Last week the youth section of the Royal Flemish Chemical Society (Jong-KVCV) held its biennial Chemistry Conference for Young Scientists (ChemCYS) in Blankenberge, Belgium. For many attendees it will have been their first experience of a conference. And it’s a great way to start. Blankenberge was cold and miserable but the warmth of the people inside certainly made up for the weather. Masters students, PhD students and postdocs can present their work in a non-intimidating and supportive environment.

The posters sessions were my favourite time of the conference. It was great to chat to people and share in their enthusiasm for what they were working on.

Originally set-up as an event for Belgian groups to network, the conference has been steadily growing in size over the past few editions. This year it made an impressive leap in the variety of nationalities attending the conference with delegates from 37 different countries (only nine countries were represented in 2012). I met people from Costa Rica, Algeria and Taiwan to name a few of the furthest places delegates had come from. Considering that until 2008 the conference was held in Dutch, before changing to English in 2010, this is a huge achievement. Hanne Damm, the president of Jong-KVCV says the internationalisation of the conferee can chiefly be credited to the President of ChemCYS 2014, Thomas Vranken, securing recognition of the conference from IUPAC, EuCheMS and EYCN.

The increase in delegate numbers has come alongside a commitment to high standards. Presentation abstracts were peer reviewed and were selected on merit rather than the first come, first served selection applied in previous years. Each of the six subject areas (analytical and environmental chemistry, biochemistry and biotechnology, inorganic chemistry, advanced materials, organic and medicinal chemistry, and physical and theoretical chemistry) had a panel of judges from both academia and industry who chaired and presided over the presentations and posters in each area. 

The conference organisers are phd students themselves. 3 of the team explain what they’re working on: Thomas Vranken (left), PhD student at Hasselt University, President ChemCYS 2014: ‘I work in the field of lithium ion battery materials, particularly cathode materials. I try to make existing materials in a nanoarchitectured way and I also investigate novel cathode materials. Many cathode materials are very dependent on how you synthesiae and process them – the particle morphology, size, orientation and coating all has a large influence on their electrochemical properties, like the capacity and cycle life. I want to better correlate the relationship between how you synthesiae and process a cathode material and its functional properties.’
Hanne Damm (centre), PhD student at Hasselt University, President of Jong-KVCV: ‘I work on solution processing of n-type doped ZnO (mainly Al-doped ZnO, but also In, Ga and Cl). Within this project we explore two pathways using either nanoparticles or molecular precusors as well as a combination of the two. Our main goal is to find a cheap and environmentally friendly alternative for ITO (tin-doped indium oxide), the most commercialised transparent conductive oxide.’
Christophe De Bie (right), PhD student at the University of Antwerp, President of KVCV: ‘My PhD involves the modelling of reactions within plasma chemistry. I model the conversion of greenhouse gases into value-added chemicals – syngas, methanol, formaldehyde, etc – with a dielectric barrier discharge to see which pathways are important for this conversion with the objective to increase selectivity towards the desired products as well as the energy efficiency of the process.’

But the conference wasn’t just about posters and presentations. Santiago Gómez Ruiz gave an informative workshop on the art of scientific writing where he explained his top tips for putting a research paper together. His advice included: ‘self-cite only when necessary’, ‘don’t include waste words in your title’ and ‘never include something in your methods section that is crucial for understanding a paper’ – I couldn’t agree more! 

Rather appropriately, as it was just before an evening when delegates may have indulged in a glass or two of beer, Klaus Roth gave a fascinating talk called ‘Beer – from the first glass to a hangover.’ In 50 minutes he covered everything from how beer is made, the compounds behind the classic bitter flavour of beer and why something that can make you feel so good that evening can leave you suffering the morning after.

The conference organisers are a team of 20, who are PhD students and postdocs themselves. They voluntarily organised the conference in their spare time, and will soon start planning for 2016. Holding the conference in winter on the edge of a Belgian seaside resort is instrumental in keeping everyone together and maintaining ChemCYS’ cosy atmosphere but the current venue has now reached capacity: ‘maybe they could build an extra building for us?’ jokes Christophe De Bie, the president of KVCV. I hope they find a way to expand on their success.

Jennifer Newton

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ChemCYS 2014: Local meeting turned international conference, 9.9 out of 10 based on 7 ratings
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