Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Shen Qu, reports from Vienna

02 January 2020

2 Jan 2020

Shen Qu was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend the 21st European Symposium on Organic Chemistry in Vienna. Here he tells us how attending the symposium has helped to enhance his communication, presentation and networking skills and provided invaluable experiences which will help his future career.

‘Running biennially for 40 years, the European Symposium on Organic Chemistry (ESOC) is a highly regarded conference among organic chemists. The 21st edition of ESOC was recently held in Vienna from 14th to 18th of July 2019, with over 800 attendees coming from 49 countries. Thanks to the generous reward of a Messel Travel Bursary by the SCI, I was able to attend this conference and present my recently published work as a poster titled “Organocatalytic Kinetic Resolution of Biaryl Alcohols”. (Isothiourea-Catalyzed Regioselective Acylative Kinetic Resolution of Axially Chiral Biaryl Diols, S. Qu, M. D. Greenhalgh and A. D. Smith, Chem. Eur. J., 2019, 25, 2816-2823).

‘Being hosted in the City of Music, the well-organised conference opened on Sunday afternoon with three sections from Mozart’s symphonies, followed by an inspiring lecture delivered by Nobel Prize winner Sir James Fraser Stoddart on mechanically-interlocked molecular architectures. There were 11 45-minute long plenary lectures, 14 30-minute long invited lectures and 28 15-minute long oral presentations given over the 5 days, covering a wide range of organic chemistry topics including organocatalysis, total synthesis, supramolecular chemistry and more. A total of 560 posters were presented over the two poster sessions. Interestingly, the poster prizes were selected through public voting rather than by a committee, in order to encourage attendees to interact more over the sessions. The conference also provided two workshops, one by Magritek on benchtop NMR systems, the other by Wiley on publication of academic papers. For the first time in over 40 years, ESOC 2019 also organised a job fair, with companies like Merco (MSD) and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) hosting job interviews at the conference site. The conference closed on Thursday night over a relaxing buffet-style dinner, with attendees socialising freely over Austrian food and wine.

‘I am a second year PhD student in the ADS group at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK. My PhD research focuses on developing new organocatalysis methodologies, more specifically, isothiourea-catalysed kinetic resolution (KR) processes on challenging substrates. While asymmetric synthesis generates new stereogenic elements in prochiral starting materials, kinetic resolution separates two enantiomers from a racemate. KR can serve as a powerful tool where a racemate can be easily accessed but asymmetric synthesis proves challenging. My first research project focused on the unprecedented regioselective acylative KR of unprotected biaryl diols. This class of substrates are commonly used as ligands in metal catalysis, and are often used as auxiliaries in synthesises to introduce new chiral elements in asymmetric synthesis. There is a constantly high demand for enantiopure axially chiral compounds.

‘ESOC 2019 is the first international conference I have attended. On top of proudly presenting my work and network with others working in similar fields to mine, I was hoping to look for inspirations and ideas to incorporate within my future work, and ESOC 2019 certainly did not disappoint.

‘Although most of the lectures and talks delivered were not directly relevant to kinetic resolution or axial chirality, the presenters were all very passionate about their work, and all gave very engaging and inspiring presentations. During the conference, I gained significantly more knowledge in fields I am not familiar with, for example, photochemistry and electrochemistry; I also had a taste for what makes these speakers successful in their field, and the logic applied in their research. These experiences will help me a lot in my own research in the long term. Luckily, I’ve also found useful information that would benefit my work in the close future. Prof. Syuzanna. R. Harutyunyan’s lecture on enantioselective addition of organometallics into carbonyls completes the story-telling for the paper I will draft later this year. While Prof. Lukas. S. Goossen’s presentation on carboxylate chemistry gave me inspirations on how to tackle decarboxylative couplings.

‘The poster sessions were spread over two afternoons and were designed to give attendees enough time to discuss chemistry and network with others in similar field. Among the 560 posters presented, less than 10 focused on asymmetric synthesis of biaryl compounds, while only 2 others mentioned kinetic resolution. The lack of similar concepts presented over the poster sessions gave me the opportunity to give a detailed introduction of my research to those who are interested, and answer questions along the way. The experience of these close interactions with other attendees over the poster sessions will be invaluable in helping me to defend my thesis in an examination. To my surprise, I was approached within the first 10 minutes with useful information for developing my KR procedure into a dynamic kinetic resolution (DKR) procedure, which is more than I could dream of.

‘The ESOC 2019 has helped to enhance my communication, presentation and networking skills, providing invaluable experiences, which will no doubt be applicable towards my future career. I would like to thank the SCI for awarding me the Messel Travel Bursary and providing the financial support necessary to attend this conference. I was lucky enough to travel with three close friends from work to Vienna this time, Jacqueline Bitai, Calum McLaughlin and Jiufeng Wu. I am grateful for their company on this trip and for the beautiful memories we share.’

Shen Qu
PhD Student
University of St Andrews

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