It was the best of times; it was the worst of times… That is exactly how it feels attending three international conferences in the span of two weeks!
Anne and I, both PhD students, collaborate on a project that is fairly novel in both of our fields. Combining her knowledge on genetics and molecular photosynthesis, with my experience working with the analysis of iron, an element prone to all kinds of contamination, we have been able to put together something that is the best of both worlds. How do cyanobacteria, one of the main producers of the oxygen we breathe, manage to acquire iron they need for photosynthesis? Especially, how can they get enough iron when its bioavailability is so low in the world’s oceans? We want to find out.
Last August we had a chance to present our ideas and the work we had done, and get feedback from some of the leading scientists in both our fields. So, we, packed all our best conference dresses, shirts and blazers and headed off for the great unknown – also known as international scientific conferences. Like so many before us, we set out with bright eyes and bushy tails, a couple of meticulously prepared posters and the feeble beginnings of two power point presentations. It’s funny how this absolute dread of presenting your work in front of more experienced and wiser (?) scientists starts feeling more and more like excitement the closer you get..
First on the program: the International Symposium of Phototrophic Prokaryotes (ISPP) and the International Conference on Microbial Photosynthesis (ICMP), both held at the UBC campus in Vancouver, Canada. Both these conferences are oriented towards the molecular photosynthesis part of our project, so we went into detail about the changes iron limitation causes in cyanobacteria. At the ISPP we both presented posters, and got engaged in great discussions with our fellow scientists. With 180 scientists from all over the word attending, there was no shortage of people to talk and discuss with.
The ICMP started on the tail of the ISPP, and brought with it our first joint talk. Scheduled in between Wim Vermaas and Alexandra Worden, we were feeling the pressure of scientific giants on our shoulders. The little pep talk from Alexandra before we got started was a great help for me, and to my great delight, I neither stumbled nor forgot my notes during our presentation. In fact, it went very well! After the talk, several well-put questions were asked, and interesting discussions and suggestions followed at the mingling session. We put his performance down as a success, and started preparing for our next talk at the Goldschmidt Conference in Boston, USA.
Due to flight troubles, Anne had to set out for Boston a whole 12 hours before me, and had a chance to explore the area surrounding our accommodation before my arrival. I arrived in Boston on Sunday morning, tired, and with a slight jetlag, but still ready for registration and mingling at Goldschmidt. Our heads were still buzzing with molecular details of photosynthesis, but now we had to switch fields since Goldschmidt is one of the largest conferences in the world on geochemistry. This year’s conference brought a whopping 3335 scientists together, to talk about everything from aqueous alteration on Mars, to manganese redox cycling in the Ross Sea. With 16 parallel sessions, we didn’t have a chance to catch it all, and so prioritized presentations and posters within marine biogeochemistry.
Our own presentation was set to Thursday morning and we were nervous at the thought of whether our project could stand the critical eyes of marine biogeochemists. Despite the early hour, our lecture room was packed, and our talk was again well-received. The questions were interesting, and we were approached by several people also during the break.
After two weeks of presenting, socializing and discussing, it was finally time to return to Norway. Our heads full of new experiences and new ideas, and we could not wait to get started on the practical work of our project again. The discussions at the three different conferences showed us that our project indeed contains a novel set of challenges due to the combination of two different research fields. We did however learn that we are on the right track and we are looking forward to continuing this successful collaboration in the future!