David Liptrot, Messel Travel Bursary winner 2014

1 August 2014

With the generous support of a Messel Travel Bursary from SCI, I was able to attend the Gordon Research Conference and Seminar on Organometallic Chemistry, which took place from 5 – 11 July 2014 in Newport, Rhode Island, USA. This conference has a long-running reputation for attracting the very best science and scientists from the USA in my field and as such I was extremely excited to attend.

Set at a small university, Salve Regina, in the picturesque seaside town of Newport, the Gordon Organometallic conference attracts scientists from a variety of countries, research areas and both in industry and academia. The town provided a fantastic backdrop for the conference, and afternoon breaks offered an opportunity for much needed relaxation interspersed with the intensity of scientific discussion occurring during the very full schedule.

The principal focus of the conference is in-depth reaction analysis as applied to organometallic reactivity, with a particular focus on catalysis. As a catalysis chemist with a keen interest in reaction analysis, the chance to see the best in my field discussing their work was invaluable. Most particularly, the Gordon conference series place an extreme emphasis on interaction and collaboration between postgraduate students, postdoctoral researchers, academics and industrial scientists. This opportunity for interaction which could yield collaborations and inspiration was another fantastic aspect of the conference.

Notably, the conference was preceded by a smaller seminar aimed at early career researchers which ran before the conference and gave me the opportunity to relax into the conference and adjust to the time change. This was exciting both for the chance to meet international scientists in a similar position to myself and as it involved a pastoral component consisting of mentoring with researchers on a variety of career paths. This was most notable in the panel session including Nobel prize winning Professor Bob Grubbs and gave me the opportunity to reflect very productively on my future.

Owing to the focus on interaction, it is obligatory that all attendees of Gordon conferences present a talk or poster. I was able to take a poster focussing on some novel organometallic reactivity that has been part of the focus of my PhD entitled 'Group 2 Mediated Cascade Reactions for Heterocycle Assembly'. This was exciting both as an opportunity to share novel research but most particularly I relished the insight offered by other researchers who were being exposed to my work for the first time. Given that over the course of the week there were over 14 hours of poster sessions, there was plenty of opportunity to receive this insight! With poster sessions running well into the early hours of the morning, there was also ample opportunity to discuss science and the academic life with leading PIs in this dynamic field and the informal environment fostered by the conference organisers yielded much candid and fascinating discourse.

My own research focuses upon the application of the environmentally benign and inexpensive metals of group 2 in molecular catalysis particularly focussing on dehydrocoupling. This is an exciting but very novel field and I was surprised to note how few researchers were aware of the ability of these elements to engage in productive catalysis. As a result, it was hugely enjoyable to be able to spread the good news of group 2 catalysis.

As noted, my particular focus is one of the less well known aspects of organometallic chemistry and as such it was exciting to see a variety of transition metal mediated transformations being investigated in an in-depth fashion. Notably, there is enormous overlap in terms of analytical techniques utilised for both transition metal and group 2 mediated catalysis and as such the chance to deepen my understanding of such techniques was truly inspirational. Beyond this, the chance to broaden my knowledge of organometallic chemistry to areas beyond the focus of my PhD was exciting.

The conference programme contained an intriguing mix of young and established academics, all discussing work at the forefront of the field and with a focus on unpublished results. Particularly engaging talks included a fascinating discussion on borylation from Professor Todd Marder from Würzburg, and a structurally beautiful and analytically elegant talk on supramolecular catalysis from Professor Robert Bergman of UC Berkeley. Furthermore, talks from Professor John Arnold of UC Berkeley on niobium imido complexes and James Boncella of Los Alamos National Laboratory on uranium imides formed a synthetically stunning morning on 'imido-Thursday'.

The opportunity to both meet other postgraduate students, as well as researchers further along in their academic or industrial career was invaluable. The collaborative environment gave me the ideal opportunity to create a series of links which I believe will be invaluable to my future career. I already have plans to meet up with a number of these new links at future conferences. This was coupled with the opportunity to see absolutely ground breaking science in my field. This ground breaking science will form the basis and inspiration for my future research and I am excited to get back into the lab and further along in my career as a result.

It is for all these reasons, and many more, I am incredibly grateful to SCI for their extremely generous bursary. Without this bursary, I would have been wholly unable to attend this inspirational conference, would have missed talks on some of the best organometallic research in the world and would have missed the chance to meet and engage with a huge range of researchers from my field. This conference has been invaluable to me and will be a keystone in my future progress as a scientist.

David Liptrot, Messel bursary winner, 2014
University of Bath

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