ACS Philadelphia 2008: Phys Chem heavyweights

I’ve spent most of the last couple of days in sessions organized to celebrate 100 years of the ACS physical chemistry division. They’ve been packed with some real science heavyweights and in general, have mixed some great ‘memory lane meandering’ with new results.

Monday started with Ahmed Zewail (Nobel prize in chemistry, 1999) from Caltech. He spoke about advances in visualizing complex structures in 4 dimensions i.e. seeing them change in time. He presented some very interesting images of ZnO nanowires using ultrafast electron methods and visualizing material expansions related to charge carrier density. The talk was interrupted by a little “cross-talk” from another session. The organizers must have set the wireless microphones for two parallel sessions to similar frequencies meaning that every few minutes a presentation from another session was broadcast over the speakers in our session. The freakiest part of this was when Prof. Zewail clicked through to a slide detailing what is known as the “uncertainty paradox”, and with great comedy timing the cross-talking presenter said the word “paradox”. It was as if Zewail had his own sound effects!

The talk was followed by Yuan Lee (Nobel prize in chemistry, 1986) who described his many years carrying out molecular beam studies and Steven Chu (Nobel Prize in physics, 1997) who gave an inspiring but equally depressing talk (if you can have such a thing; I’ll blog more about this later).

Both the afternoon session and the following morning session were filled with more great speakers including Dick Zare, Rudy Marcus and Gabor Somorjai. It was fantastic to see such leading academics present both their seminal and contemporary work but it would have been nice to see a session in the physical chemical division for young academics, similar to the one held by the ACS organic division, which was a great success from what I hear on the ACS grapevine.


Gavin Armstrong (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)