Welcome to Hawai’i for the International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies, better known as Pacifichem. Chemists emerge from the global woodwork every five years for this meeting in Honolulu that is organized by the national chemical societies of countries that line the Pacific Rim.

Diamond Head, as seen from Waikiki. Credit: Steve Ritter/C&EN

You see a lot of chemists from Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Australia, Mexico, and Canada here. Quite a few from the U.S. as well–my flight from Chicago to Honolulu was chock-full of familiar faces of chemists. Even a bunch of chemists from Europe are here for Pacifichem, although it seems like they shouldn’t be allowed in on the technicality that their home country doesn’t have a Pacific coast. But who doesn’t want to leave the cold weather and come to Hawai’i, where it was 85 F (almost 30 C) today–it was below 20 F when I left Newscripts headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Pacifichem is taking place in the Honolulu Convention Center and in several hotels along the famous Waikiki beach. Fact: There are enough hotel rooms at Waikiki for an estimated 100,000 sunburned tourists to lay their heads. The beach itself is not the most beautiful in Hawai’i–you need to go to the north shore of Oahu for that or one of the other islands, such as Kauai. But this two-mile stretch of beach that runs from just east of downtown Honolulu to the foot of the famed Diamond Head extinct volcano has been a prime destination since Kamehameha the Great put up a thatched hut here  in the 1800s.

Fact: The Hawaiian Islands have formed as a tectonic plate drifted over a hot spot in Earth’s crust–wherever a fissure opened up, a new volcano sprouted, leading to new islands. The current hot spot is under the “big island” of Hawai’i, where Kilauea has been erupting for years. The process continues: A new island is starting to form on the seafloor south of the big island.

Palm trees, sailboats, surfboards, ocean waves, and Pacifichem. Credit: Steve Ritter/C&EN

But this week, Waikiki will be abuzz with chemistry. Today, the last of the attendees are checking into their hotels and checking out where they have to be tomorrow. Sessions start at 7:30 AM! But before anyone has gotten too serious, many Pacifichemers and other tourists gathered at Waikiki Beach just in time to see the sun evaporate into the ocean. Then they headed out for dinner and fun. It’s going to be hard to stay focused on chemistry and not snorkeling, surfing, and the nightlife.

Author: Steve Ritter

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