Quark Matter From the Inside
By Paul Stankus, ORNL
"I have a mansion, forget the price.
Ain't never been there, they tell me it's nice."
— Joe Walsh
Many people have told me that they felt the Quark Matter '09 conference was a great success: generally well-run, with a scientifically interesting program and an enjoyable atmosphere. And, much as I would like to confirm this impression first-hand I will mostly have to take everyone's word for it: for even though I attended the conference, and arrived two days early, as a member of the QM09 Local Organizing Committee I was too busy to see that much of its actual content in real time.
Preparation work for QM09 began in earnest more than a year before the conference itself, and if you've never organized a large international conference then it's hard to grasp just how much work is involved. Thousands of decisions go into a dozen major tasks: approving the physical site, building the Web site; choosing the International Advisory Committee, laying out the plenary program and inviting the speakers, sorting through the contributed abstracts; planning the excursions and companion's program; organizing registration, payments and lodging details, as well as catering, wireless internet access and a whole host of other workaday matters. In the lead-up to the conference my own contributions were mainly in organizing IAC meetings, helping finalize the scientific program, and designing the poster session (more on that later); so I knew what was in the program even without seeing it first-hand. But once the action was joined all the local organizers were on deck dealing with last-minute changes, questions and various emergencies (including, believe it or not, a shipping delay caused by the eruption in late March of Redoubt Volcano in Alaska).
Quark Matter '09 offered a great deal of scientific content, as you can see from the final numbers: 535 participants (plus companions large and small) had the chance to see 37 main plenary talks and to choose from 140 parallel talks in four session tracks, as well as to take in nearly 200 posters during two dedicated poster receptions. Keeping this machine running smoothly were the local organizers and an army of student helpers, who did everything from collecting, uploading and projecting talks to running the AV systems to hauling furniture and counting push-pins. I myself handled a number of push-pins as organizer of the poster session, which I was proud of both for its great scientific content and for an interesting innovation at this year's QM, namely the poster "flash talk" plenary session.
With the express goal of giving greater exposure to deserving but less-well-known younger scientists, we engaged an esteemed (and still anonymous) panel of judges to select a handful of posters for "promotion" to talks in a special plenary session. Eleven young poster authors/presenters were invited, on less than a full day's notice, to present short "flash talks" — five minutes, no questions — on their poster's subject. Learning just before midnight that you've been invited to give a talk at 6pm the following day may put some people into a tizzy. And yet, as Quark Matter chairman Glenn Young noted, putting together a presentation on short notice is a valuable skill to have in later life. In the end all of the "flash talk" speakers rose very well to the challenge and their special plenary session was widely judged to have been a successful experiment.
On the whole it was a great experience to help organize and run the Quark Matter '09 conference. -- and it isn't over yet! We next turn our attention to collecting and publishing the proceedings. Be sure to get yours in on time, or else! To the extent that people enjoyed it and found the conference scientifically helpful, I'm also pleased to have been of service to the community. But personally I'll be just as glad to go back to being a regular attendee for the next couple Quark Matter conferences, and so at least be able to linger over a cup of coffee.