Meeting report

Indaba 5

Berg-en-Dal, Kruger National Park, South Africa, August 21-25, 2006

[Indaba 5 logo]Over 70 delegates from all corners of the globe converged on the Berg-en-Dal rest camp in the Kruger National Park to attend the fifth Indaba of the South African Crystallographic Society, a meeting that is sponsored by the IUCr Commission on Structural Chemistry. The theme of the workshop, “Models, Mysteries and Magic of Molecules”, provided opportunities for a rich diversity of topics to be discussed, from the fundamental nature of a molecule to the engineering and properties of molecular crystals and proteins. This was in keeping with the “Indaba “ spirit, i.e. to study a subject in depth from a number of different angles. The scientific program consisted of 42 lectures and 26 posters. Upon arrival delegates were delighted to find a complimentary copy of the book, “New Theories for Chemistry” by Jan Boeyens, (sponsored by Bruker SA and Elsevier) included in their conference pack. Few realized that they were expected to read it before the first talk on Monday morning.

[Boeyens, Ohashi]Jan Boeyens and Yuji Ohashi at Indaba5
After starting the conference with an early morning game drive, Dave Billing, President of the South African Crystallographic Society, welcomed the delegates to the unique bushveld venue. Yuji Ohashi (Hyogo), President of the IUCr then opened the proceedings with a short review of the structure and activities of the Union, after which Jan Boeyens (Pretoria) gave an overview of the theories underpinning our understanding and misconceptions of atoms and molecules. This ranged from a description of the Bohr atom and the myth of hybrid orbitals to the holistic nature of the molecule, setting a new direction for theoretical chemistry.

[Participants]Participants at Indaba 5
Highlights from the four full days of lectures included: Hans-Beat Bürgi (Bern) who gave a superb account of the information lost in some structures when considering only the Bragg positions in a talk entitled “Loss of translation - Lost in translation”. Later, Jan Dillen (Stellenbosch), expounded the features of donor-acceptor complexes in a talk “Mock or Marvel? The Metamorphosis of the Dative Bond.”.

[Rhino]
Jumping to a different viewpoint John Helliwell (Manchester) addressed a puzzling question: “Why do lobsters change from blue/black to red on cooking?” The answer to this is far from trivial, as he explained in his talk “Unravelling the mechanism of the bathochromic shift in the lobster carapace; the protein crystal structures of Crustacyanin in its Carotenoid bound and unbound forms.”In another protein structure related project, Martin Egli (Nashville) provided new insight into the clocks that drive our natural biorythms in his contribution, “Protein-Protein Interactions in the Cyanobacterial KaiABC Circadian Clock.”

[Animal]
Leaping onto other planets, have you wondered if there is life on Mars? Howell Edwards (Bradford) explained what strategies and techniques we could use to probe such extreme environments in a fascinating talk on “Raman Spectroscopy: The biomolecular detection of life in extreme environments.”

[Lion]
Zorka Papadopolos (Tübingen) reminded us of our limitations in working in only three dimensions when describing quasicrystals, “Clusters in icosahedral quasicrystals.” and Peter Comba (Heidelberg) explained how one gets different answers to questions relating to accurate structure prediction versus techniques to understand properties of Jan-Teller isomers of bispidine complexes. “Models for isomeric bispidine complexes and their properties. Accurate prediction vs. thorough understanding.”

John Ogilvie (San Jose) surprised some delegates when he stated that a molecule in a quantum state has no size, no shape, and no extension in space or time: The structure of a molecule is the result of the environment. “Unravelling the mysteries behind theoretical and experimental models of molecules.”

Mihail Atanasov (Sofia) continued the theoretical perspective of the conference by questioning the ligand field paradigm with his talk: “The ligand field paradigm and new insight into the electronic properties of transition metal complexes based on modern electronic structure calculations.”

The proceedings then swung toward scientists addressing polymorphism and co-crystallization. Joel Bernstein (Beer Sheva) gave an elegant account of attempts to generate co-crystals containing the R4,2(8) hydrogen bonding motif that yielded instead unpredictable polymorphs in his talk simply entitled “Co-crystals and Serendipity” .

Elena Boldyreva (Novosibirsk) explored the magic of amino acids in a fascinating talk on “Polymorphism of crystalline amino acids - a link between chemistry, materials science and biology.” During her talk she also reminded delegates that “Indaba is the only meeting where dreaming is allowed and even encouraged”.

The final talk was given by Gautam Desiraju (Hyderabad) who philosophised on the parallel between the mysteries of nature and the mysteries of molecules and crystals, while listing his view of five major future challenges in crystal engineering.

The poster session on the Tuesday evening was well attended, with lively discussion facilitated by the free South African wines. Two poster prizes were awarded during the closing ceremony. One, sponsored by the RSC was awarded to Simon Iremonger (Sydney) for his poster “Porous Homochiral Metal-Organic Frameworks” and the second, sponsored by CrystEngComm was awarded to Melanie Rademeyer (Pietermaritzburg) for a poster “Non-covalent interactions in 2-phenylethylammonium perhalometallates”.

At the closing ceremony Alessia Bacchi (Parma) chair of the Commission on Structural Chemistry, thanked the organizing committee. Jan Boeyens, founder of the Indaba conferences, made some comments and put the Indaba series into historical perspective, pointing out that the five Indabas to date have had a strong support from the IUCr: four IUCr presidents have attended (Philip Coppens, Henk Schenk, Bill Duax, and Yuji Ohashi) and three chairs of the CSC (Lee Brammer, Judy Flippen-Anders0n; Alessia Bacchi). Jan also acknowledged the contributions of two other founding members who could not be present, Ivan Bernal and Anton Amann.

Peter Comba gave an amusing and insightful view of the proceedings in his closing talk, with a quip on the biological rhythms cited by Martin Egli, stating that “Your answer to the question whether all biological clocks have a 24 hour cycle was wrong. My clock is different, it has a 3 year cycle: Now is INDABA time, from tomorrow onwards it is either after or before the next INDABA time. (the Indaba is held every three years).

Finally Dave Billing introduced the new “Big Five Awards” for attendance of the Indabas, and presented gifts to Jan Boeyens, Peter Comba and Demi Levendis who have attended all five Indabas; Gert Kruger, John Ogilvie and Manuel Fernandes who have attended four of the Indabas.

The organizers would like to thank the sponsors: IUCr, Bruker, South African National Research Foundation, RSC, CrystEngComm, CCDC, Elsevier, Microsep, Universities of Pretoria, and the University of Witwaterstrand.

In retrospect, Indaba V managed to fulfill its goal of being a highly stimulating and successful “meeting of minds”, and judging by the selection of pictures posted on the website (mating lions: www.sacrs.org.za/indaba5/) the game viewing was as satisfying as the meeting.

Demi Levendis