241st ACS National Meeting

26 July 2011

Messel Bursar Peter Knipe reports from the 241st ACS National Meeting & Exposition – Chemistry of Natural Resources, Spring 2011

Presenting your research at an international chemistry conference is a rite of passage for most PhD students, and I attended the 241st ACS Spring National Meeting - 'Chemistry of Natural Resources - in Anaheim, USA on 27-31 March 2011. The conference itself was an enormous event, attracting over 14,000 chemists from around the world including some of the most ground-breaking and influential names in our field.

The keynote talks were a particular highlight of the conference. In the area of total synthesis Larry Overman presented his elegant synthesis of (+)-gliocladine C, while Phil Baran outlined the remarkable development of a successful route to palau’amine - a natural product that had previously eluded scores of students and academics alike. For those overwhelmed by the variety of palladium sources and ligands, Stephen Buchwald gave an excellent ‘how-to’ guide for Pd-catalyzed amination. Enamine catalysis pioneer David MacMillan presented his group’s novel developments in 'SOMO catalysis', and his high-throughput 'accelerated serendipity' concept.

Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann gave a fascinating historical account entitled 'Development of the Ideas of Orbital Symmetry Control' where he outlined the revolutionary work he and R. B. Woodward had undertaken to elucidate the true nature of pericyclic reactions, previously described by Doering as having 'no mechanism'. This was a subject of particular interest to me since my PhD relates to electrocyclic reactions, and I felt privileged to see for myself the notebook pages in which the ideas of orbital symmetry were written down for the very first time. I was inspired to hear pioneering studies being described by such masters of our field, and found myself wanting to make similar innovative discoveries during my own chemical career.

With such a plethora of keynote speakers it would be easy to overlook the talks being given by students, of which there were a great many more, however these talks proved to be some of the most interesting. It was exciting to hear the about development of new methodologies or routes to natural products discussed first-hand by the students or post-docs who carried out the work This including the pitfalls and disappointments that befell them along the way, which can sometimes be more interesting than the polished account given by their supervisors. These talks also provided a good opportunity to ask questions, and discuss their chemistry with the speakers afterwards.

Poster sessions provided another opportunity to view and discuss the work being undertaken by others in the field in whilst allowing the exchange of ideas and experiences to our mutual benefit. 'Sci-mix – a cross-divisional poster session – gave a chance to view areas of chemistry outside organic, and I found this exposure to a broad spectrum of chemical research to be one of the most valuable aspects of the conference.

On the third day of the conference I presented some of the work I have undertaken during my PhD studies entitled 'Catalytic Asymmetric Electrocyclic Reactions in Complexity-Building Cascades' in a 20 minute talk. For this I summarised a project where an anionic electrocyclic reaction constitutes a key step in a cascade leading to a bicyclic product possessing three stereocentres (one quaternary); control of asymmetry is achieved by tight-ion pairing with an optically-pure phase-transfer catalyst – a methodology previously developed within our group. I found the experience immensely rewarding and I believed the audience appreciated my work, and was pleased to answer several questions afterwards.

The conference also provided less formal venues in which to meet with other chemists from around the world; evening drinks sessions were a welcome opportunity to socialise and network, with the ACS hosting a large cross-divisional drinks reception and the RSC hosting a smaller reception for the British contingent.

Overall, I felt attending the conference was an extremely worthwhile endeavour, providing contacts and experience which could prove invaluable in the pursuit of a future career in chemistry, through postdoctoral work and beyond. I would wholeheartedly recommend any other PhD student to present their work at such an event. I am extremely grateful to the co-workers who helped proof-read my talk, Dr Martin Smith for his inspired supervision, and of course to SCI for itsgenerous award of a Messel Bursary which made travel to an international conference possible.

Peter Knipe
University of Oxford

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