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Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Martin Peeks, reports from the International Symposium on Novel Aromatics

Martin Peeks

3 Oct 2017

Martin Peeks was awarded the Messel Travel Bursary to attend the International Symposium on Novel Aromatics. Here, he tells us how attending the conference was an excellent opportunity to catch up with old colleagues, as well as to meet many more excellent scientists.

‘The International Symposium on Novel Aromatics is a biennial conference, now in its 17th iteration. The location of ISNA rotates around the world: this year (2017) was North America’s turn, and the conference was held in the leafy environs of Stony Brook University, on Long Island, New York State. ISNA (and its sister conference, CURO-pi (Oxford 2018)) has an established reputation for high-quality presentations, and this year was no exception. The excellence of the science is most clearly illustrated by the strong audience presence in every session of the single-track programme! This was my second ISNA attendance (following Madrid, 2015), and I am very grateful to SCI and RSC for their support, the former for a Messel Travel Grant.

‘ISNA is a small conference, with attendance between 200 and 300 people, and a familial atmosphere. There was a good balance of established researchers, early career scientists, and students from all around the world.

‘The five-day conference kicked off with the Nozoe lecture, this year given by Prof Yoshito Tobe, discussing his group’s efforts to understand antiaromaticity and 3D-aromaticity. The conference continued with a packed scientific programme, including many talks with helpful tutorial-style introductions: a necessity for an event spanning the gamut of aromatic chemistry. Topics ranged from theoretical discussions through synthesis and spectroscopy to applications of aromatic compounds. Particular highlights in the latter respect were the work of Prof Katherine Mirica (adhesives), Prof Trisha Andrew (polymer coating for fabrics, and much else) and Prof Uwe Bunz (chemical “tongues”), amongst many others.

‘ISNA is a particularly useful conference owing its combination of all aspects of chemistry with materials-development. Several of the talks this year focused on nanographene, often quoted as the salvation of the electronics industry as we approach the miniaturisation limit for silicon transistors. Nanographene synthesis is a challenge, which is hampering its technological application. However, the wealth of progress reported at ISNA inspires hope that a solution is near to hand. Basic science is not neglected at ISNA, and talks on the nature of aromaticity, synthesis, and fundamental properties of some beautiful molecules were widely enjoyed.

‘The programme was well designed to avoid audience fatigue and to facilitate networking. As such, the conference proved an excellent opportunity to catch up with old colleagues, and contacts from my past attendances at CURO-pi and ISNA, as well as to meet many more excellent scientists. The two poster sessions were extremely engaging, and fantastic research was showcased in the ca. 200 posters.

This conference came at an exceptionally good time for me, in my first few weeks as a new postdoctoral fellow in Prof Timothy Swager’s group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The inspiring science at ISNA has given me a wealth of ideas for my future research, and I have been fortunate to make and renew valuable connections.

‘I presented a poster from my DPhil research with Prof Harry Anderson (University of Oxford), in which I discussed the preparation of the record-breaking largest aromatic and anti-aromatic compounds to date [“Aromaticity and antiaromaticity in a 2.4 nm porphyrin nanoring”, also published in Nature 2017 541 200]. This work was well-received at the poster session, and it was a pleasure to discuss with attendees.

‘The social programme of the conference was enlivening, including a banquet, several drinks receptions, and the choice of a Yankees game or an afternoon of free time in New York.

‘I am extremely grateful to SCI for facilitating my attendance at this conference with a Messel Bursary. Without SCI’s support, it is unlikely that I would have been able to attend. I am also grateful to the Royal Society of Chemistry for a travel grant, the English Speaking Union for a Lindemann Trust fellowship, and the conference organisers for putting on such a spectacular event. I hope to join the ISNA family again in Sapporo, Japan, in 2019.’

Martin Peeks
Postdoctoral Fellow
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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