RACI National Congress Day 4

Welcome back to our ongoing coverage of the 2014 RACI National Congress. So far the week has been characterised by exemplary plenaries each morning and Day 4 was no exception. To top it off, the student attendees were once again treated with a panel discussion by some plenary speakers. I also want to give a shout-out to fellow blogger/tweeter Renée Webster who gave an excellent presentation on her fuel oxidation research.

Makoto Fujita, The University of Tokyo – “Crystalline sponge method : X-Ray structure analysis without crystallization”

Imagine this – you have an unknown compound (< 1 mg), NMR is inconclusive, so is the mass spec data. Fujita presents a future where as little as 5 nanograms could be used to unequivocally determine it’s structure. Forget painstakingly growing a crystal – just soak it into Fujita’s crystal-sponge and wait. It can take approximately 2-7 days for the networked structure to equilibrate and accomodate the guest in an ordered fashion. When I asked Fujita whether he had considered commercialisation of his “crystal-sponge”, this was the response:

“You know the Apple iPhone? They first released the iPhone 3. Our crystal is the iPhone zero.” – Makoto Fujita

So, clearly there is still a lot of work to be done in generalising this method. Derek Lowe commented this week that in his experience the network is completely incompatible with basic amines or heterocycles. Fujita says that occupancy within the crystal of 40-70% gives a “semi-empirical structural solution” and >70% gives data comparable with conventional X-ray. The response to Fujita’s paper in Nature last year has been huge and it appears a number of groups are working on validating/improving the technique. Perhaps one day the “crystal-sponge” will be something every lab couldn’t do without.

Success in Research Panel – David Leigh, Alan Aspuru-Guzik, Hubert Girault, Katharina Landfester

Most of the questions in the second plenary discussion panel on thursday appeared to be geared towards how to best put ourselves forward in a resume/CV. The academics outlined what they look for in a candidate – creativity, enthusiasm and leadership. The cover letter is crucial and should be genuinely personal (it cannot be a carbon-copy for all applications). Where possible, meeting an academic in person (eg. at a conferences) is ideal. A face to face meeting can go a long way in building a relationship.

Aspuru-Guzik said he looks for what he calls “triangulation”, a bachelor at one university, a PhD at a different one and a post-doc at yet another. Each preferably with different research focuses. Commenting on research record, it was suggested that you should avoid publishing multiple papers with similar titles. You should show breadth and creativity where possible. Don’t drip feed your research by publishing many small papers as apparently “1 JACS is worth 5 Chem Comm’s”. Ouch.

In the end, the picture is similar to yesterday. A good record, a good recommendation, a good cover letter, leadership skills and creative personality. In the words of David Leigh, “Don’t be afraid to be incredibly ambitious”.