I just returned from attending the 33rd Latin-American Congress of Chemistry (CLAQ) in Havana, Cuba. The event, which gathered the crème de la crème of Latin American science, was held concurrently with the 10th Congress of Chemical Sciences, Technology & Innovation.
The congress was hosted by the Cuban Chemical Society and brought together more than 1,200 chemists working in all areas and disciplines within the chemical sciences. In total there were 15 tracks and multiple poster sessions covering analytical chemistry, chemical education, chemical engineering, innovation in chemistry, materials for bioengineering and nanomedicine, nano and supramolecular chemistry, natural products, pharmaceuticals, food, biochemistry, molecular biology, and more.
Besides the many posters and presentations, attendees had the opportunity to attend five plenary lectures, starting with 2016 chemistry Nobel Prize winner Jean-Pierre Sauvage from the University of Strasbourg. In a lecture titled “Molecular Machines in Biology and in Chemistry,” he fascinated the crowd, speaking about the science that earned him his Nobel Prize. Not only did he stay for the duration of the congress, but on the last day he was seen wearing a T-shirt that said, “Entre Puerto Rico y Cuba hay química” (Between Puerto Rico and Cuba there is chemistry).
Ben Davis from the University of Oxford and Wolfram Sander from Ruhr University Bochum also delighted the audience with excellent plenary lectures on synthetic biology and the chemistry of carbenes, respectively.
On the last day, the local talent did not disappoint, with Cuban vaccine-making legend Vicente Vérez Bencomo delivering a talk on the contribution of chemistry to vaccine development in Cuba to a packed house. Vérez Bencomo, director general of the Finlay Institute of Vaccines, led the team that discovered and developed the first vaccine for Haemophilus influenzae type B using a synthetic antigen.
CLAQ attendees came from all over the world. I had the opportunity to chat with many between talks and at breaks, and I was surprised that most confessed to bringing “goodies”—this is how an attendee from northern Europe referred to lab consumables such as thin-layer chromatography plates, pipette tips, and the like—in their personal luggage. These donors knew their Cuban colleagues are in dire need of this kind of equipment and were happy to oblige with what they could spare from their own labs.
One of the highlights of the congress was a reception in the Spanish embassy on Oct. 10. Coincidentally, that is the day Cuba celebrates the beginning of its fight for independence from Spain. Regardless, the embassy is a spectacular building overlooking Havana Bay, and it felt like a real treat.
During the closing ceremony I had the opportunity to address the audience just as they waited to hear the announcement of which nation would be next to host CLAQ. I spoke of how at C&EN we are translating some of our most important chemistry journalism into Spanish and establishing relationships with organizations to help us share it. I made an offer to all Latin American societies to become partners in this collaboration. After that, I handed out poster prizes to 11 young chemists who had been selected by a panel of judges assembled by the Cuban Chemical Society as having prepared the best posters. And with that, it was confirmed that the next location for CLAQ will be Cartagena, Colombia, in 2020.
Preparations have already started. The team that put the winning bid together, led by Harold Duban Ardila Barrantes, president of the Colombian Chemical Society, had a vision to combine five concurring events, including CLAQ and a chromatography conference. It should make for another—the 34th—vibrant and dynamic CLAQ conference.
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