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ACS hosts its first ever virtual national meeting

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
August 21, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 32


I hadn’t been missing in-person conferences and symposia that much. Sure, a break from the day-to-day is always nice, as is a bit of travel and the opportunity to listen to good chemistry. I had been coping fine until last week, when the ACS fall meeting was due to take place had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic that is still ravaging the world.

I’ll be honest: I really missed the in-person experience. The ACS national meetings are a perfect opportunity for me and the rest of the C&EN team to take the temperature from members in terms of how good a job—or not—we are doing. Not only that, during the 4–5 days we spend at the meeting, we gather enough ideas, leads, and contacts for stories to fill our calendars for months. The experience is very immersive: we work from early in the morning—the scientific sessions typically start at 8:00 a.m.—to well into the evening. It is exhausting but at the same time it is energizing and stimulating.

But things are what they are and, for the first time ever, the ACS national meeting took place virtually (see page 4). Of course, as usual, there was plenty to choose from and I participated in a number of talks and events.

One of the highlights was the ACS Virtual Kids Zone, which I hosted on Aug. 15. This is an outreach event featuring interactive activities demonstrated by ACS members to teach children about the importance of chemistry. We had two broadcasts of the event: one in English starting at 3:00 p.m. and one in Spanish that followed at 4:00 p.m. Overall, we had more than 400 families register with an estimated 1,000 viewers. Guest volunteers included, among others, science teacher Jonte Lee, materials scientist (and one of C&EN’s Talented 12 class of 2018) Darryl Boyd, and none other than Miss America (and aspiring PhD student in biochemistry) Camille Schrier. We covered polymeric chemistry while making slime, made batteries out of lemons, and more.

The Kavli lectures were another highlight. On Aug. 18, it was Bryan Barton from DuPont who delivered the Kavli Foundation Emerging Leader in Chemistry Lecture titled “Innovator’s Guide to Industrial Impact.” During his lecture, Barton shared personal experiences and how they shaped his approach to making innovations commercially successful. On Aug. 19, it was the turn of University of Groningen’s Ben Feringa to give the Fred Kavli Innovations in Chemistry Lecture. During a session titled “Art of Building Small” he delved into the world of molecular switches and motors that won him the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Incidentally, 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the Fred Kavli Foundation, a philanthropic organization that Fred Kavli established with the earnings he made from selling Kavlico—the firm he had set up in the late 1950s to manufacture sensors that worked under extreme conditions. I briefly met him in London at the Science Museum during a reception that preceded the 2009 World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ). He recognized the importance of not just championing science but also the communication of science, hence his support of the WCSJ and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Kavli Science Journalism Awards and his partnership with ACS and other societies for the dissemination of science.

All in all, we made it through the first virtual ACS national meeting, and you’ll see plenty of stories in C&EN about the research that was presented (see pages 5–6). How was the experience for you? I’d be interested to hear.

Given all that we have learned during this pandemic, my view is that we’ll travel less than before and be more selective about what conferences we participate in going forward. Virtual or (preferably) in person, the ACS national meetings will continue to be a fixture in my calendar.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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