Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Carbon conference 2017 and the "Queen of carbon"

I recently attended and presented a poster at the Carbon 2017 conference in Melbourne, Australia. This yearly conference brings together around 800 carbon scientists and engineers from around the world to talk about the many forms of carbon such as fullerenes, nanotubes, graphene and various carbon materials like activated carbons, glassy carbons, nuclear graphite and carbon catalysts.

Something interesting about Carbon Conference this year was that it was a joint conference comprised eight other chemistry related conferences as part of the centenary celebration of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI). This meant we could attend any one of the many talks in fields from physical chemistry through to green chemistry.

3D printed molecules and electrically polarised carbon

The poster session was also run with the other chemistry conference. While viewing some other posters, I saw this 3D printed model of a metal organic framework which I thought was a creative idea.

I presented a poster on the impact of curvature in aromatic molecules which causes a significant charge polarisation leading to a molecular dipole of about 2 debye per pentagon (compare this with 1.85 debye for water). I had some good conversations with people about this; the activated carbon community was particularly interested in how polar molecules could adsorb onto these carbon structures and how the curved structures should carbonise.

Click on the poster for a larger image.
We recently uploaded a preprint of this work online if your interested further.

The Queen of Carbon

Something quite special about the carbon conference was a memorial session commemorating the life of Mildred Dresselhaus (or Millie to those in the community) who passed away in February this year. Her impact on the field of carbon research cannot be overexpressed. Starting from the elucidation of the electronic structure of graphite (the location of holes and electrons in the first Brillouin zone using magneto-optical spectroscopy) she went on to study the intercalation of ions in graphite (leading to the development of the lithium ion battery). Later, while working on fullerene she suggested the elongation of a fullerene into a tube and studied the electronic properties of these tubes in 1992, before single wall nanotubes had been discovered in 1993, suggesting they could be conducting or semiconducting depending on the nanotubes twist (chirality). She then turned her attention to graphene nanoribbons and graphene, working on tuning the electronic properties of graphene by confining them into nanoribbons as early as 1996.

Modified from presentation 
The "Queen of carbon science" as she was known, was also the first woman to gain a professorship at MIT and was an advocate for women in STEM, she also served in government. What I was struck by, was her character as a scientist. She really filled her life with research but always had space to talk with students, review papers and write textbooks. A truly inspirational woman; I'm sad I did not get an opportunity to meet her.