Well I’m here in San Diego for the Spring ACS meeting (even if my suitcase isn’t) and the packed schedule has already brought up some gems. Here’s my round up of day 1…

The San Diego skyline, a nice place for a conference!

Bassam Z Shakhashiri, the new ACS president, wearing his ‘Science is Fun’ pin badge, used the meeting to launch his priorities for his presidency. As ACS presidents only have a one year term to implement their vision, I often wonder how much can really be achieved in that year, but Shakhashiri does at least seem to be getting one thing done. He’s appointed a working group on the public understanding of the science of climate change, to develop a tool kit for ACS members. Public understanding of science is something Shakhashiri has been very involved in for many years, but he says that the kit is needed to make sure that the ACS membership is well versed in the science of climate change, as well as then using it to communicate the facts more widely.

‘In my visits with colleagues, graduate students, high school teachers, university professors, members of our profession and industry,’ he explained diplomatically. ‘I have discovered there is a need to refresh our knowledge of what a greenhouse gas is.’

Shakhashiri’s climate change group has also been asked to look at how to communicate the science of climate change to the wider public, from teachers to policy makers, to the people I walked past on my way to the convention centre. ‘There are the deniers, there are sceptics and there’s everyone else,’ he said. ‘I have deliberately chosen not to spend too much time engaging in conversation with the deniers … that will definitely elevate my blood pressure. I’m very much interested in conversing with sceptics and with everyone else – in science we make progress by being sceptical.’

If you’re interested in the toolkit, it will be web-based and, while it is only two-fifths completed, it should all be available by the time of the Fall meeting in Philadelphia.

Of course, with Shakhashiri’s interest in communicating science, there are some great talks at a more general level in the programme. I felt I had to go to the plenary session in the afternoon to listen to Roger Tsien and I’m so glad I did. Tsien, I’m sure, needs no introduction, but in his first slide introduced us all to the jelly fish that makes green fluorescent protein (GFP), which he says his should Nobel prize should go to. What followed was not a look back at the work that led to Tsien being awarded his Nobel Prize, but where that work has taken him since.

The spring ACS is dedicated to the chemistry of life

There’s something really neat about sitting in a packed room seeing how papers you gave as journal clubs back at university, now fit into something much larger. Tsien’s activatable cell penetrating proteins (CPPs) specifically target cancer cells, making them fluorescent so that during surgery, doctors can ensure that all of the tumour is removed. Or the cell penetrating proteins can be made specific for nerve cells, protecting the nerves from the scalpel during prostate surgery (something which, Tsien said, men are quite interested in!). That’s some low hanging fruit for Tsien’s spin out Avelas if ever I heard it.

Laura Howes

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