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¡Viva la Química!

by Bradley Miller and Tamara Nameroff
November 20, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 47

Some of Latin America's most interesting science was on display at the 27th Latin American Congress on Chemistry in Havana, Cuba, held on Oct. 16-20 at the Havana International Conference Center.

The biennial congress is affectionately known as FLAQ, the acronym of the sponsoring organization, the Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones Químicas. The Cuban Chemical Society (CCS) hosted this year's congress, organized under the theme "Chemistry of Life," concurrently with the society's 6th International Congress on Chemistry & Chemical Engineering.

"This event represented a special opportunity to reveal and exchange the most recent developments achieved in all chemistry and chemical engineering fields in the environment of a wide social and cultural spectrum of the Latin American and international region," said the organizing committee chair and CCS president, Alberto J. Núñez Sellés.

The meeting consisted of almost 1,100 oral and poster presentations and featured plenary lectures by Nobel Laureate Harry Kroto and prominent Latin American researchers, including Eusebio Juaristi of Mexico's Center for Research & Advanced Studies, Héctor D. Abruña from Cornell University, and Roberto Cao of the University of Havana. In addition to symposia in traditional subdisciplines of chemistry such as analytical chemistry and organic chemistry, several symposia focused on scientific areas that are strengths in Latin America, such as medicinal and pharmaceutical chemistry, sugar chemistry and coproducts, and agrochemistry. About half of the meeting participants came from Cuba. International participants were predominantly from countries in Latin America.

A lecture from Vicente Vérez-Bencomo of the Center for the Study of Synthetic Antigens at the University of Havana highlighted some of Cuba's scientific accomplishments. He is internationally recognized for his work developing glycoconjugate vaccines. His presentation provided an update on his team's work with large-scale synthesis, pharmaceutical development, and clinical evaluation of a conjugate vaccine composed of a synthetic capsular polysaccharide antigen of Haemophilus influenzae type b. His team won the 2005 Agilent Technologies Foundation Health Award for creating an affordable, synthetic vaccine against the bacteria that can cause meningitis and pneumonia.

ACS continued its almost decade-long tradition of fostering interactions between U.S. and Latin American chemists at the meeting. Most of the 29 ACS participants gave technical presentations, and some also chaired symposia. The meeting's location presented special challenges for U.S.-based participants, however, owing to U.S. government restrictions on financial transactions with Cuba. The ACS Office of International Activities worked with ACS members to obtain a special license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Advocacy efforts by the individual members and the ACS Office of Legislative & Government Affairs helped secure the license. The hard work paid off. Capturing the sentiment of ACS's participation in the event, Nuñez said, "ACS, through its efforts, has made a significant contribution to this year's congress."

ACS President E. Ann Nalley characterized the ACS delegation's experience in Cuba. "A key measure of an international scientific gathering's success is its ability to activate communities across disciplinary and national boundaries. The FLAQ organizers have helped the region showcase its science and further coalesce its chemistry community. I was delighted to be part of that and have the opportunity to interact with my colleagues from Latin America."

National chemical societies of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela are federation members. Although ACS is not a member of the federation, the society has participated in the biennial FLAQ congresses since 1998.

Bradley Miller and Tamara Nameroff work in the ACS Office of International Activities.


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