Chemistry’s Community Spaces

There was a time when book stores and libraries were the places where you met others. Like in today’s universities, in which librarians can’t get rid of books fast enough, students still go to libraries to study in their carrels. Unfortunately, the flattening of the printed word through electronic delivery is decreasing the need or motivation for you to physically visit bookstores or public libraries. Meanwhile, next-day (and next-hour!) deliveries de-motivate you from going to retail shops at your local mall. But we still need community spaces, like the Mexican zocalos, to see and meet other people. Coffee houses and fitness centers, necessarily serve products or services that you and others must experience physically, and are increasingly serving the need for community gathering spaces while proving that brick-and-mortar can still be profitable.

coffee shop
Coffee shops make great community spaces. (image from

So where do chemists gather? Increasingly academic buildings are being created with coffee houses in mind. Sure, it’s cheaper for me to make an espresso with the machine in my office. But if I walk down to the coffee shop, I have the extra benefit of running into students and colleagues. The upcoming National Meeting of the ACS in San Diego also serves this need. Going there, I get to hang out with over 15,000 of my closest friends. I can’t, obviously, see them all, but I don’t have to make many, if any, appointments. The chemists with whom I have common interests naturally attend the same receptions, governance meetings and scientific sessions. These chance run-ins are devilishly short and sweet. The follow-up often occupies my activities and seeds my next innovations over the next six months and beyond.

Of course, old and new gathering mechanisms can overlap. In San Diego, the Multidisciplinary Program Planning Group (MPPG) selected Computers in Chemistry as the theme. Working with my colleagues on the associated symposia, we introduced a special break from 10:00 AM to 10:30AM on mornings from Sunday to Wednesday called “Café con Ordenadores.” We hope to leverage your need for coffee to discuss how computers can enable your chemistry. I look forward to my chance meeting(s) with you in San Diego starting on March 13th!

This post was originally published on Dr. Hernandez’s blog,, on March 2, 2016. Dr. Hernandez is a faculty member in the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, where we have an unusually strong need to be concerned with community gathering and communication. Because we are sixteen faculty members and over fifty students spread across a dozen institutions around the U.S., most of our interactions are done via videoconference calls. We make virtual community spaces through regular meetings of both the whole center and subgroups, but no matter how good webcam technology is, that alone would not be enough. We have center-wide in-person meetings twice per year, and take every other opportunity we can to get together. So this is yet another reason why meetings like next week’s ACS are so important for scientific community building.

Want to read more about scientific conferences? Check out our post from last summer’s ACS: Seven Tips for Attending Your First Big Conference.


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