Saturday, April 16, 2011

insights on the 26th Philippine Chemistry Congress

The 26th Philippine Chemistry Congress was held at the Waterfront Hotel in Lahug, Cebu City on April 13-15, covering the theme "Chemistry: Providing Solutions to Global Challenges".

There certainly were a few hiccups on the day I first arrived at the venue. My name wasn't in the list of participants despite being registered way before the conference; hence I originally didn't have a name tag, food stubs, a conference kit, and certificate of attendance. These were all ironed out because I had the necessary paper work (the certificate will be sent via email, the lady at the complaints section said). A friend's paper has been accepted but wasn't included in the published schedule. That also got fixed; his talk was the last one in the food chemistry session. For big events like this, organisers always hope that everything runs smoothly; when trouble strikes, they have solutions.

my hand-written ID tag

Attending this conference for the first time, I felt that I was a fish out of water... a microbiologist working in the field of grain quality research surrounded by true blue chemists. Many of the talks were Greek to me, especially when they started talking about theories: chemical structures and reactions, for instance. Hence, I stuck to lectures focusing on practical chemistry.

One interesting lecture was about making industrial chemical processes environmentally friendly. Engr. Reynaldo Esguerra (DOST) talked about assessing the life cycles of the products we use everyday like soda pop bottles and shopping bags. For instance, there is an increasing move to use paper bags rather than plastic bags. He made the following comment (paraphrased):

Plastic bags are not allowed to be used for shopping in many parts of the Philippines. Why? Because they clog the drainages. So we shift to the alternative, paper bags. But paper bags will eventually clog the drains. So will we shift to banana leaves? Doing so would cause these leaves to also block the drains. Why not just ban the drains so that nothing will be clogged?

[For me, this comment means that we're not supposed to be rabidly against the use of plastic bags. We, however, should only use the disposable type (from the grocers') minimally. If these bags are designed for reuse or can be sold off for recycling, then I don't see why these should be banned totally.]

Then there's a jargon-heavy presentation on ciguatera toxins (the what?!?) in the food chemistry session. I hardly understood the lecture because of the chemistry terms, but I did take some important information home. Ciguatera is a foodborne illness that comes from eating carnivorous fish that have ingested other (herbivorous) fish that ate dinoflagellates (finally, some connection to microbiology!). The way the toxins reach people is similar to the way they do in red tide poisoning cases.

[For me, this means one thing: there's a reason to be happy that I'm allergic to many seafood. Plus, for those who do eat these types of fish, they could eat them during their drinking sessions. The alcohol is supposed to prevent the toxins from being absorbed by the body, that is, if I have understood the chemistry properly.]

Meeting chemists working in the Philippine National Police Crime Lab was also a good experience. They're the real-life CSIs! Their stories about what it's like to be in forensics were also very interesting.

All in all, it was quite an experience for me. I learned a lot. I saw some of the challenges Philippine chemists face in terms of furthering the sciences and their research interests (many were into natural products research).