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2017 NESACS/GDCh Exchange Trip to Mainz, Germany

The 2017 edition of the German Exchange Program (GEX) included twelve student−delegates from nine colleges and universities in the Northeastern Section. Among them were 8 graduate students:
  • Zhehui Li, Boston College
  • Alfred Burney-Allen, Boston University
  • Gina Kim, Boston University
  • Brendan Mattingly, Boston University
  • Reem Telmesani, Boston University
  • Li Zha, Harvard University
  • Sita Gurung, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
  • Min Song, University of New Hampshire
and four undergraduates:
  • Amelia McCue, Saint Anselm College
  • Jordan Mattheisen, Simmons College
  • Jasper Du, Tufts University
  • Margaret, Klureza, Wellesley College
The delegates were selected from among 25 applicants based on the quality of their research presentations and interviews conducted in late November, 2016. They were accompanied on the trip to Germany by two former participants in the GEX program, Emel Adaligil and Andrew Scholte, and by GEX Co-chair Tom Gilbert. Also joining the delegation was Brendan Mattingly’s father, Daniel Mattingly from Jacksonville, FL, who served as a guide for his sight-impaired son.
The group began its journey on Saturday, March 25, with an overnight flight from Boston to Zurich and a connecting flight to Frankfurt – at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, a short connection time coupled with a late departure from Boston and slow passport control in Zurich Airport led to the group missing its connecting flight. Fortunately, enough seats were available on the next flight to Frankfurt, and our group (and luggage) reached Frankfurt airport in mid-afternoon on Sunday. There they were greeted by Dr. Elisabeth Kapatsina, head of the Education Department of the German Chemical Society (GDCh). Elisabeth served as principal host and guide for the group during their time in Germany.
A half-hour train ride brought the group to Mainz, a city of 200,000 located west of Frankfurt at the confluence of the Main and Rhine Rivers. Mainz is the home of Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz (JGU), which was the site of the principal activity of the trip: participation in a research symposium organized by the Young Chemists Committee of the GDCh (Jungchemikerforum or JCF).
After checking into their hotel the group headed to a welcoming dinner hosted by members of the JCF, who were responsible for organizing and running the research symposium and who did a marvelous job of hosting the delegates during their time in Mainz. Among them were Valentina Breising, John Haupt and Benjamin Breitenbach. At dinner the NESACS contingent also met delegates from Russia, Brazil, Nigeria, and Vietnam who were attending the JCF symposium through the International Young Chemists Network (IYCN). These students traveled with our group during the remainder of time in Germany.


On Monday our delegates were up early for a trip to Darmstadt and the world headquarters of Merck KGaA. There they learned about the history of this pharmaceutical and chemical company and about its scientists’ recent advances in developing anti-cancer drugs, innovative photovoltaic technology, and organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) for ultra-thin TV displays. Our tour included a presentation about OLED technology from Prof. Dr. Herwig Buchholz, Merck’s Global Head of Chemistry R&D.
On Tuesday morning the group traveled to the enormous (over 7,000 people work there) Sanofi research and manufacturing center at Frankfurt-Höchst. A bus tour of the sprawling facility included stops at several R&D and manufacturing facilities. Among them: the plant that produces the world’s supply of fexofenadine hydrochloride, the active ingredient in the allergy medicine Allegra.


In the afternoon, the group toured downtown Frankfurt, and took in the view from the top of one of the city’s tallest buildings. Later they visited the historic buildings and public spaces near the Römer, which has served as Frankfurt’s city hall since the early 1400s. That evening the group dined at ApfelweinwirtschaftWagner, a famous restaurant in Frankfurt that is noted for its homemade apple wine.
On Wednesday the group stayed in Mainz, touring the chemistry research and teaching facilities of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, which has more chemistry students (over 1100) than any other German university. The tour included the JGU’s extensive NMR, polymer chemistry and physical chemistry research facilities. It was followed by a tour of the Max-Planck Institute for Chemistry, which is located on the campus of JGU . That tour featured a presentation on the institute’s research activity on the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere. After-lunch activities included a tour of the university’s TRIGA nuclear reactor and a presentation on the research it supports. That evening the JCF conference began with a welcome reception where the group had its first opportunity to connect with the more than 300 young chemists attending the conference from Germany and many other countries.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning were filled with a blend of plenary lectures from well-known senior chemists and oral and poster presentations from student participants. Two of our delegates, Reem Telmesani and Li Zha, were invited to give oral presentations. All presentations were delivered in English, although Li gave his acknowledgment and thanks to our JCF hosts in German, and received an enthusiastic round of applause for doing so. The official conference dinner was held on campus Friday night followed by a late night/early morning celebration at a club near ancient Roman baths on the east side of Mainz. Many of our delegates had little sleep that night.
On Saturday morning six of our delegates presented their research during the final poster session, which was followed by the symposium’s closing ceremony. During this event Reem received the Best Oral Presentation award. Saturday afternoon was a time for souvenir shopping for many delegates, followed by a farewell dinner for them and the IYCN delegates hosted by GDCh. Gifts were exchanged as our delegates thanked our JCF and GDCh colleagues for their gracious hospitality and for a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Toward the end of dinner a cake was served to help celebrate Brendan Mattingly’s birthday.


The Sunday return flights (again through Zurich) were thankfully uneventful. Conversations at the airports and on the planes were filled with delegate comments about what a great educational and cultural experience they had had.
Epilogue: On the Saturday following their return from Germany, GEX delegates participated in the Northeastern Section Younger Chemists Committee’s Northeast Student Chemistry Research Conference at Harvard University. During the awards ceremony at the conclusion of the conference, Reem Temesani was presented the Most Promising Female Scientist Award and Jasper Du received the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Poster Award.

"2017 NESACS Delegation to GDCh-JCF Mainz-Wiesbaden Prepares to Depart for Germany"