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ACS Meeting News

Chemists gather in San Francisco for ACS Fall 2023 meeting

Conference features presentations on AI and chemistry, the environment, and more

by Mitch Jacoby
August 18, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 27

Meeting attendees gather at vendor’s booth
Credit: Mitch Jacoby/C&EN
Meeting attendees check out the offerings on the expo floor.

The American Chemical Society held its hybrid fall meeting Aug. 13-17 in San Francisco. As of Aug. 16, nearly 15,000 people had registered for the conference.

Among the wide array of events at ACS Fall 2023 were presentations on chemistry and artificial intelligence delivered in the Sunday evening plenary session. Heather Kulik of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) explored ways that AI can accelerate chemical discovery. John Jumper of Google DeepMind addressed the expanding role of machine learning in chemistry. And Jeremy Frey of the University of Southampton provocatively asked, “Will AI Win a Chemistry Nobel Prize and Replace Us?”

The annual gathering of chemists also featured keynote presentations that were part of the Kavli lecture series. Micheline Soley of the University of Wisconsin–Madison spoke about the role of quantum computing and data compression in chemistry. And Oregon State University’s Douglas Keszler addressed the way materials discoveries turn into innovations, focusing on inorganic clusters serving as a new platform of electronic materials.

Researchers discussing a poster presentation.
Credit: Mitch Jacoby/C&EN
A researcher discusses data shown on a scientific poster.

One of the highlights of the ACS meeting was the special symposium featuring the 2023 cohort of a dozen early-career scientists named by Chemical & Engineering News as this year’s Talented 12. “Here’s to the crazy ones,” said Paul Anastas of Yale University in his introductory remarks. The green chemistry pioneer was referring to creative researchers such as the Talented 12, who bring new perspectives to chemistry and think boldly about ways to tackle society’s big problems in energy, the environment, and other areas.

One of the T12 presenters was MIT’s Iwnetim Iwnetu Abate, a specialist in energy-storage materials. Abate reported on his group’s work with novel layered materials that could be used to develop sodium-ion batteries, a less expensive and inherently safer alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

T12’er Athina Anastasaki of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, applies her talents to what she called “unmaking polymers.” Anastasaki explained that today’s methods for recycling plastics typically degrade the polymers, leading to low-end applications for the recycled products. To bypass that problem, Anastasaki’s group designs molecular chains with custom end groups that enable polymers to be pulled apart cleanly under mild conditions and reused.

Another T12 honoree, Charlotte Vogt, reported on the way her group at Technion—Israel Institute of Technology uses cutting-edge methods to spy on solid catalysts in real time, as enormous numbers of reactants, intermediates, and products zip around their surfaces.These tiny catalyst particles drive most of large-scale industrial catalytic processes. Yet the way they work remains somewhat of a mystery because they undergo hard-to-track changes in size and shape while they mediate chemical reactions. Vogt’s group develops techniques that uncover the elusive behavior. The goal is to use that information to make tailored catalysts that reduce the quantity of greenhouse gases and waste by-products generated by industrial processes, as well as the amount of energy needed to run them.

Manasi Anantpur, a research scientist at Merck & Co., told C&EN she was attending an ACS meeting for the first time. She focused on presentations in medicinal chemistry and described the talks as “very useful.” She said that “it’s really interesting to hear from people in academia and companies with diverse backgrounds and experiences. I’m learning a lot.”


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