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Focus sessions are sessions based on a topic identified well ahead of time and for which a focus topic sorting category is assigned.The topic is typically organized by one to three people who nominate invited speakers, advertise the topic to attract contributed abstracts, and organize the focus topic sessions at the Sorters meeting (typically in early December).Each session of a focus topic generally consists of one invited talk (36 minutes) and 12 contributed abstracts (12 minutes each) that are related to the invited talk, to fill a three-hour time block.Focus topics fulfill two basic functions.
It is expected that any new focus topic that is selected should be able to attract at least 20 contributed talks so that a minimum of two sessions can be arranged on the topic. This is a critical mass for attracting others in this area to attend the meeting. Before a new focus topic is listed, the sponsoring unit should verify that it appears possible to attract at least 20 contributions. This can be done by identifying appropriate abstracts in the previous meeting.Another method is for the unit to sponsor a symposium on the subject and see what interest it draws, and then if it appears viable, organize a focus topic the following year.Of course, it is always possible to misjudge the attractiveness of a topic. If this occurs, then the topic should probably not be repeated for some time.
The APS Division of Materials Physics (DMP) has the most experience with focus topics as they have being doing them for a long time. They find that a rule of thumb is that if a focus topic is repeated for a second year, the number of invited speakers for this topic should be N-1, where N is the number of filled sessions on this topic the previous year. This is a good rule for everyone to follow.
In general, topics that receive less then 12 contributed abstracts in any year will not be repeated in the next year unless a member of the program committee can make a convincing case for them.