Arriving in Turin for the International Conference of Physics Students back in August, we immediately dived into 30-degree heat.
With sweat pouring we began meeting fellow physicists from across the globe: Mexico, India, Norway, Canada, US, Morocco and countless more. It was impossible to turn anywhere without learning a new piece of culture.
The opening ceremony was held in a large lecture theatre in the historical Cavallerizza Reale building and involved talks from the head of the Italian Association of Physics Students, the head of the International Association of Physics Students and a handful more sponsor representatives.
This very welcoming ceremony was capped off by Professor James Kakalios who gave an hour-long presentation about his famous book, The Physics of Superheroes. As unbelievable as it sounds, the evening got better still. Dinner was served at the nearby Rettorato of the University of Turin, where an elegant catering was hosted in a renaissance-style courtyard, with stunning architecture and statues hanging over every corner while a Turin-based jazz band provided the perfect backdrop – not to mention the free champagne.
The morning of our second day kicked off with a talk from Dr Francesco Prino, an Italian physicist who’s been a researcher for the Italian Institute of Nuclear Physics since 2004 and is currently working on the preparation, commissioning and data analysis of ALICE at the LHC. He gave a very intellectually stimulating talk about quark–gluon plasmas. This was followed up by a student poster session across the campus and lab tours. A relaxed dinner followed the lab tour and the costume party commenced. Naturally, when you pull together physicists from across the world, all forms of wacky and wonderful costumes were brought along.
By day three, sleep deprivation was kicking in. A 9.30am lecture from Dr Francesco Tombesi proceeded with more people than expected. Francesco is an Italian astrophysicist currently working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and is also a research scientist at the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland. Focussing on supermassive black holes in Active Galactic Nuclei, I found that he was one of the most interesting speakers at the event. After a short break there was no rest, this time a talk from Dr Agnese Bissi. After completing her PhD at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, she moved to Oxford for a postdoctoral position and is now residing at Harvard University. She is a theoretical physicist, specialising in high energy physics. Unsurprisingly, lunchtime followed with plenty of napping students. Re-energised, people rushed around Turin in the City Rally. Exploring the city centre, monuments, architecture and famous spots while solving physics-related problems. The evening consisted of a unique Italian take on physics networking in the That’s Amore party – a night to send secret notes to unsuspecting physicists and have a drink together.
The morning of our fourth day began with the first set of student talks, highlighting the interesting physics and collaborations being done across the world. Having a talk at ICPS is the perfect way to practice presenting to large crowds and a friendly scientific audience. The afternoon was taken up with workshops including a very popular talk by Andrea Taroni, chief editor of Nature Physics, who spoke about scientific publishing from an editor’s point of view.
The evening everybody was waiting for: the Nations Party. This is the traditional ICPS party where each person from every nation brings a sample of their country’s traditional food and drink. Preparations began and the local supermarket was ransacked. Hours of preparation for those cooking and minutes for those who came to the event prepared. The night kicked off with everybody going around each table in search of new and exciting delicacies. The Mexicans brought bottles upon bottles of tequila, the Germans their sausage, the Austrians their Stroh 80% rum, the Moroccans their spicy stew and of course the Brits weren’t going to be outdone and brought a litre of gin, red Leicester and five bottles of Scottish whisky.
The night’s activities meant a painfully early start on day five, which saw the paired scientific and cultural excursions. These included visits to the Turin Planetarium and then the Basilica of Superga, a short trip to France to see the Modane Underground Laboratory and a light trek in Bardonecchia. A visit to the Venaria Reale Conservation and Restoration Centre was followed by a visit to the local palace. And not forgetting a trip to the Energy Research Centre and the world famous Monza Race Track.
The games evening started off with all 450 participants taking part interactive physics quiz via use of an electronic answering system. The second part was the infamous Drink and Derive game. Brave volunteers had to solve increasingly difficult mathematical derivations while increasingly partaking in the (not so) finest wine Italy has to offer. The award ceremony of which had to be postponed as the three victors all mysteriously vanished to take a nap – including one who didn’t understand that there just no more derivations to solve.
The guest lecture on the sixth day was by amazing speaker, Steven Cowely, talking about nuclear fusion, the UK’s JET fusion reactor and the future plans for fusion energy. This was followed by the, perhaps not the most exciting but the most integral part, the IAPS AGM. This is the central moment in the life of the conferences parent organisation, the International Association of Physics Students. This was 14 fun-filled hours (over two days) where the 15 national committees, 19 local committees and individual members voted on the structure and running of IAPS for the following year, including selecting the destinations for ICPS 2019. The less bureaucratically inclined enjoyed a day of sports-related activities, including beech volleyball, swimming and chess.
The evening consisted of a Italian food night at the medieval quarter of Turin, inside replica castles which were built for the 1884 International Exhibition. Music was provided by a local rock band and then a traditional Italian folk band that had people teaching participants how to dance those particular notes.
The day that everyone didn’t want to come, the final day, was one day full of parallel sessions of student talks, scientific posters and an overrunning AGM. The guest lecture was provided by the Italian ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori who regaled us about his time in space and what life is really like while up there. The closing ceremony wrapped up the unforgettable week nicely.
I now know how penguins feel being in the middle of 450 people grouped together in 30 degree heat. The chilled Farewell Party ended the conference and provided the opportunity to say goodbye to all the people you met over the week and all the friendships formed. The next ICPS will be held over 8–14 August in Helsinki, Finland and we can’t wait to go back.
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