Physicists to hold free global online-only conference


Illustration of people meeting in a virtual world

Six leading physicists have set up a free online-only conference, aiming to create an event with a low carbon footprint that is accessible to all.

While distance and online learning are well established, academic conferences remain an in-person activity. The organisers of the new conference, however, aim to change that. The Photonics Online Meetup (POM), launched by committed photonic leaders from around the world, including a physicist from Imperial College London, will take place for free and completely online on 13 January 2020.

There are great online platforms that enable you to not only listen to any talk, but also to interact easily with the speakers from every corner of the globe. Why not use them to help science? Dr Riccardo Sapienza

The international POM committee was drawn together around solving several widely acknowledged issues with the conventional conference format. These include the large carbon footprint of air travel, the impact of travel on families, the increasing cost of travel and conference fees, and challenges associated with visas. POM’s online format is intended to remove these barriers.

Photonics is the physical study of light, including its generation, detection and manipulation. The first POM conference will focus on nanoscale quantum optics, integrated optics, and optical materials.

For its first conference, POM is encouraging the formation of ‘POM-hubs’, which are self-organized viewing sites. The goal of these sites is to encourage networking at a local level to build a sense of community between researchers and students. Thus far, 28 POM-hubs have been formed across four continents.

In the days leading up to the event, the organizers are also hosting a virtual poster session where participants can post images of posters online with a conference hashtag and then answer questions electronically in the ‘replies’ stream. Unlike a conventional poster session which has a fixed timeframe and limited audience, this approach is unlimited in duration and can grow with its audience.

 A virtual alternative

Dr Riccardo Sapienza, one of the conference organisers from the Department of Physics at Imperial, said: “We live in a modern connected world, yet scientists are still travelling around the world to meet and discuss their findings. There are great online platforms that enable you to not only listen to any talk, but also to interact easily with the speakers from every corner of the globe. Why not use them to help science?

“With this in mind we decided to try this experimental meet-up, to complement traditional conferences with a virtual alternative, which is cheap, family-friendly and can help to reduce our carbon footprint.”

The organisers of POM believe that the completely free approach to their conference will have a particularly positive effect on the career trajectories of early career researchers and will improve access to education for students.

Improve access for education on a global scale

Professor Andrea Armani, POM conference co-chair from the University of Southern California, said: “Though we all had different motivations, the committee came together with a common goal: improving the format of academic conferences.

“As a member of the World Economic Forum and a mentor for several junior faculty, I was particularly motivated by the need to improve access for education on a global scale and the need to reduce the burden of academic travel on families for early career researchers.”

POM co-chair Dr Orad Reshef from the University of Ottawa said: “We envision that this would be the future of the scientific meetings, where online meetups will complement existing meetings.”

The other conference organisers are Professor Rachel Grange from ETH Zurich, Professor Igor Aharonovich from the University of Technology Sydney, and Professor Mikhail Kats from the University of Wisconsin-Madison


Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

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