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Rideal Travel Bursary recipient, Adam Town, reports from Washington, USA

Adam Town

2 Oct 2017

Adam Town was awarded a Rideal Travel Bursary in April 2017 to attend the 254th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, Washington, USA, 20 - 24 August 2017. Adam is a PhD student at the University of Liverpool. Here, he describes how his attendance has broadened his scientific interests and the opportunity to take advantage of the excellent careers section.

‘As my PhD draws to a close, I decided that it would be great to attend an international conference to be able to share some of the interesting research I've worked hard to obtain during my time as a student under the supervision of Dr. Tom McDonald and Prof. Steve Rannard. Where better to go than what is most likely the largest gathering of chemists in the world: the American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, which on its 254th occurrence was held in August 2017 in Washington D.C.

‘In the lead up to the conference I was slightly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of parallel sessions taking place at any one time. However, in an ever increasingly multi disciplinary world, I realised this allowed me to see work from scientists that connected to many different aspects of my research, all at the same conference. One particular talk by Yevgeny Brudno on refilling drug depots was particularly fascinating, and something I'm now interested in applying to the material I work with. For the oral presentation of my own work, I found an audience which was very engaged, asking many interesting questions at the end.

‘Another standout part of the ACS was the expo which far exceeded anything I’ve encountered at other conferences. It was great to see some of the cutting edge equipment available for our lab from the many different lab equipment providers, including one company who decided to do a grand apple style mystery product reveal attended by over 1000 conference delegates. I also got a chance at being involved with market research for a virtual lab assistant, like the voice assistant you can find on your phone and in internet connected home devices. This product seemed like it could be a great way to improve the efficiency of working in a lab, as you no longer have to remove gloves and wash your hands to do things such as use a calculator, and potentially more advanced actions such as updating a virtual lab book or chemical inventory. I look forward to seeing this product become commercially available.

‘Also, more importantly for me, I could take advantage of the excellent careers section of the expo. Here exhibitors from academia and industry gave great insights into what it is like working for their company/institution. For example I wasn't aware of all the benefits of a postdoc at an institute such as KAUST, or a career with BASF, prior to visiting the expo. I was also able to get a professional headshot free of charge courtesy of the ACS, which I can now use in my online presence and CV as I start to apply for jobs. After visiting a lot of exhibitors I now have a large collection of free pens; I imagine these will come in handy for writing up my PhD thesis!

‘Some other interesting events I attended included a Guinness world record attempt to hold the largest chemistry lesson. The lesson itself consisted of the Chemistry behind water purification processes, so that we are supplied with clean, safe and cheap drinking water. I was also involved in the launch of WISDOM (Women in Science). In the US there is still inequality for women in science to a much greater extent than the UK. At a very fundamental level, parents and junior school can sometimes reinforce an idea that a career in science isn’t for women. It’s great to see this attitude being challenged in a very public way.

‘Finally what visit to Washington D.C. wouldn't include a little sightseeing. The city has what is known as the national mall. This is a national park which is a 1.9 mile long strip which runs down the centre of the city. It is lined by the famous collection of Smithsonian museums, and many well known monuments and public buildings, such as the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, White House and the United States Capitol building. The mall comes to life at night, with the various public monuments along its concourse illuminated, and mirrored, in a series of reflecting pools. The ‘Great American Eclipse’, the first full eclipse in the US for over 100 years also coincided with the conference. Hence the streets filled with delegates wanting to see it for themselves. Unlike Donald Trump, everyone remembered to wear safe viewing glasses!

‘I would like to thank SCI and RSC for providing me with the Rideal Travel Bursary, as without this financial support it would not have been possible for me to attend and engage with such a great conference. The next ACS national meeting and exposition will be held in New Orleans, March 18-22, 2018.’

Adam Town
PhD student
University of Liverpool

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