Fall Meetings Emerge Little Scathed from Recent Government Shutdown
By Michael Lucibella
Organizers of the fall APS meetings reported that attendance has largely been unaffected by the recent government shutdown, travel restrictions and budget sequester. The majority said that enrollment was either about the same or up from last year's counts, while those with fewer attendees were more likely to cite the location of the meetings, rather than government restrictions.
During October and November, APS sponsored ten meetings, of which three were organized by divisions, and seven by sections. Six, including the three large division meetings, either met or were on track to surpass their numbers from last year, while three reported slight drops. At the time of publication, the Texas Section had not yet completed its attendance counts.
"The meeting attendance was beyond our expectations despite the hurdles faced by government laboratory attendees," said Ben Gibson, Secretary/Treasurer of the Division of Nuclear Physics. "Despite the issues relating to government laboratory travel restrictions, the government shutdown, and budget cuts, the attendance at our fall meeting was a record for any DNP fall meeting held in the continental US.
"About 150 people registered for the Far West Section, down from about 180 at last year's meeting held at the California Polytechnic State University.
"I don't think it has anything to do with the government mess, as these meetings are geared towards undergraduates," said Lynn Cominsky, past-Chair of the Section. "It is more a function that [Sonoma State University] is harder to get to than Cal Poly, and we have fewer physics majors than they do."
The Prairie and New England sections also showed similar decreases. Organizers for both meetings said that they thought the drop in enrollment was likely due to factors like the venue's location, and not the result of the government shutdown.
Although enrollment numbers were generally unaffected, several organizers said that the impact of the shutdown and travel restrictions was felt in other ways.
The shutdown ended one day before the Four Corners meeting started. A week prior, organizers convened an emergency meeting to replace plenary speakers who wouldn't be able to attend, including Nobel laureate John Mather. As soon as the shutdown ended, with only 26 hours before he was scheduled to speak, Mather called the organizers saying that he was still interested and would catch the next available plane to Denver.
The Ohio section meeting took place over the weekend of October 4, while the shutdown was still in effect. Chair Corneliu Rablau said he heard anecdotally that a few scientists traveled to the meeting using their own money.
Despite its high enrollment, many government scientists who wanted to attend the Nuclear Physics meeting were stymied by Department of Energy travel restrictions and the shutdown. Gibson said that the Lawrence Livermore National Labs was unable to send anyone, and a significant but unspecified number of Los Alamos scientists were likewise unable to attend. The Department of Energy requested two extensions for the meeting's early registration deadline as it worked to secure approval to spend the necessary money to send scientists.
It ultimately secured approval for its researchers, but shortly thereafter the shutdown started. Various national labs said they would stay open until running out of already allocated funds. The NNSA, which runs Livermore and Los Alamos, said that they would close the labs down if the government had not opened again by the 18th. The DNP meeting then received a rush of cancelations from the labs, which included all scientists signed up from Livermore. The meeting started a week after the government reopened.
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Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella