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A new framework to communicate science

by Rick Ewing, Chair, ACS Committee on Meetings and Expositions
June 20, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 23


Image of Rick Ewing.
Credit: Courtesy of Rick Ewing

Meetings and conferences in the American Chemical Society underwent perhaps their most significant change as the society adjusted in 2020 to new ways of interacting, collaborating, and networking. Like many science organizations, ACS terminated the Spring 2020 meeting as the threat of COVID-19 emerged. The Fall 2020 meeting proved to be a challenging experiment in virtual meeting planning and execution. The Committee on Meetings and Expositions (M&E) heard the concerns and resolved to offer a virtual platform that would meet the standards of ACS in-person meetings.

Spring 2021 meeting: An assessment

Diligent planning early on made for a successful ACS Spring 2021 meeting. A joint task force on the virtual Spring 2021 meeting gave guidance on the meeting structure. The task force—which included program chairs, division leaders, and planners, as well as representation from M&E, the Divisional Activities Committee, and the Multidisciplinary Program Planning Group—aimed to improve on the Fall 2020 meeting by using member feedback as well as strategies recommended by the board-appointed Task Force on the Future of Meetings.

We used innovative communication technologies to create a new scheduling format to deliver science effectively on a global scale. The two-component, 4-week meeting (April 5–30) was a first for ACS. Each component was distinct: first, the meeting had 2 weeks of live-broadcast sessions, then another 2 weeks of on-demand sessions.

We will continue to evaluate new technologies and meeting platforms to ensure ACS delivers science in multiple formats that are viable, are cost effective, boost our global reach, and are of the highest quality.

ACS Spring 2021 was one of the largest virtual meetings in the chemistry industry, with over 12,000 attendees. The number of abstracts totaled 5,847. Thought-provoking scientific research was shared in 884 live-broadcast sessions that included oral and poster sessions. More than 260 networking events complemented the technical program. The on-demand component included 2,466 presentations.

Global participation was one of the many benefits of offering ACS Spring 2021 in the virtual format. Of the 12,533 attendees, 2,748 were international participants representing 73 countries. This was an extraordinary increase over in-person meetings, which typically include participants from 50 countries.

Upcoming meetings

Meeting planners are fine-tuning the program for the Fall 2021 meeting, “Resilience of Chemistry.” This will be ACS’s first venture into the hybrid format. The in-person component will take place Aug. 22–26 in Atlanta with a parallel virtual platform occurring over the same period. On-demand access will be available Aug. 30–Sept. 30. The in-person portion will follow all US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state COVID-19 guidelines.

Also included in the 2021 portfolio are eight regional meetings: three virtual meetings this spring and summer and five in-person meetings in the fall. Four of the regional meetings have issued a call for papers (see page 30). These meetings are coming on the heels of the new Regional Board Liaisons Initiative. This effort has the goal to create a more productive connection between regional boards or regional meeting organizing committees and M&E. This new channel of engagement gives M&E members an avenue to apprise 2021 and 2022 regional meeting planners of new opportunities and developments.

M&E will collaborate to execute additional scientific meetings in 2021. Planners are involved in supporting the virtual 25th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference that took place June 14–18 with the theme “Sustainable Production to Advance the Circular Economy.” This special focus reflects the role of chemistry and engineering in creating a closed-loop economy for a sustainable future. ACS is part of the organizing committee for the 2021 International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies (Pacifichem). The event will take place Dec. 16–21 in Honolulu in a hybrid format with the theme “A Creative Vision for the Future.” The conference aims to inspire active discussion and opportunities for international collaboration with the goal of promoting creativity and a clear innovative vision for chemistry.

Give us your input

Our goal is to grow the society’s meeting capacity. We will continue to evaluate new technologies and meeting platforms to ensure ACS delivers science in multiple formats that are viable, are cost effective, boost our global reach, and are of the highest quality.

M&E is dedicated to innovating scientific meeting planning, logistics, platforms, attendee benefits, and exhibitor and sponsor advantages by creating solutions for ACS and beyond. We welcome your feedback on our meetings and your suggestions for future events. With your input, we can add value to our meeting experience and drive the communication of science across the globe. Please contact us at M& to share your thoughts.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



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