Post Con

AIChE Brings a Whole New Energy

AIChE (The American Institute of Chemical Engineers) 2012 Annual Meeting, held Oct. 28-Nov. 2 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.


The largely volunteer-led annual forum brings together chemical engineers and chemistry and materials-science professionals from around the globe to discuss their latest work. “For chemical engineers, this is like your home meeting,” said Karl Johnson, a first-time general arrangements chair for the AIChE 2012 Annual Meeting, “a chance to see all of your friends and colleagues — not just in the U.S., but a lot of colleagues from Hong Kong, China, Singapore, all over Europe. And every year you get to see some amazing research.”



AIChE experienced too much of a good thing when it received a record number of abstract submissions for this year’s meeting. “We had well over 6,000 abstracts submitted for the technical program,” said Stephen Zitney, co-meeting program chair. The convention center wasn’t able to house all of the education sessions that organizers wanted to host. “We had sessions in two other locations, in the Hilton and the Westin,” Johnson said, “and so that presented some challenges, because you’d really like to have all of the meeting under one roof; it’s much more convenient for people.” Attendees tend to “migrate from one talk to another,” he added, “but in this case the attendees may have had to travel to one of the satellite locations.”

With people so spread out, it was especially important for AIChE to collect data about who attended each session. “Graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Pittsburgh did a great job of taking data electronically on their smartphones,” Johnson said. “Our conference app allowed student helpers to go around and count attendees per session. It gave us a lot of data points on the attendance in each individual session, telling us which sessions are most highly attended, and which ones need to bear some scrutiny in future years.”

One unexpected challenge for AIChE: Superstorm Sandy. “We would have had upwards of 5,000 attendees had we not had the hurricane,” said Jeff Wood, AIChE’s meetings director. The conference still saw a good turnout, including 1,374 students who came out for the AIChE Student Conference, held the opening weekend of the meeting.



A high number of session ideas were proposed to AIChE — and the meeting’s chairs and co-chairs managed to find a place for all of them. “Every session chair and co-chair accepts the [abstracts] that are more promising,” Johnson said, “and with the others, they try and find a home. They might make them poster sessions. We had a very robust poster session. We were able to catch a lot of the topics that maybe didn’t fall into line with the oral presentation.”

Because last year’s meeting was held in the heart of Pittsburgh, an old coal and steel town, renewable resources were front of mind. “There was a heavy emphasis on energy and environmental considerations,” Johnson said. “We had special sessions in which we were involved in sustainability and biotechnology. It’s always an important aspect of things.”

As an added takeaway, AIChE put together CDs of the conference proceedings and is selling them on its website, providing engineers with unlimited access to the event’s content. “There are a lot of people in chemical engineering and academia who are working in areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Johnson said. “[The conference] was very much a reflection of the research interest that is out there.”

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Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.

Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.