Geochemists Gather at Goldschmidt

Taking its name from one of the great pioneers of geochemistry, Victor Moritz Goldschmidt (1888-1947), the Goldschmidt conference has become a key annual event for geochemists and Earth scientists alike. It provides an opportunity for fresh-faced postgrads to meet like-minded people whose eyes don’t glaze over when they discuss their work, and gives senior academics a chance to chat to old colleagues, re-engage with their scientific roots, or perhaps more importantly, allows them to hide at the back of the quietest seminar room and make some headway into the backlog of assignments that needed marking.

Unlike the other conference opportunities available to geochemists, Goldschmidt has the appealing feature that it is held in a different city each year. Once seen as a way of encouraging interaction between different groups of geoscientists, the conference’s continual alteration between North America and Europe (reflecting its joint organisation by the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry respectively) has become part of its attraction, and I’m sure that the associated holiday potential has helped persuade many delegates to attend in the past. The constant mobility of the conference also provides a scale by which you can judge how long a geochemist has been part of the community: They will have been involved for a few years when they start counting the cities/countries they’ve visited by the year that Goldschmidt was there, a bit longer if they can recall the first time that a city held the conference, and quite a lot longer still if they attended the inaugural Goldschmidt conference back in 1988. Of course there are other more subtle indicators for how experienced a Goldschmidt delegate is: First timers walk away from the poster session beer queue holding just one beer, whilst the pro’s have a ticket to the Thermo-party in their pocket before the doors to the ice-breaker have opened.

This year Goldschmidt was held in Montreal, during a week bounded by Quebec’s national holiday on the 24th June and Canada day on 1stJuly. If the revelry associated with these celebrations wasn’t sufficient, the week also saw the start of the International Jazz festival, which featured world-famous acts such as Rufus Wainwright, Seal, Norah Jones, and Emeli Sandé… it was therefore quite surprising to see that so many delegates managed to make it into the conference centre by 8:30 each day (or atleast surprising to see how awake most appeared), even if the coffee queues did get longer as the week progressed…

Downtown Montreal basking in the fantastic weather that accompanied most of the conference
Although pillow talk is a common feature of conferences, it isn't always as exciting as it sounds...

Of course, we would not have been in Montreal to see any of this had it not been for the science, and in that respect the conference excelled as usual. Goldschmidt increases in size year on year, principally as a result of the exceptionally hard work put in by all of the organising committees, and this year things stepped up a notch again with more then 3000 abstracts submitted. Although the increase in size meant that I was unable to see perhaps all of the talks that I’d have like to, it also ensured that there were plenty of engaging sessions on offer that offered an interesting mix of research. Particular highlights included sessions on ‘Seawater chemistry changes through time (10b)’; ‘Geochemical proxies for past ocean circulation (13b)’, and of course the session I spoke in; ‘Traditional and novel isotopes as tracers of weathering processes (17g)’. The standard of presentation was exceptional by both student and professor alike (the consequence of considerable preparation and ‘pillow practise’) and have given me much to think about until the next meeting.

In addition to hearing about the latest scientific research, one of the primary functions of the conference was to facilitate networking and new collaboration between scientists, and yet again the meeting came up trumps. Whether it was chatting over a glass of wine at the poster session, or joining together to watch the semi-finals of the European Championships, there was an air of unity within the community that seemed to progress as the week went on and tiredness crept in. Combined with several business lunches and many evening meetings, Goldschmidt was as much a success outside of the conference centre as it was inside, and I look forward to continuing where things left off next year in Florence (once I’ve caught up on a bit of sleep that is!).

I’d like to end by saying that Goldschmidt continues to be a great advert for what research conferences can be: a great leveller between academics where everyone is happy to meet, and introduce, everyone else. Concerns about competition for the latest paper or funding are put aside as we focus on the scientific questions that brought us there in the first place, and get excited about potential breakthroughs and future research opportunities. Long may it continue!

Having the European Championship semi-finals on in the exhibitors hall was a great uniting experience