SNO Conference 2014

“What do you mean you went to snow? I thought you were in Boston.”

Yes, VTSuN headed to Boston this year for the 3rd annual SNO Conference. Pronounced ‘snow’, the Conference is run by the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization. I reminded my Mom that last year we traveled to Santa Barbara for this conference and she quickly recalled the seemingly non sequitur of the conference acronym.

Our center has had a continual presence since the inception of SNO; here is a recap of Year 1 and Year 2. This year VTSuN gave 5 talks and 2 posters.  Impressively, coffeemug gave two presentations on his work. TWO.  He kicked off the VTSuN presentations on Sunday November 2 with a discussion of precious metal recovery from nanowaste and its impact on the life cycle assessment (LCA) of nanomaterial production. Concurrently, Dr. Peter Vikesland was chairing a session on Education/Curriculum.


The first day of the conference ended with a welcome dinner, award ceremony, and a surprise elevator pitch competition.  I was excited for the competition given that earlier this year I participated in and won a nanotechnology entrepreneurship challenge.1 I spent part of the afternoon tuning my pitch for the SNO audience; the pitch competition only became public knowledge during conference registration.

As luck would have it I was selected to go first.  After a deep breath and a survey of my peers and colleagues, I launched into my spiel.  It started out well but then my movies failed to play. The key videos that I was using to explain my work wouldn’t play. The Microsoft PowerPoint version at the conference was not compatible with my original; sibling rivalry left me babbling and I lost key seconds in my pitch. I did my best to move forward and ended with “My device is a promising platform…hopefully more reliable than PowerPoint.” Although I didn’t get an award, I did receive a lot of positive feedback from my peers and learned a valuable lesson: never rely on anyone else’s computer.

The second day of the conference was opened by an exciting plenary from Dr. John Warner, the Father of Green Chemistry. I knew that coffeemug was looking forward to John’s remarks but I didn’t expect his plenary to be so engaging. Dr. Warner left academia in 2007 and founded Warner Babcock: Institute for Green Chemistry where he works in an intellectual’s dream; 40 PhD’s working full time in a fully equipped lab without any University bureaucracy. The lecture underscored the benefits of working in a thriving intellectual community outside of academia.  It also made me sensitive to the use of vocabulary in academia regarding post PhD work. The idea that using terms like “non-traditional” to describe PhD’s who work in industry is both detrimental and obfuscating given that the majority of PhD holders work outside of the ivory tower.

The remainder of the day included talks by Seyyed Mohammad Hossein Abtahi, Jacob Metch, and me and posters from Matt Chan and Hoaran Wei. Hossein discussed the stability of gold nanorods in aquatic environments in the fate and transport session. In the nano-bio interactions session I discussed using SERS to detect cancer cells.  Jake gave the last VTSuN talk of the day and addressed disinfection by-product formation catalyzed by silver nanoparticles in wastewater effluent. In the poster sessions, Hoaran discussed his recent paper on the use of nanocellulose as a host matrix for nanoparticles. Matt presented on his 3D modeling of the fate and transport of nanoparticles and won 3rd place for his poster presentation!!


Day 3 opened with two thought provoking plenaries. Lynn Bergeson kicked off the morning with a discussion of current developments in nanotechnology law and policy. Hearing from a lawyer at a primarily academic conference was a first for me but it underscores the benefits of attending a small, focused conference. The second plenary was delivered by world renowned chemist, Dr. George M. Whitesides.  I was really excited to hear from Dr. Whitesides as he authored the foundational papers in the fields I work in: soft lithography, microfluidics, and paper based diagnostics. A big picture talk, the message that stayed with me was that scientific progress is not linear given that economics and moral views can incentivize specific choices.

The last VTSuN event of SNO2014 was coffeemug’s talk on the life cycle assessment (LCA) of cerium dioxide nanoparticle-based fuel additives. The session was well attended as LCA has become a growing field with regard to nanotechnology and there were multiple sessions on the topic. For more information check out this post. All in all, the 8 members of VTSuN – Param, Matt, Jake, Hossein, Hoaran, Nina, Pete and me – had a great time at SNO2014 and look forward to next year’s conference.



1. A benefit of my award was getting the chance to work with VT KnowledgeWorks, an amazing on campus resource for everything entrepreneurship related.

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