Monday, April 22, 2013

Chemistry, Warm Weather and Beignets at the National American Chemical Society Conference

Back row, left to right: CJ Daly, Justin Andrews, Dr. Joel Boyd, Owen Williams, Sarah McCarron
Front row, left to right: HanByul Chang, Rachael Albury, Bria Pelletier, Lee Andrews, Ben Stewart
Not Pictured: Prof. Irvin Levy, Dr. Dwight Tshudy
This spring, we traveled to the national ACS conference in New Orleans, LA with our largest group ever: 9 students and 3 professors. Eight of the students presented research posters and one student was designated to present the student chapter poster.

Students on their 'site-seeing' day in downtown New Orleans
Left to right: Justin Andrews, Owen Williams, Ben Stewart, Sarah McCarron, Rachael Albury, Lee Andrews, HanByul Chang, CJ Daly, Bria Pelletier

Poster sessions are a strange mix of networking, fun, learning and being packed like sardines in a can. The research poster session where 8 of us presented was a two hour time block during which our posters (just seven posters in hundreds at the session) were hung on walls. We were present during this time to answer any and all questions that our piers (undergraduate chemists our own age, professors, professional chemists, etc.) had about our research. If you have been to a Gordon College symposium day or Undergraduate Research Council reading day poster session, you only have half of an idea of what this is like. It looks the same (on a larger scale), but it feels so different to share ideas with experts in our field of study. Rachael Albury, one Gordon student at the conference, had several professors from other universities approach her poster and proceed to write down the lab procedure she had developed as part of her research. One professor remarked that she had been looking to revamp their lab curriculum, and that Rachael’s procedure was just what she was looking for.

Justin Andrews and Rachael Albury presenting their joint poster at the undergraduate poster session
The student chapter poster session was a time of great celebration. Hundreds of student chapters from across the country gathered to present their posters describing the many events that they had done as a chapter over the past year. We always enjoy this session, because it allows us to brag a little about all of the very wonderful, very involved students at Gordon College and simultaneously hear about the wonderful ideas that other chapters have implemented. If we were biologists, we might call it idea ‘cross-pollination’… but we usually just stick to chemicals.
The second reason we attended the conference was to receive two highly coveted awards.
I hate crowds and am not fond of being on stages, but there I was: nervous and standing in line stage left, waiting to receive an award on behalf of our student chapter. I kept thinking about how I had to walk upright and with a purpose. I had to make certain that my shirt was tucked in and my hair was not too unkempt. And above all else, I reminded myself that I could not blink during the photographs or forget to smile as I often do.

Justin Andrews half-smiling and receiving the Green Chemistry award on behalf of the chapter
I forgot to smile. It was a quirky half smile actually – you've seen them before. I was so nervous and excited to be on stage receiving an award in front of 1500 ACS members that I forgot to smile. I could kick myself (or laugh hysterically… or a combination of the two) – and probably will after I see the pictures from the ceremony. But all that doesn't really matter. What matters is the award we received for our hard work and the publicity that we drum up for our beloved institution.
We received two awards for our work during the 2011-2012 academic year. It was suggested by my peers that I walk across the stage to receive one of the two awards titled the ‘green chapter’ award. This award is given to chapters who make a significant effort to incorporate the principles of green chemistry into the ideals and practices of the chapter. Ben Stewart, the president emeritus of the GCACS, was chosen to receive the ‘outstanding’ chapter award, which is given to those chapters which make the most significant impact on their institutions, communities and on the national ACS organization. Ben Stewart did not forget to smile – how could he? - of the over 1000 student chapters across the country, only 25 were given this, the most prestigious, award. That places the student chapter of the ACS that calls its home Gordon College in the 98th percentile of student chapters. That is a big deal. When a large or well-known school like the University of Florida or Northeastern receives such an award, people don’t pay too much attention. But when a small school of 1600 students from Wenham, MA receives such an award after only being around for three years, heads turn.

And turning heads is just what we plan to do again next year at the national conference in Dallas, TX.
Gordon College Chemistry – Turning Heads Since 2010

Justin Andrews
President of the GCACS

Below is a wonderful testimonial about the conference experience as a whole from the perspective of current junior and GCACS treasurer, Owen Williams:

When I arrived at the Morial Convention Center located on the river in New Orleans, I was handed a program of all the possible events to go to that was as thick as a harry potter book, no joke. Although the main purpose of my attending the conference was to present a poster that illustrates and outlines some pharmaceutical degradation research I have been doing, my research group and I were expected to make the most of our time there. With 3000 lectures going on during the convention week, it was hard not to find really great ways to occupy yourself.
Owen enjoying some world famous ACME fried oysters after a long day of poster presentations and technical lecture attendance
I am interested in environmental chemistry and business and I was able to find lectures that were directly related to my interests. I heard a variety of lectures; from speakers explaining the process of testing the harmful chemicals contained in fish in the Great Lakes to a woman from the FDA explaining how food dyes are regulated.
Halfway through the conference, our research group was slotted to present our research posters. Chemistry professors and scientist that knew a lot about the kind of research I was doing were able to talk to me about my poster. The conference was an incredible gathering of the greatest chemistry minds the world has to offer and being a part of it was such an enriching experience.

Owen Williams
Treasurer of the GCACS