Getting ready for Denver: what you should be doing now

Denver USA Interstate Highway SignAre you heading to Denver this weekend? If so, you are joining one of the largest professional gatherings in the country—over 13,000 professionals and 1,000 undergraduates presenting over 10,000 papers. In other words, imagine every student from Harvard, MIT, and the University of Denver all together in one convention center.

Not only is it crowded, it can be a little overwhelming. But the Reactions blog is here to help. Today, we’ll go over what you need to be doing right now to prepare for the national meeting. (What to do once you get there will come later.)

Prepare your presentation

Whether you are doing a poster or oral presentation, by now you should have it pretty well in hand. If you still need some tips, ACS student members can check out the webinar recordings, Tips for Creating High Impact Scientific Poster Presentations and Delivering a Dynamic Presentation. You can find even more advice in the following:

Be sure to practice, practice, practice. The more you practice, the easier it will be to talk about your research or student chapter, no matter how nervous you are. And remember to bring along some business cards.

Book your travel

If you haven’t done so already, make whatever plane, train, or bus reservations you need. Delta, United, Southwest, and Amtrak all have discounts for meeting registrants. (You’ve already registered for the meeting, right?)

The hotels and convention center are close and parking is expense; save money by skipping the rental car and walking through Denver. (You can book a Supershuttle to get to and from the airport.)

Although the discount hotels have sold out of rooms, you can still reserve an official ACS hotel room and be entered in a drawing for a Kindle or iPad. Share the room with a buddy to cut costs.

Dust off your suit

You are about to present research, show off your student chapter, meet industry and graduate school recruiters, and network with the big kids. If you want to be taken seriously, you’ll need to look the part.

Get out a decent suit or at least a nice jacket/button-down shirt/slacks (or skirt) combo for presentation today. Think khakis, slacks, and conservative skirts for the rest of your meeting time. Nothing screams, “Hey, I’m a student—don’t take me seriously,” like a T-shirt and jeggings. (Of course, you can always change when you leave the meeting and tour the rest of Denver.)

If your good clothes don’t fit or have tears or stains, get new ones! It’s a rare student who can’t afford J.C. Penny, Target, or even a thrift store.

And leave the flip-flops at home. Invest in some good, comfortable leather shoes that look smart and can handle all the walking you are about to do.

See you there!

Honoring the Father of Analytical Chemistry

Professor Izaak M. Kolthoff (1894–1993),

Professor Izaak M. Kolthoff (1894–1993)

I am Quang H. Luu Nguyen, an undergraduate chemistry senior in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. On September 12 and 13, 2014, the University hosted an ACS National Historic Chemical Landmark celebration to recognize the legacy of Professor Izaak M. Kolthoff (1894–1993), who was an active faculty member in the Department of Chemistry for 35 years. I was honored to be invited as a contributor to the ACS Reactions blog and share my thoughts abou t this celebration, which included a dedication ceremony and a research symposium.

The Department of Chemistry at my school is located in two buildings—Kolthoff Hall and Smith Hall. I’ve frequently heard about the work of Professor Kolthoff and Professor Lee I. Smith and how their influence shaped not only the chemistry program at my school but also the field of chemistry itself. However, I did not know as many details about Professor Kolthoff’s contributions until this special celebration event.

Despite the early cold in September, the introduction given by the chair of the Departmentof Chemistry, Professor William B. Tolman, ignited in me a sense of school pride. He described Professor Kolthoff as an enthusiastic, passionate chemist and teacher. Professor Kolthoff was a pioneer in, and is considered by many to be the father of, modern analytical chemistry. He played an important role in establishing the field as a separate discipline from other areas of chemistry. He led a huge program of research—publishing nearly 1,000 papers—in analytical chemistry, which gradually became a mature field of science. In addition to his papers, he also wrote numerous textbooks and a definitive 30-volume treatise. He advised more than 50 doctorate chemists, some of whom became leading faculty members worldwide. Consequently, more than 1,100 chemists now can trace back their scientific roots to Kolthoff.

Professor William B. Tolman, University of Minnesota

Professor William B. Tolman, University of Minnesota

The talk given by Professor Peter Carr at the memorial on Saturday morning was also exceptional. As a close friend of Kolthoff, Professor Carr shared personal anecdotes about Professor Kolthoff, such as the meetings, lunches, and sports activities they shared. I enjoyed learning about Kolthoff’s interests outside of his professional career, such as his love of tulips—he often reminisced about his home country, The Netherlands—and how he enjoyed playing tennis, riding horses, and watching the TV show Hogan’s Heroes.

Another colorful portion of the event was the research symposium on Saturday. Five guest speakers presented their current research to a room of about 250 people. The speakers were established chemists from some of the best universities in the United States. It was an amazing and rare opportunity to meet several famous chemists at once and learn about their cutting-edge research in tandem. I was especially interested in two presentations: one given by Professor Harry Gray from California Institute of Technology, and another by Professor Judith Klinman from University of California, Berkeley. They were the final two presenters, but they were able to hold the audience’s attention thanks to their interesting research topics and articulate speaking skills.

Professor Klinman discussed the kinetic isotope effect of hydrogen tunneling mediated by heavy atoms in protein in enzymatic reactions. She proposed a new model confirmed by both computational studies and experimental data. Her presentation also included a lot of cartoons to simplify the chemical systems and her experimental designs, which made the technical talk more approachable.

Professor Harry Gray’s presentation about solar energy was very lively due to his humor and enthusiasm. His presentation was mainly focused on the electron transfer between cheap metal cations and how such a reaction could be applied in solar cell effectively. This research is important, as it will ameliorate environmental impacts caused by fossil fuel, which is the main source of energy today. His research group also provides special opportunities for high school students to learn more about science by designing experiments for these students to perform.

After the celebration, I was more proud than ever to be a part of the University of Minnesota Department of Chemistry, because of the notable impacts that Professor Kolthoff and Professor Smith made on the field of chemistry and how they have benefited society by fulfilling the vision of ACS, which is to improve people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.

Quang H. Luu Nguyen is a chemistry major at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (Class of 2015). He plans on attending graduate school in the United States to pursue his dream of becoming a synthetic organic chemist.

Lightning In A Bottle #SweetFailures

Written by: Ben Hall

I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us have seen Star Wars and have wondered what it would be like to shoot lightning from our hands like a Sith lord, but alas, that’s probably never going to happen. However, what we can do is make lightning in a bottle. Not as cool, I know, but it’s still a lot of fun to do!

To achieve lightning in a bottle, the Undergrad Programs Team gathered in our top secret laboratory and began plotting. Mwhahaha! (Evil, maniacal laugher) We found some pretty simple instructions on the internet and got started. Turns out all we needed to buy was a bag of wintergreen mints and pour those into a blender.


Does not reflect actual results.

Before I tell you how our experiment went, I should probably talk about the science behind it. The phenomenon we’re talking about today is called triboluminescence. This occurs when two materials rub together and cause a spark. Essentially, this is light from friction. The table sugar (sucrose) is in the same spectrum as lightning. That’s where we get lightning in a bottle.


Okay, so back to our lightning. It worked! But, it was very faint and very brief. So there was no #SweetFailure in this experiment, but we did learn a lot. First, you need fresh mints for best results. Second, to make the most ‘lightning’ happen, you need to make sure that the mints are whole. If you have those two squared away, you’re ready to get started.

View our lightning here:

When you do this at home, make sure you are prepared for lots of noise! It’s loud. Also, be prepared for your house to smell like wintergreen mints. So fresh and so clean, clean.

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Sugar Glass #SweetFailures

Written by: Jessica Roberts

HAPPY MOLE DAY, Everyone! Today we honor of the basic unit of chemistry, the beloved mole. From 6:02 a.m. until 6:02 p.m. chemists and chemistry lovers from around the world share their enthusiasm for our field through demonstrations, parties and other events in their communities. To mark this occasion, we at the Undergraduate Programs Office, returned to the secret laboratory to create some sugar glass!

Sugar glass is essentially sugar that has been melted down and re-formed into a transparent sheet. Because it is transparent and shatters like glass, Hollywood has used sugar glass in movie stunts for years. It looks and feels like real glass, but is a lot safer to break (and a lot more delicious!). Now filmmakers use a mixture of plastics instead to create a longer-lasting prop.

Dissolving the sugar solution on a hot plate.

To create the sugar glass we used table sugar, or sucrose, which is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose. We dissolved our ingredients in a 15:5:4 ratio of sugar to corn syrup to water and heated to 149°C. Corn syrup is comprised of different types of longer oligosaccharides, which helps to prevent large crystals from forming when the glass cools. If we didn’t add it, the glass would be opaque, not clear and not nearly as fun to break

Glass 3 To step it up a notch, we decided to make our glass fluorescent neon green which would glow under a black light. To give our glass the psychedelic treatment, we used tonic water instead of regular water and added neon green food coloring to the dissolved solution. Tonic water contains small amounts of quinine which fluoresces in the UV spectrum.

Glass 1After the sugar solution reached the magic temperature, it was poured out onto a greased cookie sheet to solidify. When the sucrose was dissolved in water and with heat, the bonds between the sugar molecules were separated, which can be reformed into a new shape while cooling. An important note: while it is important to oil your pan a little, doing too much will cause a slimy layer of oil on your candy glass to form, which hinders evaporation of the water as the glass cools. This causes the sheet to become bendy instead of brittle. We may or may not know from personal experience…. Also sugar is hydroscopic so it will absorb water molecules from the air the longer you leave it out. So it might be best to break it right after it cools.

Glass 2Despite our #sweetfailure in making high-quality sugar glass, we were able to produce some delicious glowing candy. We’d love to hear how you or your chapter celebrated Mole Day, so post in the comments below!

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Chewing Gum #SweetFailures

Today marks the beginning of the 2014 National Chemistry Week celebrations here at ACS, and the Undergrad Programs Office has found the PERFECT way to join in the fun. This week, we’re going to talk about everyone’s favorite thing….. science failures.

I’m sure you’re sitting back and asking yourself; “What does he mean by failures?” We’ve all seen the videos on Buzzfeed. Some poor scientist is trying to give a demonstration to a group of elementary school kids and they end up sending up a ball of flame and smoking everyone out of the room. This is where we got our idea.

The word ‘failure’ implies a negative, but sometimes failures turn out to be quite positive experiences. I’m not talking about [air quotes] “learning opportunities”. I’m talking about discovery. Can you think of any discoveries that have come from science failures? Let me help. Think about NCW’s theme. Still can’t think of anything? Here’s a hint: CHEWING GUM!

That’s right, folks, the modern chewing gum industry came from a MAJOR science failure. In the mid 1800’s an inventor named Thomas Adams discovered modern chewing gum while attempting to discover a cheap alternative for rubber tires. Today, the chewing gum industry is booming. People across the globe chew roughly 100,000 tons of gum every year resulting in an industry with a networth of approximately $19B. Now, if that’s not a #SweetFailure I don’t know what is!

Now that we’ve discovered that chewing gum is one lucrative failure, here at the UPO offices we decided to break into our super-secret laboratory to see if we could get a piece of the pie. Okay, so we didn’t have to break into any lab, nor did we sell the gum we made, but because it’s National Chemistry Week we thought it would be a great idea to try a few sweet experiments and share our results with you. These activities are great ways for student chapters to interact with local schools and earn some ‘brownie points’ in their student reports.

For our gum experiment, we turned to our favorite online retailer and bought a gum making kit. The kit we chose uses chicle as the base for making chewing gum. Additionally, we bought powdered flavoring to add to our mixture.


To complete our experiment, we followed the instructions included in the kit. We heated our chicle pellets in the microwave and stirred them together with the corn syrup provided in the kit. Once these were mixed together thoroughly, we turned the paste onto a pan sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. We kneaded our mixture together until the paste formed into a solid ball. At that point we added our flavoring and continued to knead until the flavoring was completely incorporated into the gum. The experiment took 10 minutes to complete.

Remember even though we are working in the kitchen, with relatively safe materials, it is still very important to wear protective gear such as goggles, gloves, and lab coats. We speak from experience when we say playing with chicle is sticky business and can easily ruin your clothes!

Revealing your research: Preparing for the ACS National Meeting Poster Presentation

Denver Banner small With the 249th ACS National Meeting just around the corner, it’s time to properly prepare for presenting your research in Denver. Here are my six top tips for presenting at the National Meeting Poster Session:

1. Know y475007517our research: Although you may have done all of the bench work, do you understand the mechanisms and background of your research? If not, now is the time to dig into the literature and to seek help from your advisor to understand the reasoning behind each of your laboratory steps and the larger picture of your project.

2. Prepare your elevator speech: A 60 second summary of what you did, why you did it, and your results.

3. Practice, practice, practice: You should practice your “elevator speech” to yourself, lab mates, friends, and family. It can be helpful to present to people without a chemistry background. For example, a group of middle school students were touring our new science building, and their teacher asked me about my research. To explain my work with protein affinity tags, I talked about eating a bowl of Lucky Charms. Whenever you eat a bowl of Lucky Charms, all you really want are the marshmallows; this is analogous to my research because we want to pick out specific proteins from a mixture. Bazinga! The kids understood my research! Practice your elevator speech to others, and you will be prepared for whoever walks up to your poster.

4. Designing your poster: The key to a great poster is a single, cohesive story summarizing your research project by showing the key results that support your conclusion and demonstrate the originality of your work. (See the February 2012 issue of InChemistry magazine for more details).

5. Dressing for success: Potential employers and graduate school recruiters come by the poster sessions, so you want to look professional and confident. For both men and women, I suggest going for solid colors for tops and black or blue for pants – a conservative and classic look.

poster sessionFor men: Black pants or slacks, a button-down shirt (long sleeve), and a tie is ideal. Also, nice brown or black shoes are important — ditch the sneakers for today.

For women: The best combinations are black pants or skirt with nice shirt (short sleeve or long sleeve) or a dress that is close to knee length with hose. It’s important to wear nothing that is too clingy. You want your work to be on display, not your figure. Also, low heels (no taller than 2 inches) or flats are best. You will be standing up and walking all day.

6. Print business cards: Now that you have practiced and look you the part, you should be prepared to share your contact information. You can get 250 cards custom-printed at Staples for $6!

To make sure you’re ready to go, here’s an ACS National Meeting Poster Presenter checklist:

  • Notecards to practice your speech
  • Poster (seems obvious, but double check!)
  • Flashdrive (with your poster on it)
  • Printed materials (your poster number, confirmation, etc.)
  • Hotel and flight itineraries
  • Nice outfit
  • Business cards and a portfolio with copies of your resume
  • Pen and a notebook (who knows when inspiration could strike!)
  • Camera

For more details, check out Dr. Brent Znosko’s webinar.

Why Should I Hire You?


Have you graduated? Are you interviewing for jobs? Then read this!

Originally posted on ACS Careers Blog:

Common interview questions are googled, anticipated, and feared by many an interviewee. People try to prepare for questions as strange as what type of animal best describes you, or what type of ice cream would you be. Answers are carefully thought through and even practiced in mock interviews or in front of the mirror. In all this preparation, people can overlook the question behind every other question during an interview: Why should I hire you?

The interview usually includes multiple rounds with panels of interviewers. It can be conducted over the phone, face-to-face in a conference room, or as all-day event including a presentation or sample work. You can count on all the usual questions, such as those related to your skills and previous experience. There are also the questions regarding “soft skills”, such as how you get along with others or how you handle conflict at the work place…

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