ACS Debrief

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The end of August is when most people’s minds are focused on beaches, ice-cream, and movies.   But for over 16,000 chemists, the end of August was a time to converge on Boston for the 2018 national fall American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting for a 5-day technical program and exposition extravaganza.    This year’s theme was highly appropriate:  nanoscience, nanotechnology, and beyond.

To be fair, national ACS meetings can be overwhelming.  With over 40 divisions presenting many multi-day symposia, there are literally thousands of talks to choose from.  This is coupled with the symposia being spread out all over the waterfront area of Boston including various hotels and the Boston Convention and Exhibit Center, meaning the opportunity for talk-hopping is more limited than in smaller conferences. 

This summer I parked myself at the Westin Boston waterfront for 2 days, which was the home of the polymer and polymer materials science and engineering divisions.  One of the symposia in the PMSE division was organized by yours truly on “Probing Structure and morphology of polymers and polymer composites in real and reciprocal space.”   Together with my co-chair, Ellen Heeley of the Open University in the UK, our goal with this symposium was to bring together different characterization communities into one room!  And so over 2-days, electron microscopists, x-ray scatterers, and atomic force microscopists came together to discuss newest advances in characterization of polyolefins, polymer blends, and polymer composites.

But my other favorite part of ACS was perusing the talks in sessions that had nothing to do with my area of expertise. I especially enjoy session in the presidential symposium or the multidisciplinary program planning group (MPPG), which usually arranges a symposium on that conference’s theme.   I attended a symposium organized by the MPPG group on “the role of the chemical sciences in brain research and the brain initiative.”  In 2014 NIH launched the BRAIN initiative with over $100 million dollars over the next decade to develop a “complete arsenal of tools and information for understanding how the brain functions both in health and disease.”  Chemists are currently poorly represented in the funding for brain initiative (not surprisingly doctors and biological scientists were well represented, but so were engineers!) and so they are trying to get more chemists involved.  This symposium featured an overview of the initiative by Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological disorders and strokes followed by chemists research in this area.

There was another fun MPPG on Nano in Tissue Engineering which featured a talk on the viability of nanomedicine in the world of immunotherapy.   There was also an outstanding talk by Dr. Jeff Karp of Brigham and Women’s Hospital who discussed various developments of patches designed to have tissues grow over them to fix problems like congenital heart defects.  He has also developed hydrophobic, viscous glues that survive wet environments to be used in minimally invasive surgeries and even help treat conditions like colitis and arthritis.   You can check out one of his spinoff companies, Gecko Biomedical.

But my favorite talk that week was given by Professor Robert Langer from MIT, which he delivered as part of the symposium on Advances in Human Space Exploration.  Professor Langer is of course well-known for his discoveries in drug delivery and tissue engineering.  He gave some highlights of his current research in this area including work on using porous particles for drug delivery through inhalers (turns out that they are more effective at delivering drugs into the lungs than the solid, large particles used currently).  And he finished with some incredibly exciting work in creating scaffolds to repair spinal cord injuries. Talk about inspirational and hopefully the future!  His ACS talk hasn’t been posted yet, but his piece on spinal cord injuries was also delivered at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and can be found here.

Phew.  What a week.  In the age of instant information in 280 characters or less, there really is no substitute for face-to-face interactions and hearing a live talk.  Especially in a forum where I had the opportunity to access the world’s leaders in any area of chemical research just by hunting down a room in the conference center or crossing the road to a hotel, leaves you with ideas and inspiration…until the next conference.  See you in Orlando in March, fellow chemists!

Dalia Yablon, Ph.D.

SurfaceChar LLC


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