ACS – Chemistry issues

I’ve arrived in Philly for the ACS meeting and it was after a less eventful journey than the one taken by the last Nature Chemistry editor that attempted to get to an ACS meeting. My flight thankfully set off and landed more or less on time and it was predictably full of chemists.

I spent the day and night cursing chemistry; it’s not the best of starts for a week spent with hundreds of chemists all talking about it. My first problem was at the airport where I cursed materials chemists. Nobody in particular, just in general and to be honest it’s not really their fault. Let me explain: I broke my iPod headphones after somehow tangling them up and tearing their outer sheath, thus exposing the internal wires. Curse number 1: why can’t they make tougher materials to protect my headphone wiring?

After checking in at the airport, I bought some new headphones and wandered off to my gate. This is the point at which I realised there was no way of opening the extremely tough plastic packaging that encased my new headphones without using scissors. How many pairs of scissors do you think there are around airport gates… yup … there are (quite reassuringly) none. Curse number 2 was aimed at polymer chemists who can make very tough, thin materials that are evidently very well designed to protect the encased cargo*.

This leads me to my first session here at the ACS. I went along to hear Krzysztof Matyjaszewski introduce the sessions on Controlled Radical Polymerisation (CRP). He gave a very interesting talk about the current status of research on the topic and affirmed to me how complicated poymeric synthesis can be. There are so many different types of polymers (homopolymers, block copolymers, periodic copolymers, graft copolymers, etc …) that can be created using this method and the very complex kinetics involved in the CRP process need to be expertly controlled to get the product/properties you need. I’m at peace with polymer chemists now, they may have caused me all kinds of problems with my headphones but the talk this morning showed what interesting synthetic work they’re currently doing.

My third chemistry gripe was with that of my own body. I woke up at 2.30 AM this morning completely wide awake and unable to get back to sleep: the joys of jet lag and an upset circadian rhythm. I admit to knowing little about such things but a quick internet search shows that it’s related to melatonin secretion cycles and mine must be a little upset. This graphic shows that I was supposed to be in the deepest part of my sleep around that time and instead I was wide awake watching the qualifying rounds for the Olympic men’s discus throwing (I must go and have a chat with these guys at the poster sessions this week). This also infers that at about 6 PM this evening I’ll be desperate to sleep, so I must go and squeeze in as much chemistry as I can before I drop off — I have planned an afternoon quenching my thirst for physical chemistry at the ‘water mediated interactions’ session.

  • With the help of two publishing pals from the Royal Society of Chemistry, I managed to open the packaging for my headphones using my house key, my teeth and pure brute force.

Gavin Armstrong (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)