Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Ivalina Minova, reports from Orlando

10 June 2019

Ivalina Minova was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend the ACT National Meeting and Exposition: Chemistry for New Frontiers in Florida, United States. Here she tells us about the scientific talks and discussions she experienced as well as the opportunity to explore the careers fair and the multiple networking opportunities the meeting provided.

‘During my first visit to America, while on an industrial placement at Johnson Matthey, Savannah, GA, I had the opportunity to attend the ACS Spring 2019 National Meeting and Exposition in Orlando, FL. The theme of the ACS meeting was "Chemistry for New Frontiers" which brought together over 15,000 chemists, students and exhibitors between 31st March and 4th April. I would have been a bit lost in the large conference venue at the Orange County Convention Centre but downloading the ACS mobile app allowed me to easily navigate and plan my schedule for each day. Parallel sessions were spread out in rooms with guests of about 30 people and presenters were allocated 20-minute slots. A large poster session and an evening reception was held on the second day of the conference.

‘Most seminars I attended were held in honour of a prominent chemist either entering retirement or emerging in their career. For example, the 2019 ACS Ipatieff Prize was given to Ive Hermans from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in recognition of his success in the field of Catalysis and there were a series of seminar talks given in recognition of Prof Hermans. I was able to hear some of the talks by ExxonMobil who were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their corporate strategic research laboratories with a view forward from a retrospective. Furthermore, I enjoyed the series of talks on the Chemical Catalysis for Bioenergy Consortium organised by Daniel Ruddy and Joshua Schaidle from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The session included talks on the production of high octane fuels from biomethanol and catalyst considerations for upgrading biomass pyrolysis vapours and liquids. I also heard a general talk on the chemical industry dynamics and the implications for innovation and technology development by Dow Chemical R&D’s Vice President Bob Maughon. He discussed shale gas, plastics and sustainability as well as the global market dynamics and Dow’s technology strategy. Overall, it was an exciting and stimulating environment and a great experience to drop in on different talks and develop a network of contacts.

‘In addition to the scientific talks and discussions, I took the opportunity to explore the exposition theatre booths and the career fair. I engaged in a panel discussion organised by the C&EN and the Division of Small Chemical Business on what’s it like to bring a world-changing chemistry innovation to marketplace. I was able to ask questions to successful entrepreneurs from leading chemistry-based start-ups including Omar Farha of NuMat technologies and Robert Hamers of Silatronix. I found it interesting to know how they balance their responsibilities across being a full-time employee in academia and managing their company. At the career fair, I had arranged a mock interview with William Carrol, retired chemical industry professional and discussed graduate rotation schemes with chemicals industry representatives.

‘For me, the highlight of the conference was the multiple networking opportunities it provided. I approached several eminent professors and industry directors in the field of catalysis in between the different sessions. I engaged in conversations on one-to-one basis and discussed possible career pathways in scientific research in the field of applied catalysis. The message I received from the academic community is the importance of identifying the research problem you want to solve and surrounding yourself with excellent people. Working in industry can be equally stimulating as being an academic and large companies continue to increase their investment in R&D. I learnt that industry is actively seeking to engage with academics and attract talented employees by funding large-scale academic-based centres such as the MITei in Massachusetts. Overall, I was able to receive advice from recognised chemists and gain insight on international research facilities across US, Europe and Asia.

‘The conference finished on Thursday afternoon, when I presented my talk on ‘Operando synchrotron infrared microspectroscopy: Insight into the direct formation of olefins in the MTG process over H-ZSM-5’ during the In Situ & Operando Spectroscopy/Microscopy Studies of Catalysis session. After the conference, on Friday and the rest of the weekend, I stayed in Orlando and took the opportunity to explore the numerous entertainment parks at Universal Studios. It was very sunny all week, with temperatures above 80 F and I really enjoyed my excursion to Florida.

‘I am thankful to the SCI Messel Travel Bursary worth £850 that was able to cover the cost of my visit during the conference period. Overall, this was an invaluable experience that has stretched my imagination and broadened my horizons to the global chemistry arenas‘.

Ivalina Minova, PhD Student
University of St Andrews

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