January 2012

Giving junior lipid scientists a turn at the podium


Photo courtesy of David Kusel, Thermo Fisher Scientific.

For the first 14 years, the meeting bounced around sites in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. In 1980, it finally settled at the ideal site. The High Hampton Inn is a rustic 80-year-old resort in Cashiers, N.C., near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The lodge is a prototypical example of the timbered mountain retreat of its era and has been beautifully maintained. The setting is breathtaking, close beside a lake and the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is a wonderful destination, with amenities for hikes, golf, fishing and just plain hanging out in front of one of the roaring fireplaces during breaks in the meeting. The meeting is usually scheduled for early November, when the mountain air is crisp.


A key to the success of this meeting is that it is short and inexpensive. The cost of the meeting to participants is minimal, supported by generous contributions of suppliers well known to the lipid research community. And because the meeting site is within driving distance of most of the participating labs, transportation costs are low. Recognizing participants’ time constraints, especially amid the proliferation of meetings, the conference is relatively compact, scheduled from Wednesday evening to Friday morning. Mealtimes are fueled by an extravagant Southern-tinged buffet served by the historied High Hampton staff. The evening poster sessions, lubricated by a well-stocked bar, are historic in their own way, especially after the postdocs and students have put their mentors to bed. Tradition dictates that the final evening is dominated by a local clogging group, enticing meeting participants to stomp their way to salvation accompanied by the tight harmonies of an exceptional local bluegrass quartet.

The atmosphere at this meeting harks back to an earlier time in science, when personal relationships — usually collaborative, occasionally combative — fueled advances in the field. It is no accident that the idea to form a Lipid Research Division within ASBMB came from conversations at the bar during this meeting. This meeting fosters the tradition of developing young scientists as an integral part of the scientific mission.The success of this junior scientist-centric format is mirrored in other similar meetings, such as the biennial International Charleston Ceramide Conference and recently established Gordon Research Seminar. Not coincidentally, the cross-fertilization that follows from the focus on junior scientists benefits the principal investigators and enriches the field as a whole.

lipid_binks_wattenbergBinks Wattenberg (b0watt01@louisville.edu) is an associate professor in the departments of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology and pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.


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Great article Binks! A wonderful summary of a stellar conference each year.



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