DD11: Main group rennaisance

Greetings from Berkeley, where I’m attending Dalton Discussion 11: The Renaissance of Main Group Chemistry. RSC discussion meetings are quite different from normal conferences: the speakers have submitted full papers of their work, and a collection of ‘pre-prints’ of all the papers is given to each delegate to read beforehand. Talks are then limited to about 5 minutes, with around 15-20 mins of discussion to follow. The papers are then published in one issue (in this case of Dalton Transactions) afterwards.

So, what has been discussed? A lot of pretty impressive main group chemistry, including some incredibly sophisticated Al and Ga cluster chemistry by Hansgeorg Schnoeckel. The size of some of these clusters are approaching nanoparticles, only these are molecularly defined – all with the same number of metal atoms. Ian Manners talked about his adventures with inorganic polymers, with alternating P and N rather than boring old carbon.

That’s actually a bit of a theme I’m finding: there’s a whole host of other elements out there apart from carbon and it’s their differences from, rather than their similarities to, carbon that makes the compounds unusual and interesting in so many ways.

There was an interesting and wide-ranging question posed by one of the chairs (Claire Carmalt): does chemistry (and main group chemistry in particular) need applications to justify funding, or should curiosity alone be enough? Most of the delegates thought curiosity was enough, and Chris Reed said that he often answers that question with ‘Ask me in 20 years!’ He made specific reference to some carboranes that he first made about 20 years ago, but is now using as extremely powerful yet gentle reagents. Someone from Los Alamos (whose name I didn’t catch) made the comment that applications demand blue-sky curiosity.

And a final mention must go to yesterday’s chair, Malcolm Chisholm, who reminded us of Mark Twain’s words that ‘the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco’.

Neil, in mercifully sunny Berkeley

Neil Withers (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)