Monday, July 29, 2013

Astronomy: Protostars and Planets VI

Two weeks ago, I attended Protostars and Planets VI, an astronomy conference held in Heidelberg, Germany. It was a large meeting and also my first time in Germany. Hence, I decided to stay a few extra days and thus this post is somewhat delayed.

In this post, I give my personal impression and experience during the conference. I'll point you here if you want a summary of the talks, particularly the earlier ones during the meeting.

Protostars and Planets VI
Protostars and Planets is a conference series that dates back to 1978 and gathers scientists studying star formation, planets, disks, meteorites, etc, etc. The goal is to gather and summarize all the current knowledge on stellar and planet formation. The prior meeting (PPV) took place in 2005 in Hawaii and as such 8 years have passed where a lot of progress has been made. The conference thus serves to showcase the state of the field and provide an outlook of what's to come. If you're new, then checking out the proceedings can be an excellent way to catch up the latest research. I understand that all the talks were recorded so you'll soon be able to see them (I'll post a link when available).

Heidelberg
On this occasion, PPVI was held in Heidelberg, Germany. This is a small, tourist-y town about an hour south of Frankfurt. It's a long way from Chile and my flight connected in Toronto (since it was Air Canada) so it was quite an ordeal to go there and back again. However, it turns out that I have some family near Frankfurt and they were kind enough to take me there from the airport so that simplified part of the journey. I also have some friends living in Heidelberg, so I was able to meet up and chat with them.

I stayed at a hotel near the old bridge in the old town. It was conveniently located just 5-8 minutes from the conference hall, which meant I could go back and rest during the day if needed. The proximity was worth it. I learned that lesson at a prior AAS meeting when I stayed more than 15 minutes away from the venue.

Heidelberg, Germany. You can see the old bridge, the castle, and the church in this shot.

I spent a little time exploring the city, but Heidelberg isn't that big to begin with. Some of the meeting was held at some of the main sites: the reception was at the castle, dinner at Molkenkur with views of the city, and there was also a boat ride that took us along the Neckar river. While I don't think I saw and did everything that Heidelberg had to offer, I feel I saw enough to be happy about it.

A close-up of the Heidelberg Castle

One aspect of Heidelberg (and Germany) that I hadn't fully accounted for was how hot it would be. The meeting was right in the middle of summer and temperatures were in the 30s (Celsius; 90s in Fahrenheit). It was also very humid so you really felt the heat. After being in 0-5 degree Celsius weather the past few weeks I welcomed the warmer climate. After a few days, though, the heat and sun got to me as it did everyone else.

The Meeting
This conference had plenty of talks that summarized the state of the field ranging from star formation to extrasolar planets. Some were good and interesting, a few were not. However, it is physically tiring to try and attend all the talks. I saved my energy for the few talks most relevant to my research, but I know some people who tried to listen in to most of the talks.

The conference hall, with some of the many attendees gathered for a group picture

In addition to the talks, there were posters. I had one up the first half of the week, which was good as I was very tired the later half. At the same time, my paper on the same topic came out the Monday of the conference, so I received quite a bit of attention, both at the poster and online thanks to the exquisite timing. This was my goal all along and I'm very happy that it paid off.

I met and talked science with a lot of relevant people during the conference. For me, some of the best times were at the coffee breaks or at lunch. I know some people swear that only at bars or pubs far into the night do collaborations get forged, but that is personally not my way.

At the reception, looking down on Heidelberg from the castle

Dinners were also good for the most part. My only disappointing experience here was at the conference dinner itself. It was very crowded, the food was good but not excellent, and most people clustered together in their little groups. I guess I am a far more reserved and introverted person than my colleagues so I sometimes feel left out. The good thing is the conference was large and diverse enough that I always had someone I could grab for lunch or dinner and didn't have to be alone.

Overall, I will say the conference was a great success for me. My publication and poster served to put me in the spotlight for a time and I got to talk to people about my work and plans. I have some notes of people I need to contact over the next few weeks, so this was a useful conference for networking. I may not be super outgoing or a party animal, but I hope that I made a good impression and that on the long run this meeting will have served to put me on the map among my peers and in my field of research.

Post Conference
As I mentioned before, this was my first time in Germany. I didn't want to travel such a long way to just spend a week at a science conference! So I did what, in my opinion, any sane person would do: take a few days and explore more of Germany! Destination: Munich and surroundings.

Neuchwanstein Castle

I was joined by a good friend from UCLA and met up with some of her friends upon arrival. We spent a few days exploring Munich and its surroundings, including Neuchwanstein Castle (pictured above) and Königssee (pictured below). Overall it was great, though exhausting with all the hikes and the train/bus/boat/tram rides.

Lake Obersee, just past Lake Königssee itself. If you see the full size frame (click the picture), you might be able to spot (at center-right) the 1540-ft tall Röthbach Waterfall, the highest in Germany.

I had a great time in Germany and hope to return to see more of it in the future!

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