The Sceptical Chymist | BOSS: If you can’t stand the heat


I enjoyed the Belgian Organic Synthesis Symposium in 2008 so much that I decided to go to another one. So, here I am in Namur, capital of the Wallonian region of Belgium, where they’ve been having a mini-heatwave – and where my hotel room has no air conditioning. So, forgive me if this turns out to be a short entry, but it’s hard to concentrate on blogging when the temperature is 30 °C.

The meeting has got off to a terrific start, with Dave MacMillan undergoing the usual rite of passage as the recipient of the ‘Tetrahedron Chair’ prize – he gave four lectures today on organocatalysis. The lectures are billed as a one-day course, and so unsurprisingly there wasn’t much in the way of new results. But there were a few teasers of things to come from the MacMillan lab. Look out for Dave’s forthcoming synthesis of strychnine, completed in an amazing 12 steps. I think this might be the shortest route ever, but feel free to correct me. Dave also mentioned that his lab is currently looking for alternatives to Hantzsch esters as hydride sources for organocatalytic reductions, and briefly described a soon-to-be-published method for the alpha-amination of aldehydes.

You might think that a whole day listening to one person speak would be wearing, but Dave has such a conversational style that his lectures feel more like one-to-one chats, in which he gives you the inside scoop on how his greatest discoveries were made. Even the lure of free Belgian beer (given away as a freebie at the end of today’s programme) didn’t deprive him of any of his audience.

And speaking of Belgian beer, the thought of a cold, frosty one is extremely appealing from my oven of a hotel room. So I’m going to go and get one.


(Andrew Mitchinson, Senior Editor, Nature)

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