Scientific meetings and conferences are occasions to share scientific findings and developments for the benefit and growth of the subject. In addition, the meetings provide opportunities for the new generation of researchers to connect to the community. The meetings are essential, hence a regular scientific custom. The history of the meetings cannot be traced precisely, but legendary meetings are reported since the time of Robert Boyle, officially the first chemist. The one-to-one autumn 1774 meeting between Priestly and Lavoisier, gave later definite inputs for the discovery of oxygen and claim the title of being the father of modern chemistry. Similarly, since early 1640 group of scientists kept meeting at some place in London, which eventually led to the establishment of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) London. Scientific associations like American Chemical Societies (ACS), IUPAC, IUCr, Indian Science Academies, etc., are the outcome of similar meetings. The meetings now are more organized and theme specific.
Department of Chemistry, University of Kashmir and Department of Chemical Sciences, IISER Kolkata recently organized an International meeting on the subject of crystal engineering: “Crystal Engineering: From Molecule to Function [CE:FMC2022]” at the captivating hill station of Pahalgam, from 31 August - 02, September 2022. The conference was an extension of the series, started in 2020, to provide an opportunity for the crystal engineering community of India to come together and discuss the fundamental concepts as well as the latest developments in the field. The conference series provides an opportunity for new researchers and scholars to connect and interact with senior scientists working in the area and a platform for multi-institute collaborations. The first conference was held at NIT-Raipur (Chief patron: Prof. Desiraju and Convener: Dr. Kafeel Ahmad Siddiqui) in 2019 and due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2nd conference in the series was organized virtually on the Zoom platform (Chief patron: Prof. Desiraju and Convener: Prof. K. Bridha-IIT Kharagpur and Prof. C. M. Reddy-ISER Kolkata). Due to the disturbance and havoc created by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, the conference was not organized. While the world was slowly getting back to normal and physical meetings were resuming, it was decided to hold the 3rd meeting of the franchise in Kashmir. Prof. C. M. Reddy (Head, Department of Chemical Sciences, IISER-Kolkata) and I (Dr. Dar Aijaz, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Kashmir) took the charge of making arrangements and acting as coordinators for this very important meeting in Kashmir.
Kashmir is a very suitable place for such conferences; however, there are not enough examples of such meetings outside academic institutions or SKICC. Taking such meetings to the prepossessing places in Kashmir would bring along multiple benefits, like, the absence of an unwanted audience, more effective conversations between the participants, promotion of academic tourism in Kashmir, and reinvigoration of the participants. Therefore we settled down with Pahalgam club, as a venue. Knowing it was always a challenge to coordinate and organize a meeting of such repute at an off-site, however, despite the odds, we held the resolve until the website of the meeting was floated. American Chemical Society (ACS), Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), Bruker, DST-SERB India, IR Tech, Inventis, and Crystallography in India Association responded to our call and supported the meeting. Incidentally, the only local support came from B. M. Scientific, a small-scale supplier chain operating in Kashmir, as they handed over the first sponsorship note. After 3 months of unobtrusive work, we had a common dinner with invited scientists on 30th August 2022, in the spectacular dining hall of the club, to listen to how the guests were tempted by the beauty of Kashmir. Twenty-five research scholars of the department were volunteering for the meeting and their enthusiasm and resolve were exemplary. The transportation team was headed by Ishtiyaq and Umer, the auditorium team by two Adils, the registration team by Aliya, Shaista, and Pawandeep and the poster team by another Adil. All of us worked beyond midnight in the auditorium to have everything in place before going off for an eager sleep.
The technical schedule was crisp and the outcome of consistent virtual discussions among the organizing team. We ensured everything is at the place with the best achievable perfection. The next morning, while the auditorium was filling up with an ecstatic audience, our team was intrigued until the meeting was inaugurated on a high note; my opening remarks were followed by remarks of Prof. Malla (Coordinator), Prof. Syed Wajaht Amin Shah (Head, Department of Chemistry), Prof. Farooq A. Masoodi (Dean Academics, University of Kashmir) and Prof. Gautam R. Desijau, (Patron). The first technical session of the meeting was chaired by Prof. Farooq Masoodi and embarked on by the keynote talk of Prof. Desiraju. Prof. G. R. Desiraju is a globally celebrated Indian scientist and one of the founders of crystal engineering. He had been president of the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) and was pivotal in putting across key definitions like supramolecular synthon, hydrogen bond, etc.
His famous works include a textbook on weak hydrogen bond and the first textbook on and in the subject of crystal engineering. Prof. Desiraju stands out among the current generation of Indian scientists for pioneering the discipline rather than adding to the discoveries. He spoke about reminiscences of earlier days of crystal engineering and shared his experiences and struggle to establish the discipline and appreciated the current status of the subject in India and across the globe. Crystal Engineering is about building crystals with a purpose and the most important application of Crystal Engineering is making better and cheaper drugs for the common people” Prof. said. He emphasized, it is important that people working in the area should be known to their tribe and building connections in the tribe are essential, for which this meeting in Kashmir is an important platform. The meeting was attended by editors of the two best Crystal Engineering journals: Crystal Engineering and Communications (RSC) and Crystal Growth and Design (ACS) and other eminent scientists. Prof Desiraju advised them to take the legacy further and help the subject and tribe grow.
The meeting had ten sessions spread over 3 days during which Prof. Sanjit Konar, IISER Bhopal, Prof. R. Chandrasekhar, University of Hyderabad, Dr. Rajesh. G. Gonnade, NCL Pune, Prof. Deepak Chopra, IISER Bhopal, Dr. Raghavender Medishetty, IIT Bilai, Dr. Jose V Parambil, IIT Patna, Prof. Parthapratim Munshi, Shiv Nadar IoE, Delhi-NCR, Dr. Pratap Vishnoi, JNCASR, Bangalore, Dr. Anindita Das, IACS Kolkata, Prof. Shaikh M Mobin, IIT Indore, Dr. Bhoje Gowd E, NIIST Trivandrum, Prof. Ramanathan Vaidhyanathan, IISER Pune, Dr. Prathapa Siriyara Jagannatha, Bruker India, and Prof. Sunil Varughese, NIIST Trivandrum, shared their recent scientific findings. Due to COVID comeback apprehensions, international participation in the meeting was restricted and two of the invited speakers, Prof. Franziska Emmerling, BAM Germany, and Prof. Pierangelo Metrangolo, Politecnico di Milano Itlay, delivered their talks virtually. Around 50 research scholars from IITs, IISERs, and other research institutes participated and shared their results through flash student talks and posters. The honorable Vice Chancellor of the University of Kashmir, Prof. Nelofar Khan, visited on Day 2 to welcome and thank the participants. Prof. Khan appreciated the efforts of organizers and retreated that to make changes on the ground such meetings are important.
“First of its kind, the meeting had all the flavors of scientific meetings held in Europe or the United States and I believe that it will help the academic developments in Kashmir, particularly vis-à-vis approach of the new generation towards applied sciences,” said Prof. Reddy in his concluding remarks. Prof. Desiraju described the meeting as a very important meeting held in Kashmir and explained how off-campus meetings are more productive. The invited speakers and scholars described the meeting as a very successful venture that has helped them to understand progress and the latest trends in the area of Crystal Engineering and experience the enthralling place of Pahalgam. Participation of local students was ensured and the senior masters' students of the Department of Chemistry were ferried to Pahalgam in turns to get the experience of attending the meeting and have face-to-face interactions with the scientists and participants.
The major objectives achieved included: i) one of the first international academic conferences was held at Pahalgam together by the University of Kashmir and IISER Kolkata, ii) the participants appreciated the efforts and described the meeting as one of the best experiences of their life, iii) many channels of collaboration and student exchange opened between the University of Kashmir and other eminent scientific institutions of the country, including IIT Jammu, iv) crystal engineering community of India shared the platform and young researchers got introduced to the tribe and v) our masters' students and research scholars got an opportunity to listen to and interact with stalwarts of the area.
(The Author is Alumnus IIT Bombay and Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Kashmir. Email: Aijazku2015@gmail.com, Twitter: @aijazpapers)