What’s in a Name?

The ACS meeting in Boston is in full swing, with hundreds of technical sessions taking place. Glancing through the meeting program, you start to notice a few things about the session titles—some are functional, inviting, dull, puzzling, bizarre. It makes you wonder who comes up with the names for symposia anyway.

For the Boston meeting, the titles for the symposia in the Division of Computers in Chemistry (COMP) stand out as being a little different. For example: Novel Is So Passé, Just Say New Methods; Colloids: Gels, Sols, and Emulsions. You Know … Goo; and Materials, Polymers and Nanostuff. Newscripts decided to find out who was behind them.

The COMP titles are part of the wit and wisdom of computational biochemist Emilio X. Esposito, who operates consulting firm exeResearch, in East Lansing, Mich. I caught up with Esposito just as he was coming out of a marathon ACS Meetings & Expositions committee planning meeting.

Esposito, one of the division’s meeting organizers, says the catchy titles started out as his effort to better organize the COMP sessions, primarily to break symposia into smaller sessions that were more focused on a single topic. He started adding a little levity by including pop culture references and some word play in order to make the titles more informative and interesting.

For example, in Boston he used: We were Promised Jet Packs. They Found Out About These on the Way, as the title for a session made up of talks on methodology reviews–where the computational science was, were it is going, and what happened instead. He likens the theme to the old cartoon show The Jetsons, where the future George Jetson lives in a world of jet packs, flying cars, robot maids, and sundry automated gadgets and gizmos. “The future always promises us something, perhaps more than can be delivered, but along the way we discover much more and get sidetracked,” Esposito says. “We have jet packs now, but they aren’t exactly what we expected.”

For another session, he used: Peter McWilliams said: Life is Not a Struggle. It’s a Wiggle. This title was just cool, Esposito says, something he came across while looking for a reference to wiggle on the Internet. In molecular dynamics modeling, molecules seem to wiggle during simulations on the computer screen, Esposito says. He was trying to enhance that image. Esposito isn’t sure what the quote means, but it comes from the author Peter McWilliams.

Insane in the Membrane is a title for a session covering the modeling of membrane behavior. The title is a nod to the rap song of the same title a few years ago by the group Cypress Hill, Esposito explains, in which said membrane refers to the brain.

Few symposium titles at the meeting come close to those zingers, although The Chemistry of Beer & Brewing sponsored by the Younger Chemists’ Committee has a certain appeal. Esposito doesn’t think any ACS by-laws are being broken with the quirky titles. But then again he didn’t bother to check.

Esposito Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Esposito

Some divisions don’t have anything to worry about in that regard. Take the Division of Inorganic Chemistry, with these classic titles: General Inorganic Chemistry, Coordination Chemistry, Nanoscience, and Inorganic Chemistry. Perhaps Medicinal Chemistry’s General Oral Session should win a prize there. The prize for the most popular symposium title at ACS meetings goes to General Posters, which several divisions use. Bland, but functional.

To be honest, not all of COMP’s titles are so exciting. There’s one simply titled Proteins, and another called Poster Session–not even General Posters, just Poster Session. Perhaps the booby prize, and certainly the prize for the most convoluted, goes the Division of Organic Chemistry’s Heterocycles and Aromatics, Metal-Mediated Reactions & Syntheses, Molecular Recognition & Self-Assembly and Physical Organic Chemistry: Calculations, Mechanisms, Photochemistry & High Energy Species. Yes, that’s all one title. It turns out it was a poster session. I didn’t go.

Author: Steve Ritter

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