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Overcoming both severe weather and new restrictions on travel reimbursement, the 54th annual meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics took place successfully in Providence, Rhode Island from October 29 through November 2. More than 1,300 physicists presented research highlighting the latest advancements in plasma physics.
The meeting opened with a plenary talk by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Ellen Zweibel on the hundredth anniversary of the discovery of cosmic rays. John Edwards from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory updated attendees on the National Ignition Facility’s work to achieve an energy positive thermonuclear fusion reaction. For the James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics talk, Liu Chen from the University of California, Irvine spoke about his research on shear Alfven waves.
On Thursday and Friday, schoolchildren from the area toured the exhibit hall. In all, exhibitors showed off different physics demonstrations to about 3,000 children over the two days.
Tuesday’s Teachers Day had to be canceled because of Hurricane Sandy. About a dozen teachers showed up nevertheless, and participated in an impromptu workshop where experts helped them integrate plasma physics into their lesson plans.
Overall, attendance at this year’s meeting was down a few hundred from last year’s, which organizers attributed primarily to Hurricane Sandy. The so-called “Superstorm” hit the Northeast on the night of the first day of the conference. Attendees in Providence said that the storm itself was relatively mild compared to its impact across other parts of the eastern seaboard, but that transportation to the meeting was difficult.
“Flights were cancelled, people couldn’t get here. It was chaos for the first couple of days of the meeting,” said Don Wise, the senior meetings registrar at APS.
As reported in the August/September APS News, last May the Office of Management and Budget issued new restrictions on travel to scientific conferences for government scientists. As applied to the Department of Energy, the new policy stipulated that in order to spend more than $100,000 to send scientists who are federal employees to a meeting, the Deputy Secretary needed to sign off, and more than $500,000 would require the Secretary’s signature. Conference organizers worried this would mean a significant decrease in attendance, especially at a meeting like DPP, which draws heavily from national laboratories.
“I think attendance was down from some of the bigger labs,” Wise said. “It’s hard to tell with the storm and the DOE restrictions happening at the same time.”
Wise added that if attendance continued to be low next year, it would likely be the result of the new DOE travel policies, and that he would be watching the March and April meetings numbers carefully, looking for any noticeable impact.
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Editor: Alan Chodos