A Return to Crystallography – ECM-28

The European Crystallographic Meeting (ECM-28) at Warwick University in August this year marked my personal return to the world of crystallographic conferences after a gap of some eleven years. I recently returned to work at the CCDC, having left in 2002, and spent the intervening 11 years working in the drug discovery software industry which, although related and relevant, is quite a different community.

 
ECM events take place every year, except for those in which there is an IUCr Congress. Hence the last event took place in 2012 in Bergen, Norway, and it is some considerable time since the UK hosted an ECM, in 1977. The last major international crystallographic event in the UK took place in 1999, when the IUCr Congress was hosted in Glasgow – I had the honour of being on the organising committee on that occasion, and I’m delighted to say that the professional organisers for the Warwick ECM were the same people as at Glasgow – Northern Networking, run by Gill Moore. It was great to see her again after all this time.
 
The ECM was hosted largely in the Warwick University Arts Centre, a mature facility on this out-of-town, campus university, confusingly for non-UK people, located just outside the city of Coventry and quite some distance from Warwick. The Arts Centre was able to happily accommodate all the lectures of the conference (up to 6 parallel sessions!), the commercial exhibition, and some of the posters, although the majority of the hundreds of posters were located in the neighbouring Rootes Building. This split site was non-ideal, with exhibitors in particular (including the CCDC) feeling a little aggrieved that during poster sessions, most people were not even in the same building. Accommodation for the attendees was, however, very convenient, being entirely within university facilities within walking distance of the conference venue.
 
The range of posters and talks was quite astounding. The around 800 attendees must have had quite some difficulty in seeing and doing everything relevant to their work during the meeting.
 
One unmissable conference event was an exhibition about the father and son team, W.H. and W.L. Bragg, whose early work on X-ray crystallography laid the grounding for the whole of the science we know today. 2013 is the centenary of the publication of their first paper on the subject, so Professor Mike Glazer (Oxford University) had taken the opportunity of organising a wonderful and fascinating display of papers, photographs and artefacts, mostly on loan from the Royal Institution and the Bragg family themselves, telling the story of their work and careers. This display was utterly riveting; I spent more than hour reading the letters and papers, seeing the signatures of the Braggs and so many other famous scientists, and had the honour to be introduced by Mike to W.L. Bragg’s daughter Patience and other members of the family, who happened to be visiting the exhibition at the same time as me.
 
From the CCDC’s point of view, we met many of the CSD System’s user and depositor communities at the exhibition stand and elsewhere during the meeting, including hosting a lunchtime meeting in the nearby Chemistry Department for representatives of our National Affiliated Centres. We also met with representatives of the IUCr and other bodies for some early discussions concerning plans for next year’s International Year of Crystallography. Tjelvar Olsson and Pete Wood from the CCDC gave presentations in the main sessions, and Matt Furlow presented a poster.
 
Socially, it was a pleasure for me to be back among the crystallographic community, seeing so many new and so many familiar faces. Thankfully, nobody I met, after not having seen them for so long, greeted me with “Hello Steve, you DO look well!” – the subtext of this is, “You HAVE put weight on!” It’s been eleven years, so of course I have put weight on, and indeed my hair is thinner and greyer, but coming back to a crystallographic event after so long felt in many ways like coming home. Roll on the next one!