The 2019 BCA Spring Meeting – a caffeine-fuelled, knowledge-filled, VR-culminating experience

Posted in: Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

Aneesa Al-Ani is a CSCT first year PhD student working with Professor Chick Wilson, AstraZeneca and CMAC. Aneesa has a passion for crystals and their structure, which she studies with the aim to improve their pharmaceutical properties.

 In April, Aneesa attended the British Crystallographic Association (BCA) Spring Meeting 2019, where she hoped to spark new ideas for her research, as well as new academic and industrial collaborations. Little did she know this meeting would also give her the opportunity to play virtual tennis using molecules!

In the lead-up to the BCA Spring Meeting, I was looking forward to coffee fuelled days filled with silly crystallography puns, influential keynote speakers and meeting a network of amazing people; and I was not disappointed. The conference started off on a beautiful sunny day, the blue skies were never-ending and the Young Crystallographers Group meeting  began. The young faces of PhD and master’s students ignited interest with flash presentations for the poster exhibitions that were held throughout the event. The exhibitions provided a great opportunity to chat to other students, academics and industrial partners about research and get to know the global community that attended.

The main meeting contained many intriguing speakers including: Dr Christine Beavers, who taught us to be ourselves in order to humanise science and leave behind the stereotypical public view on what a scientist is and looks like; Professor George Sheldrick, who gave a detailed overview of SHELTX that was very inspirational to me and other daily users of this software; and Professor Kevin Roberts, who delivered a talk giving a physics perspective to crystal engineering - an outlook that I particularly enjoyed as a chemist.

However, the highlight of the BCA meeting for me was, without a doubt, an unforgettable demonstration by Dr Tim Easun. Without moving from our seats in the lecture theatre, myself and the audience were transported into a 3D metal organic framework (MOF)! In this alternate world where benzene rings were used as tennis rackets and small molecules as balls, we had free rein to grab, throw and play- it was virtual heaven for a crystallographer! The activity demonstrated how MOFs are able to separate molecules - an excellent virtual reality activity that linked scientific research with outreach, and an experience I will never forget.

Scheduled networking events ensured plenty of time to socialise with guest speakers and other students about their research careers as well as my own. The meeting awards ceremony and conference dinner wrapped up the event nicely and was a great opportunity to celebrate everyone’s hard work. It was a lovely surprise to be awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry’s CrystEngComm poster prize!

Overall the conference was very stimulating, with lots of coffee and biscuit breaks to keep my caffeine and sugar levels up. The four days covered an exciting range of research areas - from learning all the hidden secrets of what the CCDC Mercury -a software to view and analyse crystal structures- can do, to a detailed analysis of what we can learn from crystal surfaces. I very much look forward to the next BCA meeting!

Aneesa Al-Ani, Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, University of Bath, UK.

Posted in: Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences


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