In May of this year, NESSE was delighted to partner with the International Symposium on Green Chemistry. The conference is proving to be a premier Green Chemistry conference, with nearly 800 attendees and a fascinating array of speakers with big names in the field, interesting debates, and excellent parallel and poster sessions. Two of NESSE’s Executive Board attended (Jennie and Laura) and despite the temptation of the beautiful city and sunshine, through events and discussions we made sure everyone knew about NESSE (see more photos on Flickr)!
The conference covered a diverse number of topics from the chemical valorisation of waste and biomass conversion to environmental and ethical assessment, demonstrating the broadening interest in sustainable science and gradually increasing interdisciplinarity. Once again, Europe’s strong emphasis on the use of biomass-derived resources to produce chemicals shone through.
However, the challenge of taking new ideas from the lab into reality in industry was clearly evident. John Warner gave an insightful talk with his five top tips for innovation, including my particular favourite, ‘All innovation starts with science fiction’—we first need to imagine something that can’t be done. Especially inspiring was to hear about how the Warner Babcock Institute puts these principles into practice connecting research and commercialisation, such as its plant-based additive that enables the reuse of asphalt.
Jean-Paul Lange from Shell reminded us that energy remains one of the biggest science and technology challenges, and that the challenge is not that we don’t have enough fossil fuel, the problem is that we have too much. From a research perspective, Marc Fontecave gave a particularly inspiring talk on catalysis using bio-inspired chemistry, demonstrating fascinating progress at the interface between biology and chemistry by modifying proteins with new chemically designed active sites. Read his article: ‘Sustainable Chemistry for Energising the Planet’.
Several of the plenary speakers highlighted the need for interdisciplinarity to develop sustainable innovations, an issue close to NESSE’s heart. From John Warner saying “Molecules don’t know what application they are in. Innovation happens when we look beyond our discipline,” to Prof. Javier Pérez-Ramírez utilising an interesting photo to demonstrate his point that we have to work with other people and across disciplines to have impact, the message was clear! However, the key challenge remains how to do this in practice.
It was wonderful to see early-career researchers recognised through the Global Green Chemistry Centres (G2C2) Young Researchers award to someone under 35 who has made a substantial contribution to the field. Prof Ning Yan from the National University of Singapore was an inspiring winner, focusing on using nanocatalysts for simple biomass conversion retaining chemical functionality. There were also really high quality presentations and posters from early-career scientists.
NESSE was active throughout the conference, from speaking on the main stage about the need to connect early-career scientists across disciplines for innovation, to running early-career sessions on ‘Top Tips for Getting Published’ and ‘Starting a Sustainable Science Group’.
The insights from the Editor of Green Chemistry and the highly published Prof. Rafael Luque were extremely interesting. A few that stood out were: don’t be afraid to contact the editor of a journal to ask about whether an article is relevant, talk to your supervisor about getting experience in reviewing articles (and ask them to tell the editor you’ve been involved) and write to editors and reviewers as human beings using their name if possible!
There was a huge amount of interest from early-career attendees to set-up NESSE groups in their local communities around the world! To support new groups, we will be running a free, online short course this summer to help groups get started and to share ideas between groups. If you’d like to join the course, email our Groups Director, Laura, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, networking and socialising proved to be some of the most useful aspects of the week. We enjoyed the La Rochelle sunshine and the beautiful historic sights with many early-career attendees at the NESSE social evening and in discussions over lunch, coffee breaks, and at the NESSE stand.