Messel Travel Bursary recipient, James Frost, reports from California

13 June 2017

James Frost was awarded the Messel Travel Bursary to attend the 253rd American Chemical Society National Meeting in San Francisco, California. Here, he tells us about the conference and his opportunity to give an oral presentation on hydrogen borrowing catalysis to an international audience.

‘I am currently a postdoctoral researcher in the group of Professor Timothy Donohoe working on the development of new reactions relating to hydrogen borrowing catalysis. Having recently published several papers in this area of chemistry I was keen to present my research to an international audience. In this regard, I decided to attend the 253rd American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition held in San Francisco, California. This is widely regarded as one of the premier events in the chemistry conference calendar, with many well-respected senior and junior academics as well as industrial speakers in attendance. Therefore, this meeting represented an excellent opportunity to increase both the exposure and impact of my research. I was fortunate enough to receive an SCI Messel Travel Bursary in order to attend this conference and present a 20-minute talk.

‘Upon arrival at the conference venue the sheer magnitude of this event was immediately apparent, with speakers and attendees from all areas of chemistry. In fact, I have since found out that this year’s event proved to be record-breaking, with an amazing 18917 attendees and 14639 papers presented [Figures from C&EN (Chemical and engineering news) magazine, 10 April 2017, page 5]. The conference was divided into not only the traditional organic, inorganic and physical chemistry sections, but was also more far reaching, encompassing biological, environmental, material, fuel and polymer chemistry to name but a few. Pleasingly there was also a section for Chemical Education, with a number of presenters dedicated to outreach and the promotion of the chemical sciences to a younger audience. Coming from an organic chemistry and catalysis background, it was refreshing to have the opportunity to attend a number of lectures that were more diverse than my usual area of research.

‘California boasts some of the top research institutions in the world; The Scripps Research Institute, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), University of California (Berkeley, LA, Irvine, Davis, Santa Barbara etc.) to name but a few, and naturally a host of the top academics from these research institutes attended the meeting. I was privileged to witness lectures given by a number of prominent academics based in California (in no particular order and not exhaustive!): Dean Toste, Gregory Fu, Jin Quan Yu, Bruce Lipshutz, Larry Overman, Neil Garg, Sarah Reisman and Richard Sarpong. Other organic/organometallic academics who gave lectures included: Huw Davies (Emory), Gary Molander, Amos Smith III (both Pennsylvania), Steve Martin (University of Texas at Austin), Melanie Sanford (Michigan), Abigail Doyle, Paul Chirik (both Princeton), Matthew Sigman (Utah) and Martin Burke (Illinois). A lot of names! These speakers treated the audience to many different facets of organic chemistry, with a multitude of different catalytic transformations, method development as well as strategies for the synthesis of complex natural products. I particularly enjoyed a series of lectures presented by Professor Dean Toste, two of which covered ‘concepts and catalysts for anion controlled organic synthesis’, and the design of ‘catalytic reactions inspired by the organometallic chemistry of gold’. A further favourite lecture was provided by Professor Neil Garg, who won the Elias J. Corey Award for Outstanding Original Contribution in Organic Synthesis by a Young Investigator. His talk detailed the use of methodology using heteroaryne chemistry and its application to the synthesis of natural products such as tubingensin B and N-methyl welwitindolinone C.

‘Aside from the above long list of academic names, there were also many parallel sessions whereby well-established academic and industrial scientists as well as postdoctoral and graduate researchers gave 20-minute talks. These sessions were also segregated into different research areas and it was great to be able to drop in on different talks and experience more diverse science. My talk was scheduled for the third day of the conference in the ‘Metal-Mediated Reactions and Syntheses’ section. The presentation was well-received, with a number of different scientists approaching me either at the end of the session or later on in the week to discuss the finer points of my research. As well as the scientific programme it is always a pleasure to attend a conference and meet new contacts in the field by discussing one’s work. The networking aspect of the conference continued not only in-between lectures, but also during several poster sessions that were held throughout the week. This proved equally successful, and I discussed different chemistry with a number of undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers on a one-to-one basis.

‘In addition to the scientific programme there was also the Exposition. This event hosted a number of different companies, whether they be publishing houses, showcasing scientific equipment, or different chemical societies. It was a pleasure to be able to interact with a number of people from different backgrounds and gain insight into the workings of publishing or the specificities of different chemical apparatus.

‘I am thankful for the award of a SCI Messel Travel Bursary to attend this conference as it not only allowed me to present my recent research on hydrogen borrowing catalysis to an international audience, but also allowed me to build (and renew) existing friendships and networks with other like-minded scientists. Overall, I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to contribute to this excellent meeting and also further broaden my knowledge of other aspects of chemistry. This experience will undoubtedly be extremely beneficial for my research career and would not have been possible without the award of an SCI Messel Travel Bursary.’

Dr James Frost
University of Oxford

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