Hello everyone! It feels like it has been ages since I last wrote a blog post. Since my last post, I’ve still been very busy with all my research, which has been going well so far. Just to remind you all, my research involves synthesizing polyurethanes using environmentally friendly methods and waste-derived fish oil as a starting material. I’ve spent many long days in the lab trying different reactions with my fish oil. Most of the reactions that I have been doing are either 12 or 8 hours long. Factoring in set up time, the time it takes to slowly add the reagent, and then purification afterwards, it makes for a very long day. It’s good to have a balance between work and life, so whenever I have a 12 hour reaction, I’ll make sure that I at least leave and have supper off campus to keep myself energized and motivated to keep working. It’s important to keep yourself mentally and physically rested, so whenever the nice weather starts in St. John’s (it’s 5 °C and cloudy as I sit here writing this), you have to go and enjoy it! I personally take advantage of this by taking a walk outside. This allows me to spend a day enjoying the weather, as here in St. John’s it doesn’t happen often enough. If the weather ever gets nice enough to not have to wear a sweater, you can count on me spending it doing some landscaping at my house.
Last weekend, I went to a conference at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (where I experienced double digit weather and I even took my sweater off), called ChemCon 2018. It was such a fun packed weekend, I’m incredibly glad I went. At this conference many undergraduate and graduate students met to present and share their research in chemistry. Both of my supervisors and a PhD student from my group went as well (you can see all of us in the picture below). It was a crazy and amazing four days, filled with a poster session, more presentations than I can count, a trivia night, and a tour of the Keith’s brewery. I got to meet many new people and see some colleagues that I met through my previous research group.
The student talks covered such a wide range of topics, including electrochemical cells, organic synthesis, and someone even talked about bats! Larger conferences generally have multiple talks going on in different rooms at the same time, so you pick the ones that best suit your research, and you miss out on the crazy research happening in other fields. ChemCon is great because you get to see such a wide range of presentations. You never know what you might get inspired by. Someone in a completely different field might present something that could give you a great idea for your research. It was really fun, and even refreshing, to hear about all of the different research going on in chemistry in the Atlantic provinces.
I was able to attend the presentations of all the amazing undergraduate students from Memorial University who participated in the conference and they all did so well. Many of them won awards for their oral presentation or poster. Good job everyone! I was also fortunate enough to give a presentation on my research, and while I was terrified to do it, I’m glad that I did. I think it went very well. It was great to be able to present my research to other enthusiastic chemists, and since it was mostly other nervous students in the crowd, it felt like a very welcoming and supportive environment. My presentation covered the reactions that I have completed to date towards synthesizing polyurethanes from the fish oil. So far, I have tried a few methods for oxidizing the unsaturated fatty acids in the fish oil, as well as to then form cyclic carbonates from these products. These have given great preliminary data, but there will be a lot of optimizing the reaction conditions in my future. Once these two steps are perfected, I can then try and make different polyurethanes from my cyclic carbonate material. Overall, giving my presentation was a great experience and it definitely gave me more confidence to talk in front of a large audience.
At the conference, one of the keynote speakers was Dr. Phillip Jessop, who is a huge name in chemistry, especially green chemistry. He gave an amazing presentation showing that chemists have the ability to make a difference to society and the environment. One fantastic idea that he shared, and I’ll now share with all of you, is to keep a book labelled “Ideas” around and write down all those research ideas when they come to you. It’s difficult to think of ideas for research on the spot, so if you have a book and write down ideas immediately as they come to you, they’ll be there for when you need them. He said that he looks back on his ideas every once and a while, and while most of them aren’t good, sometimes he’ll find a good idea that has since been forgotten. Since I’ve come back from the conference, I’ve started my own “Ideas” book, and hopefully I’ll be able to slowly fill it up.
When I got back home I was insanely tired, and needed a day to rest and recover. I spent my first day home building a dining room table with my boyfriend and it was just what I needed to recover. The next few weeks are going to be busy, packed with research and presentations for group meetings. The good thing about making presentations for the conference, is that it made me really look over everything that I’ve done so far and gave me a good idea of what reactions I need to do moving forward. Going forward, I know what I’d like to complete, allowing me to allocate enough time to get what I want done and put into a poster for the next stop on my journey, the ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy that I will be attending in July.