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Sat Apr 10, 2021, 01:10 PM

There are some advantages to giant scientific meetings being conducted virtually.

This week the ACS (American Chemical Society) has been meeting virtually.

I can't always fit all of the ACS meetings into my schedule, but over the decades whenever I've been able to attend, I've been thrilled by the experience. The highlight for me among all of them was sitting next to Glenn Seaborg at the 1994 San Diego meeting during which the name Seaborgium was proposed for element 106 - during a talk attended by maybe 15 or 20 people. (The name "seaborgium" was accepted by IUPAC in 1997, after resolution of a controversy about naming an element after a living person.) The talk I attended, in a very small room in the nuclear section, was on the subject of the general chemistry of the heaviest element to have been isolated in visible quantities, Einsteinium. It's an event that stands out in my memory, only exceeded in scientific star watching by an afternoon spent in Freeman Dyson's office chatting with him.

For me, the ACS meetings have always been a physical challenge because my interests are broad and somewhat unfocused. Professionally I have focused on the medicinal chemistry sections, organic chemistry sections and sometimes the agrochemical sections; in recent years it's generally been about mass spectroscopy, but I always try to find time to sneak in environmental sessions, particularly with respect to carbon dioxide capture and reduction, as well as nuclear chemistry sections. (Nuclear chemistry sections are wonderful, because they are always small, and one can be in the presence of giants in the field, as was the case with Seaborg.)

Anyway the meetings always involves a lot of running, since these sessions tend to be in different parts of convention halls, and in many cases, in different nearby hotels - which sometimes involve a bus trip.

No one wants to speak in praise of Covid-19, a tragedy to be sure, but on the bright side, in this meeting I was able to fit in a few lectures on medicinal chemistry, including synthesis of two new drugs, talks on the vaccines, talks on the use of scientific databases, some of which are free and of which I was unaware, talks on the environmental chemistry of technetium, the chemistry of plutonium, several carbon dioxide talks organometallic talks, lots and lots and lots of high resolution mass spec, structure ID, glycans, proteomics and I got to chat with really really good, even great, scientists, all while sitting in my office, or in the late afternoon and early evening (East Coast Time) in my home office, no planes, trains, automobiles, no gasping for air after running from room to room, this while missing some talks because of transit time, no hotels, no need to join people for drinks, dinners, no need to be charming, since "charming" is hard for me.

You also get to see, if the cameras are on - and often they are - how other scientists live, to be a guest in their homes or in their labs.

It is also pleasing to understand that this was also a low carbon event, relatively.

There are some things that require face to face, and many face to face meetings are extremely pleasant - one can run into old friends and one can also see the mannerisms of people one has never met but about whom one has only heard or read - but for efficiency of information exchange, well, there are definitely some very large compensations.

Clichés become clichés by being true, and in this case, "Every dark cloud has a silver lining" is certainly true.

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