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ACS Washington 2009: Living things!

ACS Washington 2009: Living things!

It’s the second to last day of the conference and the chemists are starting to head home. The hallways are quieter, the rooms less full, the Metro less forested by rolled up posters, the Power Bar options in the press room more limited. So I decided to give myself a little treat today: biological chemistry. As a life scientist by training, I’ve been rather out of my element the past week.  Read more

ACS Washington 2009: Fabrication

ACS Washington 2009: Fabrication

Today I started with a talk by Jack Szostak from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard. I’d originally heard of Szostak because he co-discovered telomerase, but discovered he was no one-trick pony when he was name-dropped all over last week’s NSF Minimal Life workshop for his work on artificial cells. He’s trying to figure out the most basal brew of molecules capable of growing and dividing and even evolving.  Read more

ACS Washington 2009: Antibodies for weapons

In the spirit of this year’s theme at ACS, “Chemistry and Global Security”, I decided to stop by the symposium “Sensing and Destroying Chemical Warfare Agents and Pesticides”, where Kim Janda from Scripps was giving a talk about simple solutions to detecting weapons.  Read more

ACS Washington 2009: Quick-n-clean vaccines

ACS Washington 2009: Quick-n-clean vaccines

This morning at the conference, Charles Arntzen from Arizona State University talked about transforming plants into little green vaccine-manufacturing machines using engineered viruses. He helped pioneer the technique a few years ago when he made a vaccine against plague, and now he’s taken aim at norovirus, aka the “dreaded cruise ship virus”, which can hamstring people for a day or two with diarrhea and vomiting.  Read more

ACS Washington 2009: Pretty polymers

ACS is spread out across hotels and centers over at least a nine block-by-nine block chunk of downtown DC. There are shuttles rolling around but they rarely beat walking, so when you venture to a new location it’s best to be sure you want to stay for at least a few talks. I ended up grabbing lunch at one end of the stretch, so I thought I’d at least take a walk through the nearest ACS venue. Luckily I happened upon some fairly interesting talks about polymers — no huge breakthroughs, but certainly educational.  Read more

ACS Washington 2009: Worm-inspired glue

ACS Washington 2009: Worm-inspired glue

This cute little worm has constructed a tube around itself from beads of zirconium oxide. It’s a pretty impressive feat by human engineering standards, as the animals have to stick together all the little bits (normally sand and pieces of seashell) while submerged in flowing water — not the best conditions for your average adhesive. Russel Stewart at the University of Utah is looking to these innovative little carpenters for tips on synthesizing a glue with similar advantages. Gluing in wet conditions would be great for a number of reasons, especially for sticking together bloody human body parts like broken  … Read more

ACS Washington 2009: fire and gas

Today DC is much more alive and crazy with chemists than yesterday, and the chaos was exacerbated by a mid-morning fire alarm that evacuated the convention center. Chemists (and journalists) spilled out onto the sidewalks and milled about aimlessly; some took it as a smoke break, a few awkwardly typed on the laptops that were teetering on their palms. Carmen Drahl at the C&EN blog captured the mayhem on video. Alas, it was a false alarm (apparently the second one of the conference — maybe some expo exhibits getting out of hand?) and five minutes later the chem fest continued.  Read more

ACS Washington 2009: Presidential Symposium

ACS Washington 2009: Presidential Symposium

This afternoon I went to the Presidential Plenary Symposium, hoping to get a nice overview of what chemistry really has to do with global security. The symposium was in a huge ballroom, which looked all the bigger because only about 5 percent of the seats were occupied.  Read more

ACS Washington 2009: What you smell like when you die

ACS Washington 2009: What you smell like when you die

I thought I’d ease my way into the conference in as macabre a way as possible — with the smell of decaying flesh. Grad student Sarah Jones and her advisor Dan Sykes at Pennsylvania State University presented their work on the volatile chemicals that waft from dead pigs’ bodies during the earliest stages of decay. The idea is to determine the chemical profiles of a body’s aroma at different time points after death, which might help crime scene investigator-types accurately determine the time of death. Jones kicked off the show with some gnarly descriptions of the various stages of decomposition,  … Read more

ACS Washington 2009: Welcome!

ACS Washington 2009: Welcome!

Aloha, chemistry! This weekend, more than 10,000 chemistry-philes descended upon the nation’s capital for the American Chemical Society’s 238th semi-annual meeting. The location is perfect because a) this year’s theme links chemistry to global security, a subject near and dear to Washington’s heart, and b) it’s about half a mile from Nature’s DC office.  Read more