Thursday, June 28, 2012

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles, and CERM 2012

Guest blog post by George Ruger 

The 43rd Meeting of the Central Region of the American Chemical Society took place in Dearborn Michigan at the Henry Hotel June 5-9, 2012.  However, how does someone way out east get to such a place to enjoy all that the rest of the country has to offer?  Of course, there are planes.  But it is so expensive to travel by plane these days.  Trains go throughout the country, but do they go everywhere?  

And of course the almighty automobile, the cars and trucks which take people to and from work each day. 

Scratching the plane, and with it the hefty price tag, and skipping over the automobiles until later, we shall focus on the marvel that fueled our countries' early expansion out west, the train.  Do trains go beyond the lucrative Northeast Corridor and to points unknown?  Well, it turns out they do.  Mighty Amtrak does in fact make many stops along the way from NYC to Chicago.  One such stop takes us to Toledo Ohio, a mere hour from Detroit.  There is bus  service from Toledo to Detroit, and nearby towns including Dearborn, MI.  The train did not go all the way to Detroit, but it got pretty close.  Fortunately for me, I was able to spend that last hour of the trip in one of the wonderful vehicles produced in nearby Detroit thanks to the hospitality of the Detroit section officers.

So, it seems that the journey is possible, although it does take about 12 hours each way from just north of NYC.  It is quite a journey, through western NY and into Ohio.  The tracks are a bit bumpy in spots, and after a while one town or stretch of open land looks like all the others.  Plus, the need for sleep keeps creeping in during the multi hour journey.  I'm so glad I left my car at home.  It is hard to do much else on the long journey than to occasionally look out and see the sights and then try to rest.  Internet access is not available on my train.  Here I am traveling the way people did for generations before planes took over as the favorite mode of transportation for many and my biggest complaint was I cannot get online.  Followed by the long time it takes to get to my destination.  Still, the countryside is scenic in spots.  The people along the way are an interesting group, including a number of them who I would guess are Amish. 

On to the reason for my journey, CERM 12.  Here, on the edge of Detroit, in the town of 
Dearborn is the ACS Regional Meeting hosted by the Detroit local section.  Several hundred people gathered to explore the Chemistry inspired wonders and celebrate Detroit's 100th anniversary as an ACS section.  In addition, there were celebrations of the almighty automobile- it is Detroit after all, the headquarters of the big auto companies.  Several presentations focused on the connection between the auto industry and the chemical industry.  

The WCC Luncheon featured Dr. Shulamith Schlick on the topic of clean energy and fuel cells.  Thursday's Plenary lecture featured Alan Taub, a former VP at GM.  His talk focused on how vehicles will have to be designed better and more efficiently in the future.  The auto industry has come a long way in the last few decades, but still has a long way to go through improvements in the materials used to design the vehicles and the methods to power the vehicles.  Some time was spent on different types of energy sources including improved fuel cells and hydrogen powered vehicles.

Numerous sessions took place during the meeting.  I was able to see some programming of the SCHB Division discussing different types of businesses and resources available through ACS to help individuals start their own businesses.  The ACS sent some career services personnel who led sessions on planning your job search, nontraditional careers, new technologies including social media, and a very important topic- networking.  The topic was so important that there were two sessions, an overview of what networking was and then a chance to practice those new skills in the Speed Networking session, where the participants had five minutes to strike up a conversation before moving on to the next person as the participants went around the room.  As is the case at any meeting, so many events at the same time and we have to pick out one session per time block.

One of the wednesday highlights for me was the evening social media / mixer event attended by several Detroit locals and various members of ACS Governance. The event was unofficial (not listed in the official program) and only lightly publicized during the meeting plus a little bit on twitter.  Making these things up as you go along limits marketing opportunities but allows events to spontaneously form.  I was hoping for a few more non-ACS officers to attend, but it was late and people have other ideas for how to entertain themselves after the normal programming ends.  The event was quite enjoyable.   Many ideas floated around about the meeting as well as other topics.  The event was so successful that it was repeated thursday night with a few more people.  As far as the social media aspect of the event, there was not too much activity on the #CERM12 hashtag on twitter.  However, the Detroit section has an active Facebook page and numerous pictures and information is available there.   

A more official networking event was the ACS Governance ice cream social on thursday afternoon.  The event featured several ACS District Directors and the Chair of the ACS Board of Directors.  There were some comments about how great the meeting was going and some basic information for the numerous people in attendance. During the question and answer session, the biggest question was on pending ACS litigation, with the best answer being that the courts are pending the case and have not given a response yet but that could come at any time.  After a few questions and answers, the ice cream came out.  This was not just any ice cream- you picked your flavor and the toppings that you wanted, and the staff used their tools to chop up the mixture into a delicious treat.  Generic ice cream stand quality this was not.  The line did not move very fast, but the wait was worth it- this was some good stuff!
The Thursday night CERM awards ceremony featured numerous winners, some of whom are highlighted *here*  Quite a lot of the winners came from one local section.  That must be an active and productive section!    One of the winners could not get enough praise during the meeting.  One attendee had this statement,  "Meghann Murray's "Brewing Chemistry" is the best science cafe program anyone in the nation is running through ACS."  In addition to the Science Cafe program, Meghann has been involved in numerous other activities listed in the awards profile as well as being an active local section officer.

There were many great activities and awards and presentations given during the meeting.  Sadly my journey home began thursday night before the event was finished.  Even while I was there I could only see a small portion of the events.  Regional meetings highlight many great things that National meetings can't cover due to the large number of attendees and events required to take place.  Local sections don't always have the ability to showcase the wonders of their territory all on their own.  There is a reason why the ACS is broken down into parts- Divisions, and Regions, and Local Sections.  More ability to focus on things of interest to that particular group.  One of the benefits of Regional Meetings is the ability to put several of those groups' accomplishments on the center stage (or perhaps CENtral stage?)    

Photos courtesy of George Ruger

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