The 2019 Joseph Black Conference
Last week, I had the privilege to attend the Joseph Black Conference at the University of Edinburgh. I was reluctant at first, given that I had little to no knowledge of chemistry, but it was absolutely worth visiting. It is often an unwritten rule in academia that academics are incapable of communicating their ideas to laypeople. However, I was vastly impressed by the communication skills of the PhD students. Although they were experts in their field and held incredibly deep knowledge, they were able to communicate their ideas fairly effectively to me, even though I was a mathematics and computer science undergraduate. More than the quality of the communication, however, I was struck by the friendliness of the students. They were genuinely excited and passionate about their research, and put effort into communicating it to a layperson such as myself. Of course, this made it even more difficult to determine who the top presenters were, a task which was already arduous. Moreover, many of the posters presented were also laid out extremely well; a rarity, as scientific posters can often get plastered with equations, diagrams, and graphs that often have little to no relation to one another. The oral presentations, while deeply technical, provided a good insight into the expertise of the PhD students. I was vastly impressed by the sheer depth of their knowledge on the subject matter. This was mostly demonstrated in the Q&A session after every talk, where the presenters deftly answered even the most technical questions with ease. I was also tremendously impressed by the sheer quality of research. The presentations seemed to probe almost every major area of chemistry, with cutting-edge research being done in them, from better solar panels to artificially created enzymes. Lastly, the plenary speaker, Professor Poon from the School of Physics and Astronomy, delivered a wonderful and humorous talk on painting with bacteria, which really resonated with the audience. I can only imagine the judges’ difficulty in choosing winners, and yet, I feel that the winners’ prizes were well deserved. Although I have no formal interest in chemistry, it was an enlightening conference to attend, and one that I would highly recommend to experts and laypeople alike.