ISMAR 2017, Quebec, Canada. Sharing, Teaching and Learning.
Our trip to Quebec took more than 24 hours total. 7 (seven) hours non-stop from Novosibirsk to Frankfurt; 8 (eight) hours non-stop Frankfurt – Ottawa; one hour Ottawa – Quebec. Add to that the inevitable two hours pre-flight, passport controls, security checks and eleven hour time difference which turns day into night and night into day. Why attend conferences then, what’s new in the internet age?
A conference is a place where one can meet people working in the same and in the new fields, greet old friends and project partners, listen to as many reports as one’s brain can absorb, discover new fascinating specialists, make useful contacts. In short, any conference is the place to communicate and to achieve more in a few days than sometimes in a year. Yes, email, skype, zoom and all the rest help maintain contact, but nothing can be a substitute for real live communication.
The conference program is very concise and clear even for a non-specialist: NMR, MRI, EPR, Hyper-Polarization, Unusual. I love the last definition which means that a report does not exactly fit into the traditional frame. This may mean something totally new or something which is not easy to classify.
It is interesting to watch the changing collective face of the research community. Those who are over fifty are mostly men. The younger the attendees the more balanced the distribution is, with almost the same number of men and women among those who are under thirty.
One should see the young faces when they recognize a leading figure in their chosen field, a person who wrote their textbooks, whose presence is revered and whose every word is gold. We have known Alex Pines, one of those famous researchers, for more than a decade; we visited Berkeley, California several times while my husband Igor Koptyug was working on a joint project with Professor Pines’ lab. It was a pleasure to meet again. Young people from many countries whispered behind us, “NMR! MRI!” When Alex Pines received his ISMAR Prize, one more of his numerous awards, he delivered a wonderful lecture which gave an overview of NMR and MRI development, the current state and the perspectives.
Professor Bernard Blumich of Aachen, Germany has been project partner and a friend for some twenty years. It’s always a pleasure to meet and to exchange our news. He specializes in macro-molecular chemistry. Several times we have watched him receive various awards and listened to his in-depth presentations.
Professor Igor Koptyug of Novosibirsk International Tomography Center was an invited speaker at this conference. He delivered his report on hyper polarization. It was quite a sight to observe those well-known researchers converse during the breaks and discuss the new directions in which their research takes them.
Poster sessions attracted a lot of attention, with the older experienced scientists studying the posters and asking the younger colleagues questions. Communication never stopped, people would get into groups, cluster around a table or a poster regardless of their age and sex. Discussions continued around lunch tables and during the boat trip along the St. Lawrence river. Lots of new agreements, prospective joint projects, research articles exchange, mutual future visits were arranged on the spot.
One of the topics naturally is finances, including the ways to finance such a trip. Graduate students and post-docs, young researchers are often brought to such events by their academic advisors or laboratory/department head. Writing grant and project proposals, obtaining travel grants is an important part of any scientist’s life. No matter how amazing one’s work is, money does not fall into one’s lap like manna from heaven.
An important part of any real life conference is also absorbing the new cultural experiences, and dealing with the language. True, almost everybody speaks English, it is the working language at a conference. But there is also the language and culture of the country, of the venue. In Quebec they speak French which differs greatly from that of France. And of course while the conference participants always manage to understand each other because they all speak NMR or MRI, it does not follow that every accompanying person and every caterer knows what the talk is about. My usual answer to the question, “What’s your husband doing now?” is simple. I am a Ph.D. In English Language and Literature.