Grazing Rhinos


John Guest Philips Travelling Scholarship

Sophie H. Dale

Giraffes on the horizon.

21st European Crystallographic Meeting, Durban, South Africa,

August 24th-29th, 2003

The John Guest Philips Travelling Scholarship allowed my attendance at the ECM-21 meeting in Durban, my first trip outside of Europe. On arrival in Durban with my supervisor, Dr Mark Elsegood, we were pleased to find we had booked into an excellent hotel, central to the facilities we would frequent in the next week - the International Convention Centre, the beach and of course the shops!

The satellite workshop organised by the CCDC, held during the afternoon of the first day of the meeting, proved worthwhile attending, with the latest CCDC products presented and the opportunity to ask the organisers for advice on the use of the databases they maintain.

The conference programme commenced with an opening ceremony in which local dancers performed a collage of traditional dances, a delight to watch. The scientific programme, though compacted into four days, allowed for great variety in the subjects of the microsymposia. Careful planning allowed me to attend the lectures most relevant to my PhD and also allowed me to fit in lectures on subjects that I have not met since my degree, particularly those concerning biological applications of crystallography. The plenary lectures were accessible to all delegates, not just those working in the specialised area, and I found the lectures given by Tom Blundell, on high throughput structural biology and drug discovery, and by Bill David, on structure determination from powders, the most interesting and useful.

It was a pleasure, during the very relevant microsymposia on hydrogen bonding and structure-properties relationships, to be able to attend two talks given by Gautam Desiraju, a crystallographer who has authored many papers which have formed much of the reference material for the hydrogen bonding aspects of my PhD. Other lectures of interest, related to work carried out within our research group, were given by Len Barbour and Petra Bombicz, who both talked on the host-guest chemistry of calixarenes. A series of lectures on the final day covered the range of computing software available to the crystallographer as well as the latest developments at the EPSRC National Service at Southampton.

Sophie and Dr Elsegood in front of the presentation posters.At the poster sessions, I presented a poster entitled “Synthesis and Supramolecular Chemistry of the Complexes of the [Ru(p-cymene)]2+ Fragment and Pyridinedicarboxylic Acids” and also co-presented the poster “Synthesis and Structural Characterisation of Ruthenium(arene) Fragments Bearing Hydrogen Bonding Ligands” with my supervisor. I had some interesting discussions with other crystallographers who work in the area of supramolecular chemistry, and I was pleased to receive numerous, useful comments and suggestions on our work which I hope to implement in the coming months. The poster session also allowed students from all over Europe and Africa to chat informally about their work, comparing strategies for getting through the three years successfully!

The closing dinner, held in a large marquee, was fantastic - the food and entertainment were excellent. As with the opening ceremony, traditional African Zulu dancing was presented, and as it was “interactive” I got dragged up to join in! The rest of the night was thoroughly exhausting - every time I tried to go back to my table, I got pulled back to the dance floor by another gentleman for yet another dance. My toes just about survived, the bruises were only small!

Concerns surrounding delegates’ safety in and around the conference were high, but a combination of common sense and making use of the shuttle buses provided by the ECM-21 organisers and the local taxis meant that we were not restricted solely to the ICC and our hotel. Evenings were spent mainly in the hotel, but I did manage to sample Durban’s nightlife on two occasions, strangely bumping into a fellow Loughborough resident, now that’s a small world!

My first visit to Africa was made even more memorable by the trip to the game reserve on the final day of the conference, providing perfect photography opportunities with the animals only feet away.

What will remain in my mind for a long time to come is the sincere friendliness of the local  people that I met in Durban, from the hotel staff to the taxi driver just nipping you down the street, nothing was too much trouble.

I am very grateful to the prize committee for providing me with the funding to make the trip to Durban a reality, and I look forward to my next crystallography meeting to renew the contacts I have made at ECM-21.

Sophie Dale
Chemistry Department

September 2003
Prizes Committee
Loughborough University
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