Scientific Meeting At Virginia Tech Makes $2 Million Economic Impact

Attendees at the World Polymer Conference listen as Geoffrey Coates, a professor from Cornell University, describes new strategies for using non-petroleum resources for the design of high performance materials. The venue is Burruss Hall at Virginia Tech.

More than 1,500 scientists descended on Virginia Tech last Sunday bringing with them not just cutting-edge research information but also an economic boost to the Blacksburg area in excess of $2 million.

The World Polymer Conference, “MACRO 2012”, is one of the largest conferences ever held in Blacksburg with 13 simultaneous sessions daily during the six-day meeting. It’s all about large molecules – macromolecules – that are having a huge impact on such diverse areas as delivering drugs more accurately to cells and finding better alternative energy storage. Faculty members in Virginia Tech’s Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute, which initiated the proposal to host the conference at the university, are some of the world leaders in this research field.

“When people think of polymers, they usually think of plastic packaging, but what scientists are studying now extends beyond plastics and focuses on improving the quality and quantity of our lives,” said Timothy Long, one of the conference organizers and a professor and associate dean of the Virginia Tech College of Science. “Through international collaborations, researchers are finding ways to use polymers for energy, health, and the environment to create a safer and healthier world.”

Scientific collaborations were clearly in evidence at the conference with attendees coming from 52 countries (60 percent coming from outside the United States.) Experts in the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development estimate that the amount spent locally for rooms, food, and transportation will be about $1.8 million. The total expenditures in the regional economy will be close to $2.5 million when such things as conference registration fees, subsidies for graduate students to attend, meals, and refreshment breaks are added into the impact.

Attendees flew into Roanoke Regional Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, from which meeting organizers arranged shuttle service to Blacksburg. They stayed both on the Virginia Tech campus and in a number of local hotels. In addition to the scientists from many institutions and industries, more than 500 students participated in the conference.

The meeting is the 44th edition of the congress of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. For the conference, which is titled “Enabling Technologies for a Safe, Sustainable, Healthy World,” there will be about 775 oral presentations and 475 poster presentations. Twelve plenary speakers from prestigious research institutions around the world made presentations.

They included Nobel laureate Robert H. Grubbs, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2005. His talk will be “Controlled Synthesis of Functional Polymers.” Grubbs also spoke at the Science Museum of Roanoke on Tuesday where he gave a short presentation and met the public.

The College of Science at Virginia offers programs in cutting-edge areas including, among others, those in energy and the environment, developmental science across the lifespan, infectious diseases, computational science, nanoscience, and neuroscience. The college is dedicated to fostering a research-intensive environment that promotes scientific inquiry and outreach.