2020 Ottewill International Travel Scholarship – Report

A Report from the Recipient of the 2020 Ottewill International Travel Scholarship

ACS Spring 2020 National Meeting & Exposition

Philadelphia, PA, USA, 22-26 March 2020

(conference cancelled due to the
ongoing COVID-19 pandemic)

In March 2020, I was planning to attend the ACS Spring 2020 National Meeting & Exposition in Philadelphia, PA, USA. ACS National Meetings are most possibly the largest chemistry-related conferences that occur twice every year, gathering scientists of different backgrounds from all around the world. The conference typically runs over five days with parallel sessions and specific symposia for each ACS Division occurring every day at different sites (including sessions dedicated entirely to poster presentations, workshops and networking events). This year’s ACS Spring Meeting was supposed to be of particular significance to polymer and materials scientists as the main focus area of the conference was on “Macromolecular Chemistry: The Second Century”. As such, the majority of topics covered during this conference through oral and poster presentations by senior academics, post-docs and students in polymer and colloid science were expected to be closely relevant to my field of expertise and my PhD project on the preparation of polymeric vesicles with tuneable membrane properties via aqueous polymerization-induced self-assembly (PISA).

I was really looking forward to attending this conference, since it was going to be the first ACS conference for me, in which I was aiming to present a summary of my PhD work through two 20 minute oral talks and two poster presentations given that my life as a postgraduate student was coming to an end in early summer of the same year. Moreover, I had already been notified that I was the recipient of the 2020 Ottewill International Travel Scholarship to financially support my trip-related expenses and conference registration fees, and that I would be also be receiving the “Excellence in Graduate Polymer Research” award along with the rest of the 2020 class by the ACS Division of Polymer Chemistry (https://www.polyacs.net/poly2020excellencesite).

To great disappointment for thousands of registrants, but definitely after careful assessment of the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in the USA and Europe at that time, the organizers decided to cancel the on-site conference and move all oral and poster presentations to an online open-access platform (SciMeetings) to ensure everyone’s safety. Not surprisingly, a few days after the cancellation announcement, travel restrictions to and from the UK and USA were implemented suggesting that the right choice had been made by the conference organizers.

In particular, one of the projects I was really excited to present in front of the international polymer and colloids communities had been published only a couple of months before the ACS Spring 2020 Meeting in J. Am. Chem. Soc. The paper describes a seminal example of spontaneous, membrane tension-driven fusion of polymeric vesicles during aqueous ring-opening metathesis polymerization-induced self-assembly (ROMPISA) for formation of tubular polymersomes with controlled characteristics. Such unique behavior of synthetic self-assembled formulations hadn’t been observed until our investigations at the University of Birmingham, whilst in natural systems this process is typically facilitated by specific fusion-promoting proteins. The original article can be found online in open-access form at Varlas et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, 141, 20234-20248 (https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jacs.9b10152). Additionally, the conference abstract and presentation slides for this project can be found at the ACS SciMeetings website by following this link: https://doi.org/10.1021/scimeetings.0c00356.

Overall, I am truly grateful that the Ottewill International Travel Scholarship Award Committee and Macro Group UK Committee were very thoughtful in this unprecedented situation and have given me the opportunity to participate at an international conference of my choice in 2021 in order to present my PhD research by reserving the travel allowance for me until next year. Hopefully, the current situation with COVID-19 will improve over the next months and research, networking and organization of conferences will return to their pre-pandemic normality!

Spyridon Varlas

School of Chemistry, University of Birmingham