One of the central activities of any scientific society is to organise conferences and meetings for its members. The European Physical Society [EPS] has just hosted one of its most successful conferences ever in Munich where the European Conference on Lasers and Electro optics and the International Quantum Electronics Conference [CLEO Europe-IQEC] were held over 12-16 May, and attracted a record number of more than 1600 registered attendees. CLEO Europe-IQEC conference is currently co-organised with partners OSA and the IEEE Photonics Society, but has been running in its core technical format for over 25 years. This record number of participants even in the present environment of financial restriction highlights the importance of the particular field of optics and photonics in Europe and internationally.
Conferences are important for many reasons.
Firstly, we are all aware of the increasing number of journals and publications in virtually every area of physics, and keeping track of advances in a field is more and more difficult. Attendance at meetings and conferences can solve this problem to a large extent by providing a forum for all the key results in a field to be presented within a condensed timeframe; even in attending one major event per year, a researcher can keep abreast of most major developments.
Networking and interaction opportunities are also a major attraction. For senior researchers, catching up with international colleagues is an important part of maintaining awareness of emerging developments, but perhaps those who benefit most from networking at conferences are students and early-career researchers. It can be sometimes intimidating to contact senior researchers by e-mail, but most conferences provide many chances for informal conversation, and it is often the case that short meetings held in conferences form the basis of professional relationships and friendships that last decades. At some conferences such as CLEO Europe-IQEC, there is also a co-located industrial tradeshow. This is also very beneficial in allowing researchers to meet instrumentation and equipment vendors, and for students to see the practical ends of one’s research and sometimes identify future employers.
The EPS organizes typically 10 conferences a year itself, supporting the activities of many of its divisions and groups. The EPS also provides technical sponsorship of many more conferences throughout Europe, providing an important guarantee of peer review quality and topical coverage. The EPS sponsorship can open up possibilities for sponsoring Poster Prizes and the EPS individual members can apply for travel grants to attend. Excellent conferences are always encouraged to apply for the EPS Sponsorship – just check the EPS website under Support and you will find all the details you need.
The organizational role of the EPS, however, is only a small part of the total effort involved in running a major conference. The success of a scientific meeting depends critically on the behind-the-scenes work of the scientists who suggest and select the speakers, read hundreds of submissions, and then combine them together into the final conference programme that attendees enjoy.
Commitment to running and participating in conference events is one of the most important tasks that a scientist takes on, and I know from experience that this voluntary effort from scientists takes a great deal of time and energy, most often on evenings and weekends! It is vital that this work is recognized and appreciated, and let me take this opportunity here to personally thank all those who work in this way to ensure that Europe has a rich and vibrant range of conferences in all areas of physics.