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Vol. 35 No. 3
May-June 2013

Conference Call | Reports from recent conferences and symposia 
See also www.iupac.org/indexes/Conferences

Physical Organic Chemistry

The IUPAC International Conference on Physical Organic Chemistry (ICPOC) series of biennial conferences has a long history as the leading international meeting on physical organic chemistry. From its first installment in Crans sur Sierre, Switzerland, in 1972, ICPOC has acted as a focus point for the physical organic community worldwide and the conference series enjoys high international reputation. With its focus on relating chemical behavior and properties to molecular structure through the development of, ideally quantitative, understanding of structure-property relationships, physical organic chemistry finds wide application in tackling current scientific challenges. Not surprisingly therefore, physical organic chemistry has been undergoing something of a resurgence in recent years.

The conference logo was the minimal saddle trefoil, created by Carlo Séquin (U.C. Berkeley).

The most recent conference in this series, ICPOC21, was held 9–13 September 2012 in Durham, UK, a spectacular city which boasts a Norman cathedral and an 11th century castle, and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. The scientific committee was chaired by Ian Williams (Bath) with other committee members Craig Butts (Bristol), Niklaas Buurma (Cardiff), Anna Croft (Bangor), David Hodgson (Durham) Patrick Fowler (Sheffield), Guy Lloyd-Jones (Bristol), Ann-Marie O’Donoghue (Durham) and Sijbren Otto (Groningen). The conference was organized by the Royal Society of Chemistry and sponsored by Syngenta, American Elements, Oxford University Press, and TCI. It also received generous support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Being an IUPAC-sponsored international conference, scientists from all over the world were present and the conference provided a forum for researchers based in academia or in industry, and at all career stages, to present their results to the physical organic chemistry community and to exchange ideas, meet old friends, and make new contacts. Overall, ICPOC21 was attended by 329 delegates, representing 38 countries and all continents (with the exception of Antarctica!).

Over the years, the interpretation of what constitutes physical organic chemistry has continued to develop. One interpretation (but not the only one) sees it as a widely applicable approach towards chemistry. In line with this developing interpretation of the field, scientific programs for ICPOC have followed suit. ICPOC21 was broadly divided into three streams, viz. physical underpinnings, mechanism and catalysis, and supramolecular chemistry. Each stream was further divided into sessions covering a wide range of topics from systems chemistry to photochemistry, from concepts in aromaticity to enzyme catalysis, etc.

The scope of the meeting is illustrated nicely by the range of plenary and keynote talks. The nine plenary lectures covered metal-catalysis for amide synthesis (Jonathan Williams, Bath, UK, 2011 RSC Homogeneous Catalysis Award—replacing Robert Grubbs), radical chemistry (JoAnne Stubbe, MIT, USA), non-covalent synthesis (Bert Meijer, Eindhoven, the Netherlands), stereocontrol in organocatalysis (Donna Blackmond, Scripps, USA), control of chiral space in dynamic chemical systems (Ben Feringa, Groningen, the Netherlands, 2011 RSC Organic Stereochemistry Award), prebiotic chemistry (John Sutherland, Cambridge, UK, 2011 RSC Tilden Prize), dynamic combinatorial chemistry (Jeremy Sanders, Cambridge, UK), variational transition state theory for complex reactions (Don Truhlar, Minnesota, USA, 2012 RSC Chemical Dynamics Award), and selectivity control past the transition state (Barry Carpenter, Cardiff, UK). The plenary lectures were complemented by 15 keynote talks and a good mix of youth and experience. The program’s 120 contributed talks, 24 flash poster presentations, and 138 poster presentations similarly represented a broad view of the conference subject matter.

Poster prizes were also awarded to up-and-coming young physical organic chemists. Because of the great number of high-quality poster presenters, seven poster awards were made. IUPAC Poster Prizes went to Eden Tanner, New South Wales, Australia; Christopher Collett, St. Andrews, UK; Matthew Pringle, Sheffield, UK; Piotr Nowak, Groningen, the Netherlands. The RSC Books Poster Prize was awarded to Nandhini Ponnuswamy, Cambridge, UK. The RSC Chemical Science Poster Prize went to Tomohiro Higashino, Kyoto, Japan, and the RSC Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry award went to Michael Rawling, Strathclyde, UK.

The ICPOC21 banquet.

Overall, ICPOC21 probably counted at least as many memorable moments as there were participants. Many of these were happy occasions (see below), but ICPOC also included a special tribute in honor of Rory More O'Ferrall, who passed away on 15 June 2012. Rory was one of the most well-respected practitioners in the field. He was an active participant and frequent contributor at previous IUPAC conferences on physical organic chemistry. He was also a member of the International Scientific Advisory Board for ICPOC21, and the committee was very grateful for his advice and support during the organization. Rory will be fondly remembered by all who knew him and sadly missed by his family and many friends.

The many happy moments included award winners receiving their prizes, young chemists giving their first presentation at an international conference, and older chemists meeting friends or future collaborators. In addition to such pleasant events, highlights of ICPOC21 included the demonstration of the applicability of physical organic chemistry to a wide diversity of research, providing delegates with surprising new insights. In addition, the inclusion of a symposium honoring Jeremy Sanders, a series of sessions on new approaches to aromaticity, a series of sessions focused on systems chemistry, and several talks on reactions in non-traditional solvents as well as chemistry beyond the transition state provided the audience with a taste of physical organic chemistry beyond the more traditional, though no less interesting, topics covered at ICPOC21. The flash poster presentations allowed representatives of the next generation of physical organic chemists to give their (first) presentations on an international stage. Overall, possibly the highlight of the conference was the realization that the international physical organic community is as vital and vibrant as it has ever been, promising exciting times ahead for physical organic chemistry.

While on the topic of exciting times ahead, the next ICPOC will be held in Ottawa, Canada, from 10–15 August 2014. Preparations for ICPOC22 are already being made by the Scientific Committee chaired by Heidi Muchall. Further information can be found at http://events.science.uottawa.ca/icpoc22/welcome.html .

Niklaas Buurma <Buurma@Cardiff.ac.uk> has been a lecturer in physical organic chemistry at Cardiff since 2006. He is a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry and of the RSC Physical Organic Chemistry Group committee. He was a member of the ICPOC21 scientific committee.


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