Fostering exchange between Nobel Laureates and young scientists

by Dr Carlo Bruno

Photo: Carlo on board a zeppelin along with Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath and meeting attendees.

I had the privilege of being selected to participate in the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany, together with 39 Nobel laureates in Physics and Chemistry and outstanding young scientists from 89 countries around the world.

The aim of this event was to foster exchange among scientists of different generations, cultures and disciplines.

The meeting, which took off on 29 June, was opened by an impassionate keynote address by Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt urging the scientists in the audience to be as open as possible with their data, ideas and research, and to aim to make a difference in the world. The same theme also dominated the closing panel of the conference “How Can Science Change the World for the Better?” held a week later on Mainau Island, on Lake Constance (Germany). Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, former Secretary of Energy under US president Barak Obama, asked all scientists in the audience to consider getting involved in politics, for short time periods, to promote scientific thinking and the scientific method amongst decision-makers.

In addition to this broader discussion about the role of Science in society, the meeting had a large number of outstanding traditional lectures, as well as open discussions, panels, science breakfasts, science walks, social evenings, all with the aim of fostering communication between Nobel Laureates and young scientists. All talks were recorded and are available online.

Amongst the many excellent talks, I would suggest:

My personal highlight of this exciting week was a flight on a zeppelin, one of the only six that exist in the world, together with seven young scientists and Nobel Laureate A. Yonath. The flight was kindly offered by the German Helmholz-Zentrum Geesthacht who use the zeppelin to detect and study vortices and eddies to further out understanding of oceanography.

Inspiration and support for women in physics

Conference attendees

The Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics UK (CUWiP) aims to inspire physics students, highlight career options and provide a supportive community.

Students Sara Evers, Lucy Arditi and Storm Colloms (all year 2) attended the Conference, now in its fifth year, at the Department of Physics, Oxford University in March.  Sara tells us what the conference entailed, and how she benefitted from attending…

The first full day of the conference started with a visit to national research facility, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories (RAL). The most exciting part for me was the particle accelerator ISIS, the onsite muon and neutron source. The lab also hosts a central laser facility, a space research and engineering department and many other interesting facilities. As well as attending tours, presentations were made by several female engineers who told us about their work at RAL, how they got where they are today and about internship and graduate opportunities.

In the afternoon, we heard from Prof Alexandra Olaya-Castro from University College London about her research, inspiring career path and the challenges she faced along the way. Following that I attended a medical physics workshop. As someone who has always been interested in medicine and biology, being able to meet and talk to medical physicists and gain information about the different career options and training schemes was very insightful.

Day two started off with talks: Dr Francesca Day, who is a theoretical particle physicist at Cambridge University and a stand-up comedian gave a talk on ‘Science, Creativity and Stereotypes’, which focused on her personal story and research, and general gender and inequality issues in physics. Ms Carole Kenrick, a resident scientist working in primary schools in London, talked about getting young children invested and interested in science.

Tours of the laboratories at Oxford University were conducted in the afternoon, and I got to see a particle physics lab, where they worked on detectors for ATLAS, the particle accelerator and detector in Switzerland. I also saw a group working on producing solar cells out of biomaterials and some groups working on telescopes in the Astronomy department.

Following this was another talk: Dr Rain Irshad shared information on her career in space science, starting with her aim to become an astronaut, the many setbacks and changes in her life, and how she ended up working at RAL Space. I then attended a career panel, with six physicists who are now pursuing careers outside physics (e.g. Patent law, data science, government adviser). This showcased the many opportunities you can have with a physics degree. The day ended with an informal chat with scientists and PhD students.

The conference ended with an academic panel, and a talk from Dr Suchitra Sebastian about combining a career in physics with a life outside of work.

Attending this conference benefitted me in many different ways.  I realised there are many different career options available to those with a degree in physics, and learned how one can get into these different areas. It was very motivating to hear about all the setbacks people had to overcome, despite making it to where they are today. I now have a better understanding of what it means to do physics research both in academia and industry and what alternatives there are. On a more practical level, I learned about several internship programmes, some of which I will apply for next year, as well as information on postgraduate studies and funding, which will be very helpful in a few years’ time.

The most inspiring aspect of the conference however wasn’t the great programme, but that I got to meet so many female physicists and physics students, all very passionate about this subject. Being used to usually having a male majority in every lecture and workshop, sitting in a lecture theatre full of female physicists is quite an empowering feeling. Over the weekend, I got to meet so many great and inspiring people and made many great connections and friendships that will hopefully last for a long time. I’m very grateful to both the organisers of the conference, especially the main organiser Prof Daniela Bortoletto, and the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, who enabled us to attend the conference by covering our travel costs to Oxford.


COMSOL Lausanne Conference Trip with HYPED

By Andreas Malekos (year 4, Computational Physics)

At the end of October 2018, I was invited to attend COMSOL’s annual conference in Lausanne, Switzerland along with two other students (Arturas Jocas from the School of Mathematics and Ivan Chan from the School of Engineering). We were invited as part of HYPED, the University of Edinburgh’s student Hyperloop team. COMSOL is a finite element analysis software that was extensively used for the designs of HYPED’s second Hyperloop prototype, PODDIE the Second. The software was used to perform structural /electromagnetic simulations and optimise various parts of the pod. We presented a poster detailing how COMSOL was used.

The conference lasted for 3 days and was located in a very modern and impressive building, the Swisstech Conference centre. Each day, talks were given describing how COMSOL was used in
research, from curing myopia to designing Samsung’s latest living room soundbar. We had the opportunity to talk to people from various industries, from Bang and Olufsen to CERN engineers. We not only discussed how they used COMSOL in their research, but we learned more about the research itself. We even had the opportunity for a brief discussion with COMSOL’s CEO, who shared his personal story of how COMSOL came to be the company it is now. It was truly inspiring. Not only were we able to pick the brains of some of the world’s leading simulation experts, but we gained valuable links to multiple industries that could be extremely beneficial to the work done at HYPED.

Furthermore, we also had the opportunity to talk to and attend events organised by COMSOL engineers. These were extremely insightful and useful. We learned about various advanced COMSOL features and asked the engineers help with issues we were having with COMSOL, gaining solutions we never would have had the expertise or experience to implement. It also gave us the chance to see how far spread COMSOL’s use was over multiple industries; exposing jobs and opportunities in industries we’d never even thought of exploring.

At the end of the conference we were treated to a tour of CERN and the ATLAS experiment, where we discussed its various aspects with the scientist who was showing us around.

Overall this conference was an excellent experience that I will remember for a long time. From the people to the places, the problems to the solutions; the trip was worth its weight in gold.

Read more about the COMSOL conference:
Read more about HYPED: