Our first session began with a great talk from Professor Lisa Hall of the University of Cambridge on the topic of “Bioinspired materials for biosensors” wherein she demonstrated her team’s approach to conjugating multiple proteins in order to combine the properties of a biomaterial such as silk, whilst maintaining an enzymatic function, ultimately leading to bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) based sensory materials.
This led in to the first two of our early career talks. The first, from Husain Naqi of the University of Bath, discussed the pharmaceutical analysis of seized ethylone-ecstasy by NMR and ESI-MS, whilst the second, by Maria Lizio from the University of Manchester, was on the use of optical spectroscopic techniques to investigate peptide foldamer–membrane interactions.
Lions, rhinos, and art tragedy
After a break we were taken on a journey back in time to when lions and rhinos wandered the plains of Trafalgar Square, as Kirsty Penkman of the University of York described her elegant and novel approach to dating archaeological and geological sites using the rate of racemisation of proteins trapped within fossilised shells.
Finally, one of the highlights of the first day and indeed of the whole conference was a passionate talk by Bronwyn Ormsby of Tate Britain, who provided us with a fascinating insight into the science and conservation work going on behind closed doors and within hidden rooms of the world’s top museums and galleries. The prospect of taking a scalpel to a 50 million dollar painting in order to collect a sample filled me with nerves just listening.
Bronwyn went on to describe one of her most challenging projects, that of the famously vandalised Rothko, where art tragedy turned into the analytical project of a lifetime. Despite almost every analytical acronym in the alphabet, the graffiti ink still has not been fully characterised.
New to this year’s event, the first day’s talks were followed by a short careers in analytical sciences workshop provided by Simon England from VRS recruitment. This was designed specifically for PhDs and postdocs who may be looking at taking the next steps in their careers and making the switch from academia to industry.
While the posters had been on display since the beginning of the conference, the poster viewing really began in earnest at the end of the first day’s session where a wine reception was held as a further catalyst to networking and scientific discussion. The posters covered tremendous number of techniques, from mass spectrometry to spectroscopy to surface plasmon resonance to name but a few, and were focused upon a whole host of problems including the authenticity of manuka honey, the study of cell surface proteins and the effect of low level impurities in drug formulations.
The wine reception proved a suitable warm up to a sumptuous conference dinner held at the local Woodland Grange Hotel, where everyone was able to mingle and interact with researchers across the broad membership of the group. I would be very surprised if any of the attendees had not made several new friends by the end of the meal.