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Last week was the biannual American Chemical Society meeting in Boston. They’ve done 240 of these previously so one expects—and generally gets—a good show. About 14,000 chemists gathered to do … well, all sorts of things.

For many, scientific meetings are a chance to present one’s latest work to a mostly appreciative—and reliably critical—audience. Very helpful. The mirror image is learning about other people’s work long before it actually surfaces in print. Very efficient.

There are also committee meetings galore. It seems every one of ACS’s 161,000 members is on some committee or other. And who doesn’t need just one more meeting to make life complete?

Then there’s the trade show. Hundreds of exhibitors, large and small, displaying their wares, hoping to sell to the eager hordes. I talked to a few of them and asked about the economy. All were optimistic, especially in comparison to a year ago. 

This was true for booths crowded with visitors as well as those wholly deserted. I’ll take this as a sign that either (a) the great recession may actually be receding or (b) science exhibitors are delusional.

Best of all is the socializing: old friends from school days discreetly not commenting on graying hair and enlarging waistlines; collaborators pouring over the latest results and deciding whether or not it's time to write a paper; everyone spending an inordinate amount of time trying to decide where to eat, whom to eat with, and how to complete the complex financial transaction of divvying up the check. This culinary outpouring doubtless brought lots of economic goodness to Boston, even despite the irritatingly notorious stereotype of chemists being cheapskates.

So in the end the ACS meeting is a love story—love of chemistry, love of discovery, and love of sharing the experience with others. Sounds like an opportunity for one of those ubiquitous “Life is Good” t-shirts.

Posted In: Education | Technology

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