With the aid of the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund and Royal Society of Chemistry I was given the opportunity this August to spend a week in California attending the 25th Congress of the International Heterocyclic Chemistry Society (‘ISHC’). The field of heterocyclic chemistry is a broad as it is fascinating, covering the isolation, synthesis and properties of organic molecules which feature cyclic structures which incorporate non-carbon atoms (e.g. nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur). This broad definition covers a huge array of compounds with important and interesting properties, including many drugs, aroma and flavouring compounds, agrichemicals, functional materials and even explosives. My PhD research focuses on the synthesis of structurally interesting, naturally occurring heterocyclic compounds (known as natural products) by taking inspiration from the way these compounds are assembled in nature. With this focus in my research, the biennial ISHC meeting provided a fantastic opportunity to hear about the latest developments in my field, present my research and meet heterocyclic chemists from around the world (that all of this would happen in a well-known wine growing region on the beautiful Californian coast was certainly a bonus too).
The small town of Santa Barbara, perched on the Californian coast between the spectacular Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, was the setting for my summer exploration of the world of cutting-edge heterocyclic chemistry. Santa Barbara itself is vibrant town of about 90,000 people, boasting an impressive selection of locally produced food, wine, beer and excellent seafood. The conference was hosted in the adjoining town of Goleta (which merges almost seamlessly with Santa Barbara) at the University of California Santa Barbara. The campus, which proudly boasts that it is the only university in the USA to have its own beach, was open and sunny, with plenty of grassy spaces and tree lined areas to escape the heat. The majority of attendees, and even quite a few of the academics, were staying in the accommodation provided on the campus. This gave the week a very social, relaxed atmosphere, with participants eating together, strolling between talks in small groups and relaxing over a few drinks in the evenings while enjoying the view out to sea.
Aside from a beautiful location, amazing weather and friendly atmosphere, the meeting also boasted one of most impressive scientific programs that anyone could hope for. Every day featured several impressive plenary lectures from world leaders including Phil Baran from Scripps, Brian Stoltz from Caltech, Janine Cossy from ESPCI and Larry Overman from UC Irvine. In addition to this, the afternoons provided a dazzling array of short talks by students and post docs. These covered all possible facets of chemistry and gave myself and other students an invaluable opportunity to present our work to an international audience.
Thanks to the Go Abroad Fund and the RSC for providing me with this outstanding opportunity to immerse myself in the best of organic chemistry, while meeting and making friends with so many amazing people from around the world.