Pacifichem 2010: Warm welcome

I am now – for the first time – in Hawaii, attending the Pacifichem meeting [officially the International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies] (I resisted the urge to start this post by “Aloha”, a word I’ve heard a lot in the past day or so). The meeting is huge: 275 symposia, more than 1,000 papers, 12,000 delegates! This is a ‘self-assembled’ conference, in which the symposia are organized ‘from the bottom up’ — each symposium is submitted by a group of organizers, from at least 3 countries from the Pacific rim (Canada – host country this year – the US, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Korea and China). This makes for a very diverse meeting. The only thing is that it is a little hard to pick which sessions to go to, with speakers that overlap. Also, should I go to topics I’m familiar with, such as the inorganic or macromolecular sessions, or plunge into the much less familiar?

According to our chairman, this year Pacifichem encouraged symposia at the interface between chemistry and other topics, such as health, environment and alternate technologies, where chemistry plays a leading role. In this spirit, today I attended parts of the sessions on analytical and environmental chemistry in human health; generation of hydrogen from water; and nanoparticle-based materials – and really enjoyed this variety. In the nanoparticle-based materials session, for example, we heard interesting approaches on how inorganic synthesis could be harnessed to control the properties, and pattern, particles. One talk that stood out for me was that of Terry Bigioni, from the University of Toledo. Usually, with nano-clusters, obtaining a uniform morphology and narrow size distribution is what matters — as Bigioni said, no-one is going to notice if you are missing about a hundred atoms. Today, however, he talked about magic (close-shell) clusters, in which every atom counts. These particularly stable sizes have been identified for gold [see for example this cluster reported in Science by Kornberg and co-workers], but much less is known about silver. Bigioni showed that, under wet chemical syntheses, silver clusters also form discrete clusters of specific sizes. These seem to share some of the stability rules of the gold clusters, but only to some extent, suggesting that there is more to the story than an extension of the gold clusters’ reactivity…

I also very much enjoyed the opening ceremony in the evening, at which Paul Corkum gave a wonderful talk that made physical chemistry very exciting, and even approachable. We can normally look at either the dynamics (femtochemistry) or structure (X-ray diffraction) of a particular system. In his lecture, Corkum talked about how new laser-based ways to image matter might soon make it possible to ‘film’ orbital changes during a chemical reaction, and perhaps make a 3D molecular movie. In the same way as the first film (‘The Horse in Motion’) made the cover of Scientific American in 1878, Corkum predicts the first ‘molecular movie’ will be on the cover again by 2018… Only eight years left! Exciting times.

Overall, a warm welcome from Pacifichem — and I’m not just talking about the temperature. I certainly look forward to the rest of the week, including some inorganic and macromolecular sessions.


Anne Pichon, Associate Editor (Nature Chemistry )