, alongside John Hartwig’s lecture on regioselective oxidations in complex molecules impressed me the most.

'Undoubtedly, some of the talks were overshadowed by the total solar eclipse that occurred on the 21 August. In Washington, about 80% eclipse could be observed and its maximum was at 2.41 pm local time. Loads of attendees looked into the sky outside of the Washington Convention Center at that time.

'Obviously, my stay in the US was not limited to chemistry – there was plenty of time before and after the conference to go sightseeing. I had arrived in the US a week before the conference started to travel. I spent a few days in New York, then travelled to Philadelphia, where I started a road trip through Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia to eventually reach Washington, D.C. on Saturday 19th August. My favorite tourist attractions included the Amish Country, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and Williamsbourg. Washington itself is full of historic monuments and landmarks known to everyone. Apart from the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Congress Hill, the White House and the Pentagon, I highly recommend some of the museums that I visited: the National Air and Space Museum as well as the National Museum of the American Indian.

'This was the first time I have been in the US, and I would not have been able to describe any of the aforementioned experiences without the generous support of SCI. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to SCI for awarding me the Leverhulme Travel Bursary to attend the 254th ACS National Meeting and Exposition. I would also like to thank my supervisors Jonathan and Nick for enabling me to carry out the project that I presented at the conference. I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary character of my PhD research and I am glad that the American audience appreciated our results.

'Participation in the 254th ACS National Meeting and Exposition will greatly boost my future career prospects, as I made valuable connections and my chances of getting a post-doctoral researcher position in the US have been enhanced. The feedback and questions I received after my presentation will help to direct the future work and possibly lead to new collaborations. Lastly, an oral communication at such a prestigious meeting is a great asset to my CV.'

Wojciech Zawodny
PhD Student
University of Manchester

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