Spain, Japan ... Lexington. Hundreds will attend this conference next week, and pay $1,050.

A presentation on carbon-based material transformation at last year’s Carbon Conference in Madrid, Spain, July 3, 2018.
A presentation on carbon-based material transformation at last year’s Carbon Conference in Madrid, Spain, July 3, 2018.

People are traveling to Lexington from all over the world next week for an internationally renowned conference — yet many of the people who live and work here have no idea it’s coming.

The Carbon Conference — colloquially known this year as Carbon 2019 — is held in the U.S. every three years. Last year it was held in Madrid, Spain; in 2020, it will take a trip to Kyoto, Japan.

The list of impressive host cities continues. That is why the stop in Lexington is “a pretty big deal,” according to Rodney Andrews, conference chair.

Carbon 2019 is “the premiere conference in the world that focuses on the science and technology of carbon materials,” according to Andrews. It will run from July 14 to 19, ringing in the conference’s second trip to Lexington in its 19 years since establishment. It was last held in Lexington in 2001.

Andrews said UK has one of the best carbon research programs in the U.S. Much of that research comes from the Center for Applied Energy Research, or CAER, of which Andrews is director.

With CAER, Andrews researches methods of reducing carbon dioxide emission, an environmentally harmful byproduct of fossil fuel production. In Kentucky, this would have particular impact on coal production. Earlier this month, Sen. Mitch McConnell advocated for CAER to receive a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to further their research.

“Innovations in clean coal and carbon capture technology are vital to Kentucky’s economic growth, and UK CAER is leading the way toward promoting coal as an affordable and reliable domestic energy source,” McConnell said of the grant in a statement.

The program has also received international recognition.

CAER’s notoriety likely helped bring Carbon 2019 to the horse capital of the world, where people are paying thousands to participate and collaborate with the international community of carbon researchers. But Andrews is not shocked that the average Lexingtonian may not have heard of the meeting at all.

“(The conference) isn’t one that people look at and go, ‘Wow, that’s awesome,” Andrews said. “It’s very heavy on people who do research in this field.”

Around 450 people will attend the conference, many of them professors and academic professionals. Nearly 100 of them will be students in the company of a faculty mentor.

“This is a chance annually where we can get together and we can present our latest work, talk to colleagues about what they’re doing. Quite often, this is where we form cooperation projects — you may present on something, and someone looks at it and says ‘I’m doing something similar.’ And you go from there,” Andrews said. “Many (students) will get an opportunity to present their work, be it through a formal presentation or through a poster. They also, then, get a chance to meet a lot of people, and that can often lead to post-docs and jobs.”

Carbon 2019 has no theme outside the umbrella of generalized research and progress with carbon materials, Andrews said. But patterns often emerge as the field trends in similar directions. This year, he predicted that graphene and battery capacitor materials will be popular.

Discussion about carbon advancements will be spliced between a high-speed course on living in Lexington, KY. According to the conference’s official schedule, two bourbon tastings will be held, as well as a Lexington pub crawl.

Visitors will even get a taste of Lexington’s signature construction: The conference will be held in the Lexington Convention Center, which is currently being renovated.

Carbon’s last visit to Lexington in 2001 is “also the last time they completely ripped the convention center up,” Andrews said.

“Basically, every time we hold the conference, they get to build a new convention center.”