To San Francisco and back (a Travel Bursary story)

27 Aug 2014

Due to a Richardson Travel Bursary from the SCI, I was able to attend the 248th ACS National Meeting & Exposition on Chemistry & Global Stewardship in San Francisco, California. I applied to present at this particular conference as I have a strong interest in sustainable processes, having completed a PhD in flow chemistry, a postdoctoral fellowship in carbon capture chemistry and am currently a postdoctoral fellow in organic process chemistry researching reusable, heterogeneous catalysts. I also hoped this conference would allow me to gain new knowledge and inspiration for my own research as well as give me the chance to network with experts in my field.

I arrived in San Francisco on Friday 8 August, which gave me a full day to recover before the conference opening on the Sunday. This gave me a chance to do some all-important sightseeing around the beautiful city. The famous dock is definitely worth a visit, especially when the seals are lazing about on the shore. If you are hungry, I suggest Ghiradelli’s on Ghiradelli Square, where the biggest and most delicious ice cream sundaes can be enjoyed. Alternatively, a day out in Golden Gate Park or a bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge is highly recommended.

The conference began in earnest on Sunday, with talks starting from 8am. There were a huge number of presentations from PhD students and Nobel Prize winners alike, with all presentations being different but inspiring in their own way. The highlights of the oral programme were talks from Professors Harry B. Gray and Tim Jamison. Gray discussed advances in the field of water splitting, which could be used to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. On the other hand, Jamison educated the audience about the benefits of flow chemistry, which can even be used in the complex pharmaceutical targets. Although the talks by big name academics were excellent, the main highlight for me was the talks by PhD students as these are the people that actually carry out the cutting edge research. The talks were often far more in depth with a much more personal viewpoint.

I was lucky enough to get my own presentation out of the way early on day one. My talk was titled 'Continuous Flow Synthesis of Chiral Amines' and discussed resolution and racemisation processes in flow. After some technical difficulties, it went well and, as a result, I was asked some interesting questions. It was, both, nerve-wracking and exhilarating to give a talk at an international conference, but well worth it. What is particularly exciting is that I have been contacted since about potential collaborations so who knows what impact this conference could have on my future career.

A theme throughout the conference was to 'find the mole', which I finally managed to do at the poster session. As you can tell from the picture, I was very excited. The poster session was in a huge hall and so it was impossible to read all of the posters. The ACS San Francisco phone and tablet app proved particularly useful in this case as it meant I could search for the most relevant posters and specifically hunt those ones out. The poster sessions were great because they allowed me time to chat properly to researchers about their work with no time constraints, with the added benefit of free beer.

Although the ACS conference is very much about the science, it is also about meeting people and sharing ideas. I have come away from the conference with an increased knowledge of chemistry as well as potential collaborators and life-long friends. In short, I started the week shaking hands with strangers but ended the week giving goodbye hugs to friends.

I wish to thank SCI for the financial help, which has allowed me to attend this excellent conference.

Jessica Breen,
SCI Richardson Travel Bursary recipient

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