By Jonas Helsen, Christian Dickel, Adriaan Rol, James Kroll and Suzanne Van Dam
The March Meeting of the American Physical Society, held every year in March (hence the name) is probably the largest meeting of physicists in the world. Held in a different city in the US every year it is a five day long whirlwind of talks, discussions, meetings, catching up with old friends and making new ones from all over the world. Since a sizeable subsection of the March meeting deals with quantum information processing (as of this year we are officially a Division!) a large group of Qutech scientists made the trek to New Orleans, both to speak about our latest developments and to learn about science going on all around the world. For this occasion we asked a few people to jot down their impressions of this weeklong carnival of physics and have bundled them in this blogpost. We will also add some pictures which hopefully convey the general scale and feel of the March meeting.
A sense of scale
This was my first visit to the APS March meeting. Hopefully there will be more to come. I think the main thing that impressed me about it was the scale. The conference hall is the size of an airport and forms a formidable maze for the unprepared grad student searching for coffee and a place to charge his/her phone. With over 9000 talks spread over around 700 sessions it is easy to lose
track of what is happening. And with a talk lasting on average about ten minutes you better not be late for your favourite speaker or a particularly interesting subject. Add to that the pressure of having to cram all of last year’s research into your personal ten minute slot (and not a minute more) can make for an overwhelming experience. But let it not be said that I did not enjoy it. The immense hustle and bustle of over ten thousand physicists meeting, calculating, thinking and discussing in every corner of that giant, hulking building is truly a sight for the ages. It makes me happy to think that we live in a world, where, for all it’s faults, it is possible for such a large group of people to come together in pursuit of their passion and a better tomorrow. I will definitely go again next year.
Physics high school reunion
I love the high school reunion aspect of March meeting: searching friends on the author index to see who is coming, seeing some of their talks, meeting old acquaintances randomly in the hallway. There were some pleasant surprises. When I gave my talk in an early morning session I saw a friend standing next to the entrance who just came in to see what I am doing now. Physics career paths cross borders easily but for friendships this can be challenging. The good thing about a giant conference with an insane talk schedule is that it at least brings together so many people.
The QT reunion which happens at every March meeting is also special for these reasons. QuTech grew out of the quantum transport group (QT) which has a long history. So when we all met up in the “Huge Ass Beers” bar in Bourbon street there were several generations of QT/QuTech PhDs present. People connected to QT are now doing research in top universities and companies all over the world and this is a chance to get together with them and stay in touch with our scientific lineage. And by that I mean dancing and drinking beer.
It’s a small world
Despite its sheer size I was surprised how small the March meeting actually felt. Being in the field of superconducting qubits I could follow non-stop talks often with parallel sessions on similar subjects. However, in all of these talks you would often run into people you knew from previous conferences or from working together, who in turn introduced you to their friends and colleagues. This led to a lot of interesting discussions, both over beer and over coffee, which led to a lot of inspiration and a few concrete ideas. All in all I would say that the March meeting was really productive, both for catching up with what other people are doing as well as getting inspiration and ideas for new experiments.
Charging your scientific batteries
If I could describe March Meeting in one word it would be ‘invigorating’. As scientists, our work is very hard and often very unrewarding. What makes it all worth it are the results, the papers and the friendships that we can create after several years of hard work. Being able to see some of the best scientists in the field present some of their best work really energises you and makes you appreciate that we really are working at the forefront of our fields.
As others mentioned however, it was a great experience to be among a throng of almost 10,000 physicists and regularly bump into people you know. I had the pleasure of attending the talk of my Masters thesis supervisor, and bumping into people who I worked with in my bachelors, half way on the other side of the world! All in all, a great experience.
Invasion of the physicists
Suzanne Van Dam
Tired from a long flight from Amsterdam, I was boarding for our connecting flight to New Orleans after a stop-over at Atlanta airport. It was only my sleepiness that prevented me from seeing at a first glance that this was not a normal flight. By the time I walked down the aisle of the airplane to my seat in the back my suspicion had grown into belief: this was a flight full of physicists.
During the March Meeting it felt like New Orleans had been invaded by physicists. I could not go anywhere without spotting some – with or without name tag – at early mornings in the Starbucks to get a necessary cup of coffee, or at late nights in one of the many bars in New Orleans. But the highest density of physicists was at the conference centre where I spent a week in countless talks. These talks I selected from the schedule both carefully and with despair, as sometimes all the presentations I wanted to attend were in simultaneous sessions, whereas on other days I spent my time on an lengthened lunch with colleagues.
The meetings with other physicists turned out to be the most valuable part of my conference. In between talks I met up with students that I got to know during my master’s in Delft, who are now pursuing PhDs in different parts of the world, and I discussed with collaborators, some of whom I had only been in touch with via email so far. I had dinner and drinks with former lab mates and QuTech alumni, and still made it to the talks early in the morning with the help of a big cup of coffee.
Even more tired than upon arrival I boarded my flight back to Amsterdam a week later. I must admit that I was relieved that the plane was not full of physicists this time.