ICBIC15: Feeling jaded?

Like Comment

Greetings from Vancouver, where I am attending ICBIC15 – the international conference on bio-inorganic chemistry. As the name suggests, this is the 15th instalment of this series of conferences…or is it? There have been quite a few mentions of a mysterious ‘ICBIC zero’, which happened 35 years ago, also here at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Chris Orvig, the chair, showed us the programme from that meeting during his welcome address – as organizer, he was interested to see that there were no times for any of the talks, just ‘morning’ or ‘afternoon’! The only speaker at that conference who is also speaking this year is (no prizes for guessing) Harry Gray, who is quite a godfather of this field.

He’s not the only godfather though, and many long-standing members of this quite friendly community are giving jade anniversary lectures, to celebrate the 35 years passed since ‘ICBIC 0’. These jade lectures aren’t the plenaries, however: these are being given by speakers who have never given plenaries at an ICBIC before. All this adds up to a pretty good mix, because there have been some excellent plenaries from speakers at the younger end of the spectrum.

There is a bit of drawback to these lectures (and not just that the conference programme has been printed black and white, so the jade lectures don’t stand out like they do in the PDF): the difficulty of trying to fit a lot of work into just 20 or 30 minutes! After complimenting Ed Solomon on doing well to keep to his 20 minute slot, Harry Gray said he was going to go one better and fit 35 years of work on electron transfer in proteins into 3 slides! He just about managed…

One of the jade lectures that I enjoyed the most was from Karl Wieghardt, and he almost managed to get through his whole talk without moving past the title slide! He was talking in the radical enzymes and non-innocent ligands sessions and certainly convinced me that bipyridine and terpyridine aren’t anywhere near as innocent as people think. Terpyridine in particular can take on four electrons and thus have five different oxidation states and a variety of spin states. Although that’s not what it says in Cotton & Wilkinson, it’s what the X-ray data and DFT calculations suggest.

As this is quite a distinct and friendly community, I’m going to leave the last word to Harry Gray. In his talk he mentioned that the two most important reactions in the world are photosynthesis and respiration. As he said, they’re both firmly in the bio-inorganic field…so tell that to the organic chemists!


Neil Withers (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)