APS March Meeting 2015: Impressions

I spent two days attending the American Physical Society’s March meeting in San Antonio, and wow what a time. It was all pretty overwhelming: there were so many companies, so many talks, and so many…well, people!

Day 1:

I joined in on the shenanigans on Tuesday morning: overslept and missed my first class (whoops) but eventually made my way to my bff’s apartment, where we then headed off at 11:20am to San Antonio from Austin. First step upon arrival: parking. It’s always a hassle to park in the city, and this was no exception. We decided on a parking garage with a flat rate that was close to the convention center. Anyway, so, we got there. We walked in. And we took in the smell of B.O. and science…

Registration was a breeze: if you pre-register online, you’re good to go. Highly recommend doing that, otherwise it’ll take upwards 20 minutes to be fully registered for the meeting as well as with APS.

So basically, every instrumentation company under the sun had exhibits at the meeting, and were itching to get you to listen to their product spiel. It’s worth it — the free stuff you get is awesome. The first exhibit I hit up was OriginLab, which focuses on complex data analysis and graphing software. I, being the loyal Mathematica user that I am, was skeptical of this product’s performance. Luckily, I received a 21 day trial of their product to test out and see if I like it (expect a review of that sometime in the near future; (x,t) is TBD).

Next, my bff and I went to check out the exhibit run by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); it was weird to see them in a setting like this — generally, APS meetings focus on condensed matter physics, electronics, and materials science/engineering physics. Nuclear physics is usually separate, and many nuclear organizations have their own conferences. But it was nice nonetheless! The women in charge of the exhibit talked to us about potential internships in Vienna, and had us sign up to receive notifications of when our interests coincided with an opening!

I then got a bit tired of talking to people, so I headed towards the poster session area, where every level of physicist (undergrad, grad, postdoc) was talking about their particular field of research. This was when I also ran into some peers I had met at a previous conference! It’s really cool to make friends through conferences and to see each other grow professionally.

My bff and I then decided to check out some of the talks. The first two talks we listened to were of my choosing, and were over the topic of quantum monte carlo simulations of fermion and boson. The actual physics discussed during these talks were way over my head (it assumed a pretty advanced knowledge of quantum as it pertains to dots and wells) but the mathematics was pretty easy to follow. The next couple of talks were of my bff’s choosing and were over the physics of neural systems. The physics was very elementary, in that it discussed the mechanics of active potentials that results in a traveling wave solution (I know a good deal about waves and optics; it was nice to be able to follow the physics for once!).

For the last talk we listened to, a friend of mine that came with us was giving a talk over his research. I honestly don’t remember what it was about, because it was pretty advanced stuff (and I am also trying to remember it from two days ago), but he did a good job with presenting it!

Lastly, as we were just getting ready to leave, we spotted it…the one and only…the Wolfram exhibit! It was hiding in the corner. Unfortunately, it was past 5pm so the screens illustrating the newest technologies from the company were turned off. However, I did get to speak with a couple of the representatives, and learned that Wolfram will be doing some pretty cool showcases for the upcoming SXSWedu! We exchanged contact information, and then I had to leave the conference. But not before taking a selfie:

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Day 2:

My bff couldn’t come on this day to the conference, so I tagged along with another friend and we headed over there today (Wednesday) at about 11:30am, arriving at about 1:30pm. Unfortunately, due to work constraints, we could only be there for a max of two hours. I really wanted to check out the conference today because it was Industry Day! So lots of companies would be actively recruiting physicists to come work for their company. And I’m all about that.

So, we spent the time mingling with the companies within the exhibits more in depth: first, I spotted another nuclear exhibit in the sea of hardware exhibits…Oakridge National Labs (ORNL) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)! I spoke with the woman representing NIST for quite some time; she had a lot of information to give me about internship opportunities with NIST through something called their SURF program, which allows students to get hands on experience with the latest technologies, including working at neutron research reactors (there are only a couple in the US).

Next, we visited TeachSpin which designs instruments for experiments in advanced physics lab courses. The lady representative gave us a catalog of products, and discussed some of them. Perhaps the most interesting one was the apparatus for the experiment over optical pumping of rubidium vapor — she went really in depth on the conceptual understanding (all of which is available online for free!). Apparently, this particular apparatus was considered so aesthetically beautiful that an artist decided to buy one, enclose it in glass, and submit it to a museum. Anyway, the physics she was discussing with us was extremely fascinating, and she was so engaging and interactive that I kinda wish she was one of my professors this semester!

Lastly, we visited the APS public outreach exhibit, where the rep there gave us some free science comics aimed at middle school aged children:

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Why didn’t I have these when I was younger?? I also mentioned that both my friend and I were officers of UT Austin’s Undergraduate Women in Physics, and he offered to send us a box of free supplies and stuff when we perform demos for young girls! That was really generous, and I’m really stoked at having all this cool stuff the next time we do outreach activities.

To sum it all up:

Overall, it was a really fun experience, and I’m glad I went! It wasn’t as much of a networking opportunity as I’d imagined it would be, but that is likely because of the sheer amount of people (literally thousands of physicists were there) but I received a handful of contacts to email in the near future (which I should start doing pretty soon). The talks were pretty decent, most were a bit inaccessible for me as an undergraduate, but the exhibits were fun and the free stuff…you can’t beat free stuff, seriously. Though I think the best part about the whole conference was just being able to do something different! Classes are nice and fine, but being able to mingle with people (who work in your field no less) in a different kind of setting is a nice change of pace, and getting out of town can sometimes be needed during a stressful semester!

Anyway, if you’ve made it through this long post, then I really admire your literary willpower. Thanks for sticking around!

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