The Sceptical Chymist | ACS: Afternoon with the chain gang


I’m not sure why, but the polymer sessions at ACS meetings always seem to be in venues away from the main conference centre. What do polymer chemists make of this, I wonder? Do they feel that they’re being hived off for some reason? Or do they actually quite like having a venue more or less to themselves? If there are any polymer people out there that would like to comment on this, I’d love to know.

A sense of direction was never my strongest point, and so it was that I got lost on the way to the hotel where the polymer talks were being held (which was embarrassing, because the hotel is just around the corner from the Washington Conference Center). Arriving with seconds to spare, I found that someone had seriously miscalculated the size of the room needed for the afternoon session. As the chairperson, Craig Hawker, commented, “This is the smallest lecture room Bob Grubbs will ever lecture in.” People were spilling out into the corridor, the air-con couldn’t cope, and frankly I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stick it out for long.

Fortunately, a swap was arranged with another session, providing us with a room three times the size of the original one, which we instantly filled. More chairs were brought in, but by the end of the afternoon it was still standing room only.

So why all the interest? Because it was a stellar line-up. Not just the aforementioned Bob Grubbs, but also Krysztof Matyjaszewski, Dave Bergbreiter and Karen Wooley, to name but a few. There was too much good stuff to cover here, but I liked Rachel O’Reilly’s work making metal-lined nanocages (Soft Matter subscribers can read about this here); Craig Hawker’s description of reactive polymers that have ketenes in their side-chains, which can be used for cross-linking or functionalization (the polymers can be used for microcontact printing applications); and Karen Wooley’s tour de force about nanoparticles that carry DNA plasmids into cells (Biomaterials subscribers can see some of this work here). Karen is currently using nanostructures as building blocks for complex molecular assemblies, for example by decorating anionic nanocylinders with cationic nanospheres; the anionic cylinders won’t enter cells, but they can do when coated with the cationic spheres. She’s ultimately hoping that her nanostructures will be useful for therapies targeting lung injuries.

I have to say that this was my favourite session of the meeting so far – the science was great, but there was also a genuine sense of camaraderie among the people in the room, with lots of interest in each talk demonstrated by the number of questions asked. Which made up for the fact that I got lost again on the way back to my hotel…


Andrew Mitchinson (Senior Editor, Nature)

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