Ultra-science is ultra-cool

By Amanda Hu

Science experts travelled to Calgary for a meeting of minds, atoms and lasers at the 38th annual meeting of the Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics of the American Physical Society Jun. 5-9.

The conference, hosted in conjunction with the University of Calgary and Division of Atomic and Molecular Physics and Photonic Interactions, attracted over 800 of the world’s foremost experts in various fields of physics. Over 100 talks and several special events took place in the duration of the five-day affair, promoting extensive discussion and discovery.

“We had 11 scientific sessions for the oral presentations,” said U of C physics professor Rob Thompson, one of the organizers of the conference and recent recipient of the national teaching prize. “A number of the sessions were focused on quantum information and cryptography. Calgary is getting really big for that in the scientific community.”

The decision to hold the conference¬≠–the largest meeting of its kind–in Calgary was very significant to the local scientific community.

“The organization that runs the conference is based in the United States,” explained Thompson. “They only hold the meeting in Canada every six years and this is the first time in its 38-year history that it’s been held outside of Ontario. This was a great chance for the University of Calgary and the physicists here to make an impact.”

Of the highlights of the meeting was the Nobel Symposium, featuring the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics recipients Roy Glauber and John Hall. Glauber, based out of Harvard University, was recognized with the prestigious award for his contribution to quantum theory of optical coherence. Hall received the Nobel Prize with fellow physicist Theodor W. Hänsch for their work on the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, which included the optical frequency comb technique. The talks were focused on their current projects.

The conference was also a forum for the Linac Coherent Light Source town hall meeting. The LCLS, currently under construction at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre, is the first x-ray free electron laser of it’s kind, predicted to revolutionize many areas of research upon its completion in 2009. The forum was held to inform the physics community of its progress, and discussed funding and cooperation to share the use of this new resource.

“Our conference’s main focus was on atomic and molecular physics but often times we work with particle physicists to make new discoveries,” explained Thompson. “The LCLS project and other projects are working to generate more esoteric forms of light and using a combination of atomic and particle physics. These are major financial investments that definitely need to be given a lot of thought.”

Thompson added that while Canada already has a similar facility to the one being built at the SLAC, the LCLS will operate on a longer wavelength and will be a new form of x-ray light source.

Preston Manning spoke at the conference’s banquet Friday night. Though a seemingly unlikely choice, Manning delivered a well-received speech on the importance of effective communication between scientists and politicians for science policy.

“The way scientists talk to other scientists often doesn’t translate well when they’re trying to communicate with politicians and the general public,” admitted Thompson. “Politicians often want to get to the point of an issue, while scientists wait until the very end to make their point because the journey to that point is what they find the most interesting.”

The Hot Topics Forum closed off the conference and featured several recent discoveries and projects. One well-received presenter Dr. Gerald Gabrielse discussed the field of electron measurement and how it relates to more detailed physical models.

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